Air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels was a problem in urban areas of England as long ago as the fourteenth century. In 1307 King Edward I banned the burning of coal in London ''to avoid the sulfurous smoke'' and commanded Londoners to burn wood instead. The ban was short-lived, however, as a wood shortage forced the city to switch back to coal. Historians record that future British monarchs also tried unsuccessfully to curtail the use of coal to reduce air pollution.
The onset of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s was accompanied by a tremendous increase in the use of fossil fuels and air pollution in England and the United States. Major U.S. cities began passing smoke ordinances during the late 1800s. Air pollution control remained a local issue for several more decades.
By the late 1940s smog had become a serious problem in many urban areas. Extensive industrial growth during World War II, a boom in car ownership, and unregulated outdoor burning were the primary culprits. Los Angeles and other large U.S. cities suffered from ''smog attacks'' during hot summer months. In 1952 London experienced an episode of smog so severe that thousands of people prematurely died from respiratory illnesses aggravated by poor air quality. The incident was a wake-up call for many governments. Air pollution legislation was quickly passed in England and across Europe.
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