Los Angeles: Breathing Optional In 1954

(L.A. in 1954 - The convertible and the gas mask seemed at odds) Listening to a radio documentary produced in 1954 about air pollution in Los Angel

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(L.A. in 1954 - The convertible and the gas mask seemed at odds)

Listening to a radio documentary produced in 1954 about air pollution in Los Angeles seems a bit quaint and a little strange. For one thing, until 1954 it was okay to burn your trash, since there was no trash pickup available - so every house and every apartment building had its own incinerator which pumped out clouds of smoke in every neighborhood (I grew up in L.A. and can vouch for the smell of burning trash every night). And another, with the migration of people from the east and midwest pouring into Los Angeles, you had a huge influx of cars - not the little ones we have today, but vast traveling monoliths of chrome and steel that gulped gas and belched fumes and leaked oil everywhere. Ah, the good old days . . .

But in 1954 things got so bad everybody noticed. Protests sprang up over the amount of poison flung into the air. Oil companies were blamed, city ordinances were blamed, politicians were blamed - everybody, it seemed had some hand in what was wrong with L.A.

So the CBS Radio outlet in Los Angeles, KNX ran a documentary on January 15, 1954 called The Troubled Air in which they asked city and state officials, the person on the street and anyone remotely connected with the problem or the solution, to talk about it.

Gordon Larsen (Director: Air Pollution Control District): “The objectives of the (Air Pollution Control) District initially were to find out the effects of smog in the community and to find those chemicals or air contaminants which were causing these effects. Then obviously, when this was known, to get rid of them. We’ve found out of course what has to be controlled. And in the course of the research program we have controlled more than 700 tons a day of various kinds of contaminants which otherwise would get into our atmosphere”.

In the 55 years since this documentary first aired, things have improved considerably in Los Angeles, no doubt about it. We don't have the smog alerts we used to have and there have been numerous curbs on pollution contributing companies over the years. But the problem is by no means solved, in fact Los Angeles still ranks as one of the most polluted cities in the country if not the world. There are a few million more people here than there were in 1955, the city has spread out in all directions. We have overcrowding we never had in the 1950s. But just like climate change and global warming can't be changed by snapping fingers or thinking up slogans, undoing damaged caused by years of abuse and neglect can't just go away over night.

At least in 1954 there was a start.

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