Before 1970  -  1970 to 1990  -  1991 to 2000  -  2001 to 2010   -  2011 to 2020  -  2021 to present

Before 1970

  • 1948: Air pollution in Donara, Pennsylvania, kills 20 people and makes 40 percent of the town's 14,000 inhabitants ill.
  • 1952: Sulfur-laden smog covers London and is responsible for 4,000 deaths over a two-week period. Eventually, 12,000 people die from this pollution over the next few months, a toll uncovered by American Lung Association-funded research.
  • 1960: Respiratory Disease committee of the National Tuberculosis Association (an earlier name for the American Lung Association) recommends that tuberculosis associations consider air pollution problems in their respective areas and form local control committees if needed.
  • 1963: Air pollution inversion in New York leads to 405 deaths.*
  • 1966: National Air Conservation Commission formed by the American Lung Association to address air conservation issues.
  • 1966: Air pollution inversion in New York leads to 168 deaths.
  • 1967: Air Quality Control Act passed by Congress, setting timetables for states to establish their own quality standards.
  • 1968: American Lung Association sponsors national conference on air pollution.

1970 to 1990

  • 1970: Congress passes the Clean Air Act, allowing the newly created U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set national air quality standards. Congress also allowed states to establish their own stricter standards, which California did.
  • 1972: American Lung Association becomes the sponsor of Clean Air Week.
  • 1975: Catalytic converter is developed and used on auto emissions systems. Cuts hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions by 96 percent and nitrogen oxides by 75 percent.
  • 1977: Congress amends the Clean Air Act, providing more time for areas with more serious air quality problems to comply with standards.
  • 1990: The American Lung Association successfully lobbies Congress to strengthen the Clean Air Act by requiring that cities put in place specific air pollution control measures.

1991 to 2000

  • 1991: The American Lung Association sues EPA to force review of the ozone air quality standard. The standards establish the official "safe" level for an outdoor air pollutant. By law, the standards were to be reviewed every five years to keep up with the growing research. By 1991, the standards had not been reviewed since 1979. The court rules in favor of the Lung Association the next year.
  • 1992: The American Lung Association sues EPA to force review of the sulfur dioxide standard; court rules in favor of the ALA in 1993.
  • 1993: The American Lung Association files lawsuits seeking to force the EPA to revise the federal air quality standards for ozone and particulate matter air pollution. In 1994, EPA agrees to review the decision not to revisit the ozone standard. Court rules in favor of the ALA on particulate matter standard in 1994.
  • 1994: American Lung Association files a lawsuit to compel EPA to speed up review of the ozone standard.
  • 1997: EPA strengthens the standards for ozone and for particulate matter air pollution.
  • 1999: EPA requires all private passenger vehicles - including sports-utility vehicles and diesel-powered vehicles - to meet the same tough clean air standards. The Lung Association had successfully fought for this.
  • 2000: EPA passes new rule for highway diesel fuel that replaces sulfur levels in diesel fuel by 97 percent, capping levels at 15 parts per million by 2007. New heavy-duty diesel trucks and buses are required to be much cleaner beginning in model year 2007. The Lung Association had fought successfully for this step. The Lung Association publishes the first "State of the Air" report to provide easier to understand information for the public on the air in their community.

2001 to 2010

  • 2001: The Supreme Court upholds that the air pollution standards have to be based solely on protecting publish health when it unanimously rejects polluter challenges to the 1997 standard for particulate matter. The American Lung Association had filed a "friend of the court" brief in this case supporting the standards.
  • 2002: American Lung Association begins legal actions against EPA for failing to review the national air quality standards for ozone and particulate matter as required, and for failing to tell the states which counties had to clean up pollution to meet the national air standards that had been adopted in 1997. EPA agrees to set a schedule to complete these steps. The Lung Association wins a victory when the U.S. District Court of Appeals ruled that EPA's ozone implementation guidelines violated the Clean Air Act.
  • 2002: In two separate actions, American Lung Association sued EPA over their sweeping changes to substantially weaken legal requirements to clean up coal-fired power plants. The Lung Association joined with environmental groups and 14 states in this lawsuit.
  • 2004: EPA announces the list of counties that failed to meet the 1997 standards for ozone and particle pollution. EPA also announces the guidance for states to implement the ozone standards, including provisions that would have weakened protections required under the Clean Air Act. American Lung Association sues EPA over their ozone implementation guidance, along with environmental groups and states.
  • 2004: EPA issues a rule requiring the cleanup of heavy equipment and engines including tractors, bulldozers, and electric generators. This is projected to reduce diesel emissions by over 90 percent and reduce sulfur levels by 99 percent starting in 2007. The Lung Association had repeatedly urged EPA to take this step.
  • 2005: U.S. District Court of Appeals ruled in EPA's favor for much of the first of the two lawsuits over changes to the New Source Review provisions of the Clean Air Act, though it rules for the Lung Association in a critical definition of what triggered application of the provisions.
  • 2005: American Lung Association and Environmental Defense Fund sues EPA to require federal implementation plans if stated failed to develop air pollution control plans that curtailed pollution transported from one state to another. EPA agreed to issue such plans in a settlement.
  • 2006: EPA adopts a 24-hour fine particle standard but keeps the 1997 fine particle annual standard. Because the annual standard was well above the level recommended by the EPA science advisors, the Lung Association joins environmental groups and states in legal action to require EPA to review the standard.
  • 2006: The U.S. Court of Appeals rules against EPA's key decisions that would have allowed dirty coal-fired power plants to continue to pollute. The Lung Association had joined environmental groups and several states to fight against EPA's decision.
  • 2007: EPA proposes a tighter standard for ozone pollution. The Lung Association had led the public health and environmental community to urge EPA to set a much more protective standard.
  • 2008: EPA adopts a tighter standard for ozone pollution, though much weaker than the level recommended by its science advisors, the Lung Association and the medical community. In response, the Lung Association and several states begin legal action to require EPA to review the standard.
  • 2008: EPA issues final rule for cleanup of diesel locomotive and marine sources.
  • 2009: The court agrees with the Lung Association's arguments on the particulate matter lawsuit, ruling that EPA had to reconsider the decision it made in 2006 to keep the older standard.
  • 2009: EPA agrees to reconsider the 2008 ozone standard, in response to Lung Association's urging and legal action.
  • 2009: EPA proposes tightening the nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide standards for the first time since 1971. Lung Association leads effort to get the most protection up under each standard.
  • 2009: EPA takes steps to be able to requite ocean-going vessel to clean up. Diesel exhaust from these ships worsen pollution in all 50 states. Lung Association CEO is present when decision is announced.
  • 2010: EPA announces stronger nitrogen dioxide standard and first nationwide near-roadway monitoring network for nitrogen dioxide.
  • 2010: EPA holds public hearings on ozone and sulfur dioxide standards. Lung Association leads effort to push EPA to select the most health-protective standards.
  • 2010: Lung Association testifies before Congress for the Clean Air Act Amendments of 2010 that would clean up coal-fired power plants if passed.
  • 2010: EPA requires the cleanup of emissions from cement kilns that are highly toxic to human health, such as mercury and acid gases.
  • 2010: EPA adopts historic new emissions standards for large marine diesel engines and cars, SUVs and light trucks. Standards will reduce nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and particle pollution. The President directs EPA to begin work on establishing standards for tailpipe and greenhouse gas emissions for other new vehicle models.
  • 2010: Congress reauthorizes funding to clean up old, dirty diesel-powered vehicles and equipment over the next five years, under the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA).


  • 2011: Lung Association leads efforts to defend the Clean Air Act and ensure EPA has the legal authority and necessary funding to protect public health. Congress debates and votes on amendments to strip away authority from EPA to reduce greenhouse gases. All are defeated in the Senate.
  • 2011: EPA announces the first ever power plant air toxics rule that would significantly limit toxic air pollution emitted from power plants, such as mercury, arsenic, and benzene. Lung Association leads the fight to push for final enactment of the rule by the end of the year.
  • 2011: EPA proposes a new roadside monitoring network for carbon monoxide, but fails to propose strengthening the standard unchanged since 1971. The Lung Association and others submitted comments to urge EPA to strengthen the standard.
  • 2011: EPA announces the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule—long fought for by the Lung Association—that will save lives by limiting the spread of dangerous pollutants across state lines.
  • 2011: Obama administration announces it will not revise badly outdated standards for ozone (smog) pollution, set in 2008, ignoring the recommendations of the independent science advisors. Lung Association challenges this in court.
  • 2011: A bipartisan vote in Congress rejects legislation to overturn and permanently block the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, thanks to the fight waged by the Lung Association and our allies. 2011 ends with the Clean Air Act intact.
  • 2011: Standards to clean up mercury and other toxic emissions from coal-and oil- fired plants are announced by EPA. This key Lung Association priority will save lives and improve the health and development of millions, especially children.
  • 2012: Lung Association challenges EPA's failure to set tighter limits on particle pollution in court.
  • 2012: EPA proposes to establish the first national power plant carbon pollution standards, which would set the stage for the next generation of America's power plants to be the least toxic and most modern in the world. 
  • 2012: Lung Association advocates for strong, new air pollution standards for the oil and gas industry. EPA proposes standards to reduce emissions from new wells.
  • 2012: EPA adopts new standards to reduce air pollution from oil and gas extraction.
  • 2012: U.S. Court of Appeals rules against EPA in the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule case, making the process to reduce air pollution blown across state lines much less clear. The Lung Association had supported EPA's position.
  • 2012: For the first time in 15 years, EPA strengthens the national standards for particle pollution, a change that will help drive the cleanup of this pollution all across the nation. The Lung Association's legal action earlier this year led to EPA setting these more protective standards in December 2012.
  • 2013: EPA proposes new standards for cleaner gasoline and vehicles that would save lives and lesson the burden of pollution on people who live near highways.
  • 2013: Lung Association challenges EPA's failure to set new standards for ozone pollution in court.
  • 2013: Lung Association intervenes in support of EPA's standards to reduce ozone and particle pollution from power plants that blows across state lines.
  • 2013: President announces that EPA will adopt standards for cleaning up carbon pollution from new power plants and will propose standards for existing plants by 2014.
  • 2014: EPA adopts Clean Fuel and Clean Vehicle Standards which will save lives and cut pollution. 
  • 2014: EPA proposes standards requiring new wood-burning devices to produce less pollution.
  • 2014: The U.S. Supreme Court sides with the Lung Association and rules in favor of EPA's standards to reduce ozone and particle pollution from power plants that blows across state lines.
  • 2014: The President and the EPA Administrator announce the new Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants. They join a call with the Lung Association and health and medical allies to discuss the plan.
  • 2014: EPA proposes new standards to limit ozone pollution in response to the Lung Association's successful legal action to require the Agency to complete their review as required under the Clean Air Act.
  • 2015: EPA adopts final standards for new wood-burning devices that will produce less pollution.
  • 2015: EPA finalizes the Clean Power Plan, the first-ever national standards to limit carbon pollution from power plants. When fully implemented, the Clean Power Plan is projected to reduce pollution that contributes to climate change and reduce other pollutants that cause asthma attacks and premature deaths. 
  • 2015: EPA strengthens the national standards for ozone. These standards are the result of successful legal action by the Lung Association and other organizations brought in 2013.
  • 2016: The U.S. Supreme Court issues a "stay," or forced pause, on EPA's implementation and enforcement of the Clean Power Plan pending review of legal challenges. The Lung Association intervenes in the case in support of the Clean Power Plan.
  • 2016: The U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants, rejecting requests to put the rule on hold. The Lung Association strongly supports EPA's efforts to reduce toxic air pollution from power plants, which are projected to prevent an estimated 11,000 premature deaths and 130,000 asthma attacks each year.
  • 2017: The President issues an Executive Order directing EPA to review the Clean Power Plan. EPA asks for delays on pending court actions in key cases, including the Clean Power Plan and the defense of the 2015 national standards for ozone. The Lung Association pledges to defend the Clean Power Plan and the ozone standard and to continue to fight for healthy air.
  • 2017: EPA proposes to roll back the requirements that limit emissions from new or modified oil and gas wells, processing plants, pipelines, and storage units. EPA also withdraw a 2016 request to oil and gas companies for basic information on location and size of their existing facilities.
  • 2017: EPA Administrator proposes a repeal of the Clean Power Plan, the nation's only plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
  • 2017: EPA Administrator proposes to create a loophole for dirty diesel trucks by rolling back a requirement that old diesel engines in new truck bodies—called "gliders"—have to match the emission limits that entirely new trucks have to meet.
  • 2018: EPA issues a "guidance memorandum" to allow industries and other sources emitting tons of toxic air pollutants to no longer need to comply with official limits on those emissions in areas, changing a protection in place since 1995.
  • 2018: EPA announces plans to weaken the limits on greenhouse gases from cars, personal trucks and SUVs in place for Model Year 2021-2026.
  • 2018: EPA proposes the "Censoring Science" rule, which would restrict the research that EPA's scientists use. It could eliminate seminal air pollution and health studies from consideration in future rulemakings.
  • 2018: EPA finally takes a step to formally start the process for cleaning up ozone to the levels EPA now considers protective of human health. EPA officially designates areas that failed to meet the 2015 national air quality standards for ozone, a step that came one year later than the Clean Air Act requires. 
  • 2018: EPA announces an accelerated plan to review the national air quality standards for ozone and particulate matter. The timeline does not allow adequate time for review of the scientific research, and the agency also dismissed or cancelled scientific review panels that would have provided critical expertise.
  • 2018: EPA proposes to replace the Clean Power Plan with a dangerously weak alternative, the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule. The ACE rule would not result in meaningful reductions in carbon pollution from power plants. The proposed rule could even cause more air pollution to be emitted from these plants compared to no rule at all.  The proposal also includes a dangerous attempt to weaken a critical program called New Source Review, with changes that could result in net increases in industrial pollution in areas with poor air quality.
  • 2018: EPA issues a proposal that could undermine the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. EPA's proposal seeks to skew the math underlying the standards, ignoring key health benefits they have provided to make them look less cost-effective than they really are.
  • 2018: The U.S. Global Change Research Program publishes the Fourth National Climate Assessment, Vol.1, identifying the role that climate change plays in risks to clean air in the nation, now and going forward.
  • 2019: Many states and the District of Columbia adopt policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that target climate change.
  • 2019: EPA finalizes the “Affordable Clean Energy” rule to replace the Clean Power Plan with totally inadequate carbon limits for power plants. The Lung Association is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the rule.
  • 2019: The Administration takes the unprecedented step of revoking California’s Clean Air Act waiver that allows it to set stronger limits on greenhouse gas emissions from cars, SUVs and personal trucks.
  • 2019: EPA proposes rolling back methane pollution limits on new oil and gas sources, which would also result in other dangerous volatile organic compound pollution that could have been prevented.
  • 2020: EPA finalizes proposals to keep the current, inadequate national standards on both ozone and particulate matter in place. The Lung Association later joins lawsuits challenging both standards.
  • 2020: EPA and the Department of Transportation finalize rules to weaken limits on greenhouse gas emissions from cars, SUVs and personal trucks.
  • 2020: EPA finalize its proposal that could undermine the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards by finding that the standards are not “appropriate and necessary.” The Lung Association joins two lawsuits to defend the standards, one against EPA’s funding and another to protect the standards themselves from being overturned.
  • 2020: EPA finalizes its proposal to roll back limits on methane pollution from new oil and gas sources. Because new limits must come before limits on existing sources under the Clean Air Act, this action puts up an additional roadblock to limits on current oil and gas operations.
  • 2020: Emerging research suggests that exposure to air pollution is linked with worse outcomes from COVID-19.

2021 to present

  • 2021: EPA finalizes its “Censoring Science” proposal, with the same harmful premise of excluding sound health science from the agency’s decision-making. 
  • 2021: EPA finalizes a rule setting an arbitrary threshold for determining whether a category of polluting sources contributes significantly enough to nationwide greenhouse gas emissions to be regulated. The change effectively prevents regulations on any sources besides power plants. The Lung Association later joins a lawsuit against the rule. 
  • 2021: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit decides to vacate and remand the ACE rule, effectively throwing it out. The Lung Association has been the lead plaintiff in the case. 
  • 2021: The Biden-Harris administration announces executive actions aimed at addressing climate change and advancing equity, including rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement; directing federal agencies to move to clean transportation and carbon-free electricity; reexamining rollbacks from the previous administration; and renewing focus on climate and health.
  • 2021: A U.S. District Court judge vacates the “Censoring Science” rule. The Lung Association had helped lead the health community’s opposition to this rule.

Page last updated: November 17, 2022

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