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2020: The 50th Anniversary of the Clean Air Act

Updated December 21, 2020

2020 has certainly been a memorable year. Perhaps not quite a year for the books, but the start of a decade no one will soon forget. The year also marks an important environmental milestone. 2020 is the 50th anniversary of the Clean Air Act. 

All things considered, the Clean Air Act has largely been a great environmental success. Fifty years on, how exactly has the legislation impacted air quality in America? And, what does it mean for the future of the HVAC and IAQ industries?

History of the Clean Air Act

The Clean Air Act passed unanimously by the Senate in 1970. It was, and still is, a benchmark of environmental policy regulation. Clean Air Act Amendments also successfully passed in 1990, expanding the Act’s goals. All in all, the Act’s purpose is to protect public health from the many sources that contribute to poor air pollution level. In the late 1960s when the legislation was drafted, many of the now banned or limited substances and environmental practices operated unregulated. The Clean Air Act also serves to protect the environment, with a special focus on healing the ozone layer.

The Clean Air Act’s Many Successes

The past five decades of the Clean Air Act have largely been a period of great environmental success and accomplishment. According to the EPA, regulations have successfully reduced six key air pollutants by 77% from 1970 to 2019. At the same time, the U.S. economy grew 285%. The combined economic and environmental successes combats one of the then top criticisms of potential legislation. 


When considering the many goals of the Act, it has been a resounding success. The Act set emission standards for vehicles and engines, required EPA regulation of toxic air pollutants, reduced pollution levels, promoted energy-efficiency and instituted a radiation protection and emergency plan. 

Another focus of the Clean Air Act was to recognize, educate and reduce indoor air pollution exposure. Specifically, the EPA estimates that increased knowledge and regulations helped reduce radon levels in roughly two million homes across America. A helpful reminder that with improved public understanding, home air quality can be improved on a large scale.

Looking Toward the Future

While the Clean Air Act has instituted great environmental improvement and change, there is of course more to do. There are still 141 million Americans who live in what is considered air quality risk areas. And with the added complications of climate change, attention is focused on HVAC systems and ensuring quality living and working spaces.

What Does it Mean for the HVAC Industry?

While the benefits of the Clean Air Act have created unfathomable environmental and air quality improvements, it is of course not a done deal or a one-time fix. What exactly do the successes of the Clean Air Act mean for the HVAC industry? And how does continued government environmental regulation affect the industry?


Looking at the short term, 2020 includes a couple other Clean Air Act benchmarks that impact HVACR contractors and companies. Section 608 of the Clean Air Act prohibits the use of specific environmentally-harmful substances found in common refrigerants.

2020 happens to be the year that this phase-out comes into full effect. R-22 or HCFC-22 is a refrigerant staple and has been for years, yet, now the only way to access R-22 is through recycled or reclaimed options. Section 608 also provides disposal rules as well as practices for the sale and recovery of refrigerants. In order to work with refrigerants, HVAC technicians now have to also receive special EPA certification.


As environmental and health focuses continue to shift to Indoor Air Quality, the industry can expect greater regulation or standards some point in the near future. The Clean Air Act’s continued success as well as a greater national understanding of the importance of Indoor Air Quality depends on the HVAC industry. Air quality and air pollution, both indoors and outdoors, are still incredibly prevalent areas of concern. So, in the long term, expect an even greater Indoor Air Quality focus.

How the booming Indoor Air Quality market will affect you and your business depends on how invested your company already is. If you already offer IAQ control options, products and services, then we likely don’t have to tell you just how in-demand Indoor Air Quality currently is. However if not, we strongly recommend considering IAQ training and expanding your company’s offerings to include Indoor Air Quality.

50 Years of Clean Air

The HVAC industry only stands to benefit from increased focus on environmental issues and air quality. Now is the ideal time to either update your training or get started in Indoor Air Quality. Demand for skilled and experienced HVAC and IAQ professionals is continually growing. Contact us to learn more.

Sara Romano

Sara Romano

Sara is KGG’s Associate Content Director and a part of KGG’s digital services team. A recent graduate of Loyola Marymount University, Sara joined KGG in 2020. She works as a writer, editor, and social media content creator for KGG. She is passionate about the importance of indoor air quality and environmental health.

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