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Legislation

Ever since air pollution was recognised as a problem, legislators, regulators and governments have tried to control it. As early as 1273 the use of coal was prohibited in London as being "prejudicial to health". In 1306 the Royal Proclamation prohibited craftsmen from using sea-coal (a soft coal) in their furnaces. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, numerous Acts have been passed in an attempt to reduce air pollution. These have included the Railway Clauses Consolidated Act of 1845 (requiring railway engines to consume their own smoke), the Improvement Clauses Act of 1847 (to reduce factory smoke), the Sanitary Act of 1866 (empowering sanitary authorities to take action in cases of smoke nuisances), the Public Health Act of 1875 (containing smoke abatement legislation that has been used to the present day), and the Smoke Abatement Act of 1926.

In the aftermath of the Great London Smog of 1952, the Government pass the two Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968, which aimed to control domestic sources of smoke pollution by introducing smokeless zones, and control industrial sources of pollution by the use of tall chimneys for waste gas dispersal.

Since the 1970s when the UK joined the European Union, European legislation has been used to control the amount of pollution being emitted by industry, and now increasingly by transport. Over the last 30 years the European Commission has passed a number of EC directives to limit emissions of carbon monoxide, lead, hydrocarbons and smoke emissions from road vehicles, and to set health limits for the common air pollutants, including sulphur dioxide, particulate matter, lead and nitrogen dioxide.

In response to European legislation, the UK Government passed the Environmental Protection Act (1990) and the Environment Act (1995), bringing many smaller emission sources under air pollution control by local authorities for the first time, and providing a new statutory framework for local air quality management. In 1997 the National Air Quality Strategy was published which sets air quality standards and targets for the pollutants of most concern. Many of these targets will need to be met by 2005.