Chattanooga, “The Dirtiest City in America”


CHATTANOOGA, TN ( – Chattanooga, the place we call home. We can spend the day taking a walk in the park, enjoying Clumpies ice cream. Maybe you take your furry friends on a nearby trail or go canoeing down the river with friends. Whatever one chooses to do, there are so many ways to enjoy this scenic city.

However, this hasn’t always been the case for residents of Chattanooga. In fact, in 1969 the city was labeled as “The Dirtiest City in America” on a news broadcast. This had to do a lot with the heavy manufacturing being done in the area 1950s and ‘60s and the lack of regulations. The aftermath of all the industries, railroads, and coal furnaces left the air quality poor and smog outdoors.

This video offers a glimpse of how the city spent a quarter of a billion dollars to clean up.

The air quality was so poor that by 1963, the death rate from tuberculosis was three times the national average. Denie Pursley, former teacher at Ringgold High School, claims “You couldn’t even wear pantyhose because the air would eat through them.” Pursley also recalls being told officials to not go outside on certain days.

Chattanooga approved a new Air Pollution Control Ordinance that began in 1972. The city got to officially celebrate in 1989, when the air quality met all federal health standards. Since then, the laws have been tightened a few times. The most recent standard was revised in 2015, when it was determined the previous one was not strict enough to protect citizens proms air pollution illnesses. Chattanooga was already meeting the new standard.

The air is cleaner than ever, and the skies are no longer hazy. This does not mean we can stop here though. It was the efforts of others that saved this city before, but Chattanoogans have an ongoing responsibility to keep air pollution apart of the history.

The residents who live here have to keep this going so that generations to come can enjoy this city. Next time you are enjoying the outdoors, stop and take a second to enjoy the fresh air.

About Maria Goodwin-Illaramendi

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