Even though air pollution has been around for centuries, it was only in the 20th century that the world's governments began to try to combat it, doing so primarily through legislation and regulation of industry. For example, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established in 1970, many states had to adhere to regulations about the types and amounts of pollutants that were allowed into the air from their citizens' cars and their businesses' manufacturing processes. The EPA was given its scope and responsibilities by the Clean Air Act, which congress drafted, and President Richard Nixon signed that same year. The agency provided financial aid to pollution-control agencies, and it implemented firm standards for automotive emissions and air quality. In fact, the EPA runs a network that monitors the air and reports pollution levels to the public via the media. The Pollution Standards Index, for example, shows pollution levels on a numerical scale, from 0 to 500. (Values greater than 100 represent levels that can cause serious health problems.)
Government involvement in reducing air pollution doesn't end with the EPA. Even NASA has a long and successful track record of atmospheric research based on observational technology at its disposal. While much of the organization's focus has been on observing the cosmos, its high-tech observation systems are invaluable tools for understanding our planet's air quality. NASA's High Spectral Resolution Lidar (HSRL) is one such piece of equipment. It is a radar-like device that uses laser beams instead of radio waves, and scientists can use it to measure particles in the air. The EPA, in fact, teamed with NASA to measure the smoke particles released during a South Carolina wildfire in 2009. The data gathered by the HSRL will help researchers understand how wildfires impact the quality of the air, and how to keep the air clean.
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