Many Asian cities are facing new air pollution challenges and are struggling to stem smog emergencies. According to a recent study by Greenpeace, 22 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities are in India.
In 1954, Los Angeles became one of the first cities to address smog, described by one local newspaper as a “blight on the land of sunshine”. Fearing an event similar to the Great Smog of London in 1952, which killed more than 4,000 people, authorities in the Californian city devised an emergency plan.
While modern-day air pollution warnings in the UK advise vulnerable people to protect themselves, decades earlier LA installed a system to quickly shut local pollution sources if one of its frequent eye-stinging smogs spiralled out of control.
Monitoring stations were constructed and, in an age before the internet, scientists telephoned their results to a control centre every hour. Alerts were then sent through teleprinters in the sheriff’s office, as well as press wires and dedicated radios in the city’s factories.
The new Sigalert system was employed too, which left a recorded message in each radio and television station and, just like the Batphone, activated a light and buzzer to notify broadcasters to interrupt programming. Meanwhile, industries would lower boilers and activate carpooling schemes, while residents were asked to drive less and stop burning rubbish. Nightly weather forecasts used a red/green smog warning system, leading to the myth that LA had multicoloured smog.