A 14th-century plague helped reveal just how long humans have polluted the planet

Popular Science | 9/25/2017 | Staff
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Filthy air did not go unnoticed in pre-industrial societies. People have been complaining about air pollution since ancient Greek and Roman times. Outdoor air pollution became a problem with the rise of early cities, Mosley says.

“Stinking rivers and sick slaves in Roman mines, for instance, have been related to harmful pollution from lead and silver metallurgy,” Eichler says.

Testimonies - Writers - Lung - Diseases - Societies

The testimonies of contemporary medical writers indicate that lung diseases were widespread in these societies. Smoke from potteries and smelting furnaces in ancient Athens and Rome quickly became a nuisance. "Classical writers such as Horace complained of the blackening of fine marble buildings, and he also worried about the effects of the reek and fumes of Rome on his health,” Mosley says.

“The smoke and stink of early cities—pre-industrial and industrial—was difficult to ignore,” Mosley says. “It was in early cities that the first legislative steps were taken to abate it—in an attempt to protect the air as common property.” Around 2,000 years ago, civil claims over smoke pollution were heard before Roman courts. At the time, people tried to escape pollution by separating homes from polluted working area, Eichler says.

Industrial - Revolution - Right - Air - Britain

During the Industrial Revolution, the right to breathe clean air was eroded. In Britain, few air pollution cases reached the Common Law courts. “The new industrial society made a pragmatic trade-off: dirty air in return for economic success, jobs, and cheap consumer goods,” Mosley says. “Laws protecting the rights of individuals to enjoy clean air were weakened, rather than strengthened.”

Around 1800, in the years marked by the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the amount of lead in More and his team’s ice core skyrocketed. It stayed well above pre-industrial levels for the next 150 years, only starting to ease after legislation like the Clean Air Act was enacted in the 1970s to control air...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Popular Science
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