Our Story

For nearly half of our history, the American Lung Association has battled air pollution because dirty air endangers people with lung disease and can threaten life itself. Most recently, we fought successfully to clean up diesel fuel and engines and to require the cleanup of coal-fired power plants.

We fight today to protect the Clean Air Act and preserve the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to enforce its lifesaving protections.

But our record begins decades ago. Now in our second century, the American Lung Association leads the way to save lives, improve lung health and prevent lung disease. The American Lung Association is fighting for air through research, education and advocacy.

Click here to see milestones in our fight for healthy air.

Fighting from the start

Our fight began in 1904, with a revolutionary concept—a nationwide organization to fight a single disease. Tuberculosis (TB) was the most feared disease in the world, striking down the young and old, the rich and poor.

Over the next 50 years, the Association played a critical role in developing and funding increasingly effective weapons to prevent, detect and treat the disease. By the late 1950s, tuberculosis was largely controlled in the U.S. But our work was far from over.

Taking on air pollution

In 1948, in the little Pennsylvania town of Donora, air pollution, trapped by adverse weather, killed 20 people and sickened half the population. Four years later, in London, coal soot pollution killed 12,000 people after a week-long episode, a tally confirmed by Lung Association-funded researchers decades later.

People were coughing, wheezing and dying from air pollution, so in 1960, we took up the fight. That year, the Association recommended that all local associations consider air pollution problems in their respective areas and form local control committees. Our fight grew from there into a sophisticated public health-based campaign for research, education and advocacy.

After years of persistent effort, we successfully convinced Congress in 1990 to strengthen the Clean Air Act to require that cities put in place specific air pollution control measures. By the next year, the Lung Association began our first legal challenges to require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to comply with the requirements of the Clean Air Act. Over the past 22 years, Lung Association legal action has resulted in tighter, more protective standards for healthy air as well as requirements for the federal government to follow through with its obligation to clean up pollution sources.

Today’s challenges

Today the fight is more important than ever. Big polluters and some members of Congress are now proposing changes to the Clean Air Act that would weaken these safeguards.  In response, we’ve launched our Healthy Air Campaign, a multifaceted public policy effort to protect the Clean Air Act from attempts in Congress to weaken the law and the ability of the EPA to implement its lifesaving protections.

The annual State of the Air report continues to be a critical tool, helping us share powerful information about the air we breathe with communities across the country, to help them take action against pollution. We’re funding research that continues to unlock the effects of air pollution and the secrets of lung diseases, from asthma to cancer. Our educational materials give patients the tools to take control of their illness, or quit smoking. And year-round, we’re in the halls of state legislatures and Congress, as well as in the courts to keep our air clean and our lungs healthy.

After more than 100 years, the American Lung Association is still fighting for air.

FACT: Roughly one in six (16.2%—nearly 50 million) Americans live in counties with too many unhealthy spikes in particle pollution levels.

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