THE SMOG THAT WASN’T THERE, by Ralph Nader, 1965

“In 1950 a prominent California biochemist made the discovery which was to establish as a definite fact the link between automobile exhausts and smog conditions in Los Angeles.

Dr. Arlie Haagen-Smit stated that hydrocarbon compounds produced by automobile exhaust react with oxides of nitrogen under sunlight to produce photochemical smog — the hazy eye-irritating blanket so familiar to residents of Los Angeles and other cities.

This discovery, coupled with extensive studies made by the Los Angeles Air Pollution Control District, showed that more than half of the Los Angeles air pollution problem is caused by automotive exhausts. The situation is not limited to Los Angeles; cars, buses, and trucks contribute half the air pollution in the United States. This pollution contains the most serious toxic contaminants which are associated with a significantly higher incidence of morbidity and mortality from emphysema, chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, and heart disease. In property damage due to air pollution, the United States Public Health Service estimates a loss of roughly sixty-five dollars per capita each year, or over eleven billion dollars altogether. Pollution corrodes metals, deteriorates rubber products, erodes concrete and building stone, soils a great variety of materials, and deposits dust and soot on highly sensitive machinery and instruments. The total quantity of pollutants belched forth by motor vehicles in this country last year included over fourteen million tons of hydrocarbons, seventy-five million tons of carbon monoxide, and four million tons of oxides of nitrogen.

It is significant that the major role the automobile plays in the creation of smog was discovered by someone outside the automobile industry. For years the automobile manufacturers felt no obligation either to engage in research themselves or to support outside inquiry into the nature and effect of automotive pollutants.

Paul Ackerman, then chairman of the engineering advisory committee of the Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA), admitted before the California legislature in 1959 that the ‘unique characteristics of the California atmosphere came to our attention during the 1920’s, when we noticed that tires and other rubber products cracked and deteriorated in the Los Angeles area.’ (Ozone, which results from the chemical interaction of automobile exhaust elements, is the chief attacker of tire and rubber products. The industry knew of the high concentration of ozone in Los Angeles.) During the early forties, official reports on the Los Angeles air pollution problem showed heightening concern over vehicle exhausts. Although the signs of the future pollution epidemic were unmistakable, the industry did no research to develop the preventive mechanisms that would forestall the increasing severity of photochemical smog. Even after Dr. Haagen-Smit’s conclusive experiments were reported in 1950, the industry refused to admit that motor vehicles played any more than a minor role in producing photochemical smog.

Automotive exhaust gases have long been recognized as a direct hazard to driving safety. As a major contributor to smog, these emissions frequently have curtailed highway visibility to the point where freeways have been temporarily cleared of traffic in order to avoid chain accidents. Also, this hazard is great enough to cause air crashes. Civil Aeronautics Board investigations have attributed numerous air accidents every year to poor visibility due to smog.

The health hazard posed by various combustive byproducts is of a far more serious nature than the problem of reduced visibility. In 1962 Professor McFarland of Harvard summarized the studies on carbon monoxide as follows:

Carbon monoxide poisoning is an ever-present possibility in the operation of motor vehicles. The problem is becoming increasingly serious because of the increased density of smog and the concentration of idling vehicles in the metropolitan areas. Small amounts of carbon monoxide are absorbed rapidly by the blood stream, resulting in an oxygen deficiency that may at first be unnoticed by the individual. The initial reaction to carbon monoxide poisoning consists primarily in lowered attention, difficulty in concentration and retention, slight muscular incoordination, sleepiness, and mental and physical lethargy.

In other words, you drive as you breathe.

Carbon monoxide kills at a concentration of approximately 1000 parts per million (ppm). At the level of 100 ppm, it produces headaches, nausea, and dizziness. The California State Health Department has determined that 30 ppm is an ‘adverse’ level, and that 30 ppm for eight hours, or 120 ppm for one hour is a ‘serious level of pollution.’ Bumper-to-bumper freeway traffic pours forth a stream of the deadly gas for motorists to absorb. In the Los Angeles area, Dr. Haagen-Smit has recorded highway concentrations of carbon monoxide of up to 120 ppm; in Detroit, levels have exceeded 100 ppm. Many urban roads routinely experience such concentrations in heavy traffic.

In July 1965, spokesmen for the automobile companies told Senator Abraham Ribicoff’s subcommittee on executive reorganization, which was investigating the traffic safety situation, that the control of vehicle emissions has no relation to driver safety. This is the industry’s official position taken before the General Services Administration and state legislatures.

Carbon monoxide has the additional effect of reducing body tolerance to alcohol and certain drugs. Through replacing normal carbon dioxide in the blood, carbon monoxide sets up a situation where either drugs or alcohol, both taken within moderate or prescribed limits, becomes dangerous to the driver.

A 1959 Department of Commerce research report warned about the consequences of rapid deterioration of poor exhaust systems: ‘This type of failure, which can be prevented or delayed by use of better materials in the muffler and other parts of the exhaust system, brings carbon monoxide concentrations in the vicinity of the passenger compartment, and under certain conditions can cause car occupants to become drowsy, experience eye irritation, headaches and nausea, or actually endanger their lives, depending on the length of exposure and, of course, the concentrations.’

When Senator Ribicoff asked why the automobile industry did not adopt nationally the California requirements (mandatory exhaust controls on all new vehicles sold in that state beginning with the 1966 models), he was told that automobile exhaust conditions did not warrant such action. The senator displayed unusual irritation at such replies during the hearings and, judging by the evidence he had in hand, his displeasure was well founded. Two years ago, Professor John Middleton of the University of California reported that ‘manifestations of photochemical air pollution, including oxidant index, plant damage, and rubber cracking, have now been seen and reported in urban and adjacent rural areas in twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia.’ The 1963 Yearbook of Agriculture, an authoritative and cautious source, stated: ‘Los Angeles no longer has, if it ever had, a monopoly on photochemical smog. The characteristic symptoms in plants have been found in almost every metropolitan area in the country… the entire coastal area roughly from Washington, D. C., to Boston has come to rival southern California.’ Since 1950 independent researchers have been accumulating increasingly specific evidence that the tens of millions of little pollution factories on wheels do serious harm to the health and safety of the American people. In May 1965 Senator Muskie submitted a report compiled from expert testimony which his special subcommittee on air and water pollution heard during sessions conducted throughout the nation. The report stated: ‘In all of the hearings held since the adoption of the Clean Air Act of 1963, automotive exhaust from some 84 million automobiles, trucks and buses was cited as responsible for about 50 percent of the national air pollution problem. Photochemical air pollution, or smog, is a problem of growing national importance and is attributable largely to the operation of the motor vehicle. This type of air pollution is appearing with increasing frequency and severity in metropolitan areas throughout the nation.’

In a study released in June 1965, based on data from the federal government’s continuous air monitoring program, U. S. Public Health Service scientists reported: ‘The data show that although Los Angeles experiences photochemical smog incidents more frequently, smog incidents in other cities are severe and are not infrequent.’*

*Los Angeles does have a particular combination of topography and sluggish air currents conducive to frequent smog formations. Other cities, however, have a greater density of automobiles per square mile than Los Angeles. In 1962 Los Angeles had 1,350 automobiles per square mile; the corresponding figures for other major cities were: Chicago, 1,541; Detroit, 1,580; New York City, 2,220; Philadelphia, 3,730; and Washington, D.C., 4,100.

The automobile industry seems to have ignored the increasing problem of air pollution because of its own economic interests. From their own point of view, automobile makers see no reason to spend money to produce a device which allows them neither to increase profits nor to effect any economies.

Or to put it another way, the manufacturers have two basic criteria for judging a potential design change: 1) will it reduce costs? and 2) will it increase sales? The automobile makers seem to have decided that cleaning up exhausts will do neither.

The struggle between air pollution authorities and officials of the major automobile companies has been long and frustrating. Los Angeles, which has done the pioneering work in the field of air pollution, has spent fifteen years trying to get some action out of Detroit. The industry’s almost purely defensive attitude is illustrated by an exchange of correspondence between Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn and the Ford Motor Company in February and March of 1953. Mr. Hahn wrote to Henry Ford II to express his concern about vehicle exhausts and to ask a number of specific questions. His letter was referred to Dan J. Chabek of the engineering staff for reply. Mr. Chabek wrote:

‘Dear Mr. Hahn: The Ford engineering staff, although mindful that automobile engines produce exhaust gases, feels these waste vapors are dissipated in the atmosphere quickly and do not present an air pollution problem. Therefore, our research department has not conducted any experimental work aimed at totally eliminating these gases. The fine automotive power plants which modern-day engineers design do not smoke. Only aging engines subjected to improper care and maintenance burn oil. To date, the need for a device which will more effectively reduce exhaust vapors has not been extablished.’

Mr. Chabek’s letter revealed a basic operating principle of the automobile industry whenever it is confronted with pressures to curb the harmful effects of its products: ‘We feel; therefore, we do not research.’

When Mr. Hahn went to Detroit to get some direct answers about adoption of exhaust controls, a senior official of one of the companies asked: ‘Well, Mr. Hahn, will that device sell more cars?’ ‘No,’ said Mr. Hahn. ‘Will it look prettier, will it give us more horsepower? If not, we are not interested.’

The industry saw no need to defend its continued production of polluting vehicles. On the contrary, it was up to the Los Angeles authorities to establish the data and shoulder the burden of proof, with the industry being judge and jury over whether the burden was met. It took the expenditure of several millions of dollars of public funds for the Los Angeles Air Pollution Control District (APCD) to conduct the research into automobile operation, local driving conditions and the composition of gasolines in order to determine the specific contributions of various pollutants to smog. By 1953 the APCD had established beyond any doubt that motor vehicles were the largest source of air pollutants and the chief source of hydrocarbons in the area. The automobile companies were unable to fault this finding. In response to the increasing public pressure the industry decided to close ranks. In December 1953 through their trade body, the Automobile Manufacturers Association, the companies formed the Vehicle Combustion Products Committee to initiate a cooperative program of research and development on an industry-wide basis. To facilitate the exchange of information so that no company would have any advantage over another, member companies entered into a royalty-free, cross-licensing agreement for devices or systems primarily designed to reduce emissions.

Both company executives and spokesmen for the Automobile Manufacturers Association made it clear from the outset that reduction of vehicle emissions was a highly complex technical undertaking. General Motors’ Charles Chayne compared it to the problems involved in trying to find a cure for cancer. (Subsequent data strongly pointed to vehicle contaminants as a cause of cancer.) First, the automobile makers said they wanted to determine the composition of exhaust gases, a phase of the automobile’s operation about which they claimed almost total ignorance. For one thing, they said they lacked the proper instruments with which to begin a research program on auto emissions. For another, they said that before they could begin they would need to compile a profile of the driving habits of the average motorist. To achieve these objectives, the automobile industry as a whole spent a million dollars a year, a figure which seems rather inadequate to the magnitude of the problem.

In January 1954 automobile representatives assured the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors that controls would be developed and ready for the 1958 models. As late as April 1956, high company executives declared that the 1958 model-year was still the target date. Company engineers began cranking out technical papers on the automotive emissions problem which were read before engineering meetings to show the pace of progress. But the 1958 models went into the showrooms without any controls.

By November 1957 the Los Angeles County air pollution control officer, S. Smith Griswold, publicly declared before the National Advisory Committee to the United States Surgeon General his despair about community air pollution. ‘We have done everything that it is within our power to do,’ he said. ‘We have cleaned up industries that other sections of the country have deemed impossible to control — steel mills, petroleum refineries, smelters, railroads, shipping. We have helped our electrical utilities obtain more gas for their steam plants. We have issued 5,000 citations in the last three years, and levied half a million dollars in fines. Despite this, we still have smog. There remains one source of air pollution beyond our power to control. Every day in Los Angeles County, 2,700,000 automobiles are burning 5 million gallons of gasoline, and fouling our air with 8,000 tons of contaminants. These emissions include: 6,400 tons of carbon monoxide, 300 tons of oxides of nitrogen and 1,050 tons of hydrocarbons.’

Mr. Griswold went on to describe the financial burdens entailed by the massive abatement program in just one urban area. Local industry spent fifty million dollars for control equipment and five million dollars a year to operate it. Backyard incinerators worth forty-eight million dollars were junked. Yet the automobile industry, which has seen a single manufacturer spend about $250 million to develop a new car (as Ford did for the Edsel), was devoting only a million dollars a year to its cooperative vehicle emissions control program.

Around the same time, Harry Williams, managing director of the Automobile Manufacturers Association, revealed in another way how the industry saw its responsibility. Before the first National Conference on Air Pollution in Washington, D. C., he made this remarkable introduction: ‘What I want to discuss today is something which, so far as I know, no other industry has ever been called upon to do: namely, to concern itself with how the consumer uses or misuses the product long after its sale to the public.’

He followed with an account of the conditions that prevailed before the time of the automobile: ‘It must have been impossible for our elders to imagine life in this land without the polluted air in which they lived — before people were liberated from the congested cities by the motor vehicle. There were reeking livery stables in every neighborhood. Cow-barns were the customary auxiliaries to dairies. There were malodorous privies in every backyard. The dirt in the unpaved streets was, therefore, a fetid compound of filth, laid down by successive generations of people and animals. There were few screens on doors or windows to bar marauding disease-bearing insects.’

Mr. Williams reminded his audience that the unsavoriness he described had vanished with the advent of the motor vehicle. He stated further that the industry was making a serious study of the question of air pollution: a ‘million dollars a year spent on one problem by one industry is still a substantial outlay.’

Many delegates to the conference were aghast. But politeness prevailed. In summing up the proceedings at the end of the conference, NBC’s Martin Agronsky told the assemblage what he thought of the one million dollars a year: ‘Well, with all due respect to a twenty billion dollar industry, I am not impressed.’

Los Angeles County authorities questioned the real difficulty of solving the emission control problem if the companies were content to devote such a pittance to its solution. They were given comfort that the breakthrough was imminent. An Automobile Manufacturers Association spokesman in late 1958 said emphatically, ‘The program now is at a point where the technical feasibility of exhaust control has been established. Prototype devices are being tested and are near the point where they will pass from research to product development.’

Then in 1959 the automobile industry announced a discovery: auto crankcase emissions were found to be a major source of hydrocarbons. At the end of the year, all the U. S. auto makers announced together that 1961 model automobiles sold in California would be equipped with crankcase ventilation systems (popularly called blowby devices) to eliminate most of the hydrocarbons from that source. Their action, according to the press releases, was voluntary: a California law requiring such installation by that date was, they said, simply coincidental.

The Federal Government, conscious of the spread of air pollution, began to take action. In December 1961, Abraham Ribicoff, then Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, warned that if blowby devices were not placed on all cars by the industry, he would recommend that mandatory legislation be passed by Congress. Promptly thereafter, the industry announced voluntarily that all 1963 model automobiles would be so equipped. The secretary relented. The 1963 model-year came and all new domestic automobiles had blowby devices on them. But a report on automotive air pollution submitted to Congress in January 1965 by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, confirmed the tenuous foundation on which the ‘voluntary approach,’ so popular in some government circles can rest: ‘During the 1964 model-year one of the domestic manufacturers ceased the routine installation of crankcase emission control devices on its various product lines except on vehicles for sale in the regulated states of California and New York. Model-year 1965 automobiles from the same manufacturer are also not routinely equipped with crankcase emission controls.’

The report continued a government tradition of not referring to the culpable car manufacturer by name, even at the risk of tainting all of them as suspect. In fact, the company involved was Ford. In a letter replying to Assistant Secretary James Quigley’s inquiry about the elimination of the blowby device, H. Misch, Ford’s engineering vice president, said that the action was taken because of operational and maintenance difficulties. He promised that Ford would resume use of the device on cars produced after March 1, 1965. Mr. Misch did not explain why Ford neglected to inform their customers or the federal government of the elimination, although the government had withheld action on the basis of company compliance.

Previously, the Los Angeles Air Pollution Control District had gone outside the automobile industry for other solutions to the pollution exhaust problem. It had encouraged companies in the chemical and automobile accessory industries to develop catalytic or other types of acceptable exhaust controls. The APCD had also established an automotive combustion laboratory and constructed environmental test chambers to evaluate proposals submitted to it as well as to research independently various engineering alternatives for control of auto exhaust and test them on the highway. The idea behind these initiatives was to encourage other sources of scientific data and engineering development which would help break the near-monopoly of information and technical capability held by the automobile industry.

By 1963 several groups of companies with no previous experience in the field came up with workable exhaust control devices. There were still some maintenance problems to be ironed out but the engineering performance in a short period of development time was impressive. These companies were aiming at the California market because of a state law providing for compulsory exhaust controls on all new cars one year after the State Motor Vehicle Pollution Control Board approved two or more devices. To win approval, the system or device had to keep hydrocarbons below 275 parts per million and carbon monoxide to 1.5 percent of exhaust fumes coming from the tail pipe. Realizing that board approval of two or more devices was imminent, the automobile industry tried to head it off. On March 10, 1964, the automobile companies announced with one voice that they expected to be able to meet the California standard in time for the 1967 models. What the automobile companies could not tolerate was to be compelled to attach some other firm’s device to their engine complex. They claimed there would be all kinds of technical difficulties, but the blow to their pride seemed to be the most weighty factor.

As late as June 1964 an industry smog specialist, George A. Delaney, speaking for the Automobile Manufacturers Association, described the industry’s March tenth announcement as one ‘based on a careful and realistic determination that this time schedule is needed to engineer and test specific applications of control measures for each engine-transmission combination…’ On June 17, 1964, the California Board approved the four exhaust control devices submitted by four groups of companies: Norris-Thermidor Corp. and W. R. Grace & Co., American Machine and Foundry and Chromalloy Corp.; Arvin Industries and Universal Oil Products Co.; and American Cyanamid and Walker Manufacturing Co. According to the California law, the board’s action meant the requiring of controls on 1966 model-year gasoline-powered vehicles. It also moved the top management of the four domestic automobile companies. Their representatives rushed out to San Francisco in August and declared in unison that they had accelerated their program, and, in time for the 1966 models, emission control systems meeting California’s standards would be produced by the car makers themselves. They had cut a year off their schedule; two months earlier that schedule had been described by them as ‘a careful and realistic determination.’ Competition and the law had finally moved a monolithic industry.

Competition within the industry could have commenced in 1962 when Chrysler developed a ‘Cleaner Air Package’ involving modification of fuel mixture, timing and other engine combustion variables. The ‘package’ was made available to the other car companies and to the Los Angeles APCD. Predictably, there was no reaction in public from the other companies, but the APCD found the Chrysler system the most encouraging development to come out of Detroit in a decade. Compared to an average emission of nearly nine hundred parts per million of hydrocarbons from Los Angeles County vehicles, the Chrysler cars equipped with the ‘package’ operated at emission rates of less than three hundred parts of hydrocarbons per million parts of exhaust. The following year, the APCD established air pollution control specifications for the purchase of new motor vehicles by the Los Angeles County government. The County proceeded to buy only Chrysler automobiles even though other automobile companies frequently bid lower. These other companies could not meet the pollution control specifications.

This break in the industry’s united front, in light of the cooperative research program and cross-licensing agreement, must have enraged General Motors and Ford management. Charles Heinen — Chrysler’s leading automotive pollution expert and chief mover within his company for a little more sincerity and speed — began to get the cool treatment from his industry colleagues after Chrysler captured the Los Angeles County business. His superiors promptly played down this competitive success. While automobile makers will advertise a victory in one phase of an economy run or auto endurance race, Chrysler banned any advertising of the fact that only its vehicles could meet the emissions standards of Los Angeles County.

Under increasing pressure from California authorities, Federal agencies, and outside producers of exhaust control devices, the industry closed ranks with impressive determination, presenting a more closely united front than they had before Chrysler’s unilateral initiative. When Senator Muskie’s Senate subcommittee began questioning the automobile manufacturers in 1964, the manufacturers made their presentation as a chorus. Not a single disagreement, however small, pervaded the many pages of testimony given in the June 1964 and April 1965 hearings. Even the bibliography of articles reporting industry research on automotive emissions that was supplied the Senate subcommittee was entitled ‘From the U. S. Automobile Industry Laboratories.’ No company affiliations were given the various authors, although their affiliations had appeared on the original technical papers.

Such unanimity and conformity began right at the beginning of the industry cooperative research program in 1953. Only once in all these years had any company adhering to this arrangement and cross-licensing agreement made a single unilateral move in announcing or implementing a more effective emissions control system. While the Chrysler episode might be considered a temporary deviation, the initiative for it came from the aggressiveness of Los Angeles pollution control authorities.

Drawing on the work of Los Angeles air pollution specialists and on dozens of meetings with auto company representatives during his ten years as that city’s chief pollution control officer, S. Smith Griswold said to the annual meeting of the Air Pollution Control Association in June 1964, ‘What has the industry accomplished during these ten years? Until recently, very little. In 1953, a pooling of efforts was announced. Through an agreement to cross-license, progress by one would be progress by all. How has this worked out? Apparently it has served to guarantee that no manufacturer would break ranks and bring into the field of air pollution control the same kind of competitive stimulus that spokesmen for the industry frequently pay homage to as the force that has made them what they are today.

‘I term it a great delaying action, because that is what I believe the auto industry has been engaged in for a decade. Everything that the industry has disclosed it is able to do today to control auto exhaust was possible technically ten years ago. No new principle had to be developed,* no technological advance was needed, no scientific breakthrough was required. Crankcase emissions have been controlled by a method in use for at least half a century. Hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide are being controlled by relatively simple adjustments of those most basic engine components — the carburetor and ignition systems.’

*Auto emissions specialists outside the industry were amused when they learned that for the 1966 models sold in California three auto companies had chosen a system which uses an air pump to inject air directly into the exhaust port. The principle is to mix the air with hot exhaust gases as they are discharged and oxidize unburned hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide and water vapor. This principle has been known for decades (one engineer pointed to U.S. Patent number 908,527, January 5, 1909), and translating it into engineering practice for contemporary automobile engines is no more difficult than applying suspension principles to actual bridge building.

There is emphatic agreement with this estimate by both government and non-industry specialists in automotive pollution problems. But few of these specialists will express their concurrence outright as did Ulric Bray, a California chemist and air pollution authority. He told the American Institute of Chemists at a meeting in September 1964: ‘Except for the recent installation of crankcase devices and a tune-up accessory kit offered by Chrysler, almost everything Detroit has done with automobiles since World War II has been wrong from the standpoint of smog.’

The basic issue of air pollution transcends the simple argument over how long a particular solution was really known and how difficult it is to apply in practice. It is that the industry left it to others to discover the harmful side- effects of the product it manufactures, refused to recognize the need for prompt and effective remedy, and moved in the direction of emissions control only under the compulsion of law and imminent competition. When pollution authorities implored the industry to do something, the automobile manufacturers’ reaction, as a recent critical editorial in Chemical Week put it, ‘consisted of setting up a committee.’ Even with this industry-wide program, the most elemental canons of scientific-engineering research for an announced public welfare goal were violated. Contrary to its alleged purpose of facilitating a free flow of data and innovation, the industry established a ring of secrecy which no outside companies or public agencies could penetrate.

Members of the industry committee, speaking before serious legislative and administrative forums, behaved more like lobbyists and public relations men than the scientists and engineers that they purported to be. One can share the astonishment of Mr. Griswold who recently noted that ‘the greatest achievement in air pollution control proffered by General Motors to account for its years of effort is the construction of an environmental study chamber, in which they have been duplicating much of the work that has led to the conclusion that auto exhaust is the basic ingredient of photo-chemical smog.’

Most people are not aware of the strength of the legal position of the auto industry. The burden of proof rests on the local, state, and federal officials and legislators concerned. Before these officials could move to act against the auto industry to compel them to do anything about smog, they first had to put together a painstakingly researched case which proved beyond a doubt both the fact that automotive emissions cause the damages attributed to them and that auto manufacturers are in a position to do something about it. The time that all this took gave the auto industry a long breathing period during which the car makers could sit on its hands and tell the investigative bodies, ‘show me.’ Inaction carries no penalties.

A good example of this attitude is the industry’s attitude toward efforts to curb the emission of oxides of nitrogen. This ingredient, which is as dangerous to the public as carbon monoxide or any of the hydrocarbon series, has been largely ignored, and the industry has refused to offer any cooperation with people interested in the problem.

There are neither standards nor laws to deal with what will become the more serious of the vehicle pollutants in coming years, as hydrocarbons come under control. In 1960, some preliminary but promising research into the control of oxides of nitrogen was announced by the Los Angeles Air Pollution Control District based on work done by the department of engineering at UCLA. A functioning device incorporating this principle was successfully tested on an automobile for a period of five months, showing a reduction of eighty to ninety per cent in oxides of nitrogen. There were some unresolved minor problems which the vastly greater resources and experience of an automobile producer could have overcome. But the reaction from Detroit eliminated the possibility of any objective interchange. In May 1964 the California State Department of Public Health held a hearing to consider the adoption of an air quality standard for oxides of nitrogen. General Motors and Ford air pollution engineers challenged the need for any control of this contaminant; once more, they demanded to be shown. No research was offered by these two companies as to the harmlessness of oxides of nitrogen, which would seem reasonable to expect as substantiation of their mulish stance. It is apparent from the Muskie subcommittee hearings and reports that research to develop controls for oxides of nitrogen will be up to the federal government to undertake.

As in the case of nitrogen oxides, the car makers claim inability to prevent hydrocarbon losses from the carburetor and fuel tank — estimated at fifteen per cent of total hydrocarbon emission from motor vehicles. Again it will be up to federally financed research to suggest answers to the industry which will then proceed to modify them to suit its corporate Gestalt. The process could not be more calculated to consume the calendar.

But the representatives of the Automobile Manufacturers Association have more demanding tests which they still require of the body politic. They told Senator Muskie’s subcommittee in the summer of 1964 that there is much more information to be obtained before action on vehicle exhausts is taken on a national basis. Once more they wished to be shown that a serious problem existed outside of Los Angeles before they chose to act. Their emphasis on being shown a substantial smog phenomenon — a presence determined for several years beyond any reasonable doubt — implies a disregard for the fatal effects of even a little smog on those victims of chronic respiratory diseases whose hold on life is so fragile. In mid-1965 the Automobile Manufacturers Association began to highlight another approach—whether the costs of controlling automobile exhausts would be justified by the benefits. This strategy is calculated to keep computers whirring away indefinitely in every urban area which the Automobile Manufacturers Association insists is a separate and distinct one.

Increasingly, the industry points to the bill the consumer must pay for having a cleaner automobile. The auto makers see no anomaly in spending over a billion dollars a year for the annual changeover, consisting mainly of styling changes, without raising the price to the car buyer, while demanding that a specific price increase will follow the incorporation of exhaust controls through engine modification. The annual changeover is seen as overall product improvement and absorbed by the company as expected annual investment, but exhaust controls for health and safety are not part of the annual changeover.

There is one obvious reason for this policy. By saying that control systems ‘will require substantial investment by every motorist in the nation,’ as Harry Williams of the Automobile Manufacturers Association put it recently, then the issue shifts from the industry’s obligation to the arena of consumer acceptance.

The industry is still playing for time as far as a national policy on air pollution caused by automobiles is concerned. It forced a year’s delay — until the 1968 model- year — in the federal legislation requiring the same kinds of exhaust controls as will be on the 1966 model cars sold in California. The original Muskie bill had provided for controls by the 1967 model-year.

The chief gambit for buying time is the insistence that more research is needed before action is taken. Back in 1958 at the National Conference on Air Pollution, the United States Surgeon General, Dr. Leroy E. Burney, met head-on the industry’s incessant demand for absolute proof that smog is harmful to health. ‘When it comes to human health,’ Dr. Burney told the audience, ‘such absolute proof is often thousands of lives late in coming. To wait for it is to invite disaster.’ He pointed out that years before causative agents were identified, community leaders observed the association between epidemics and filth. ‘Cleaning up the city filth resulted in better health. Years later they found out why.’ Dr. Burney made these remarks seven years ago. Since then much more proof of the harm to health and safety from man-made contaminants of the air has been published. Yet the auto industry is unmoved. The question they should be required to answer is: ‘What is the purpose of automobile pollution?’ This shifts the burden of proof to where it belongs.

The case of Los Angeles does offer some hope. There pollution control officials, with the strong support of local citizenry, have challenged, prodded, and negotiated with the automobile companies for fifteen years. The agony inflicted on the people of Los Angeles by automobile industry intransigence has had one redeeming result: it has given this country a history of how the car makers react to public efforts at curbing harmful effects of their products. In this history, there are lessons that should not be forgotten. Los Angeles officials have made a strong case that the absence of competition within the industry has been a major obstacle to adoption of exhaust control systems. In 1965 the antitrust division of the U. S. Department of Justice began an investigation of the automobile industry’s cooperative research program and cross-licensing agreement. Specifically, the division wants to determine whether there has been concerted action by the automobile companies, in violation of the antitrust laws, to restrain competition in the development and marketing of automobile exhaust control systems and devices. This probe of possible ‘product fixing’ represents an important new phase of antitrust enforcement that explicitly recognizes safety as a value to be protected from collusive practices.”

-Excerpt courtesy of the HathiTrust Digital Library, University of Michigan, “Unsafe at any speed; the designed-in dangers of the American automobile,” by Ralph Nader, Grossman, New York, 1972. (top) Image courtesy of the HathiTrust Digital Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “No laughing matter; the cartoonist focuses on air pollution,” Washington, 1966

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