The Weather Bureau Confirms What Has Now Become Obvious in St. Louis

Seventy-five years ago St. Louis mounted a great effort to rid itself of air pollution that had plagued the city, and many others throughout North America and Europe, for decades. This is another in a continuing series about that campaign.

By Bob Wyss

It was now official.

The amount of smoke and air pollution hovering on St. Louis had been cut in more than half in the winter of 1940-41.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch made that declaration in a story Jan. 14 after sending a reporter to the U.S. Weather Bureau to examine records for the last two years.

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The air was clear most days, even downtown near the old historic courthouse.

The findings – 146 hours of thick and moderate smoke palls had occurred between Sept. 30, 1940 and Jan. 14 compared to 336 hours during the same period the year earlier.

The Weather Bureau broke up the degree of the problem labeling the pollution either thick or moderate. Thick smoke clouds had been reduced by 22 percent, moderate levels of pollution were down 48 percent.

“The findings constitute the first detailed statistical evidence of the striking success already achieved in the administration of the city’s plan,” declared the newspaper in a front-page story.

In an editorial titled “It’s Official” the editors also expressed their satisfaction in the statistics. “Most of us came to the same conclusion some time ago by reading our shirts, comparing the laundry and cleaning bills and tapering our visits to the nose-and-throat doctors,” it said. “But the Weather Man now makes it official. Those who don’t believe in the evidence of the eyes can pore over his figures.”

Actually, readers need only glance at Daniel Fitzpatrick’s editorial cartoons to gauge what was happening with the air in St. Louis this winter.   “How did you manage to quit smoking?” asked one cartoon. Another was titled “Now that the smoke is clearing.”

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Shaw’s Garden, now called the Missouri Botanical Garden, was finding striking new successes as the air quality improved.

Out at Shaw’s Garden where the plants had always suffered from the air pollution the signs were especially promising. The red and yellow dogwoods and the green sassafras twigs were particularly vibrant in color this year. In the greenhouses, for the first time ever, the orchid experts were able to produce four perfect snow-white blossoms on one plant of the hybrid Catteya.

Not every day was perfectly clear.

Smoke had crept over the city on Jan. 13 beneath low hanging clouds. But it was the first episode of the new year and only the seventh time thick smoke had arrived in this winter.

James L. Ford, the businessman who had chaired the citizen’s committee that resulted in St. Louis’ tough new anti-pollution ordinance, said the smoke “was not that bad today.”

The city enforcement requiring citizens to buy cleaner fuels or to upgrade their boilers was continuing without any let up, he said.

And it would not stop even if recollections of the previous winter were beginning to fade.

He added: “We forget how terrible it was at this time last year,”