On November 23, 1966, while most of the country was gathering around dinner tables for Thanksgiving arguing over their favorite Beatles member, NYC was trapped in a thick concoction of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and smoke.  The fog had reached the pollution index of 60.6, more than 10 points over the health danger mark.

The entire skyline was lost in a thick gray fog that was so dangerous, a citywide advisory was sent out to residents with heart, lung, or respiratory conditions to remain indoors. Over the course of the month, over 200 people died, and thousands more were affected with Chronic Bronchitis and other respiratory diseases over the years. 

There were over 17,000 garbage incinerators located all across New York City. Literally, dumpster fires. 

At the time, cigarette smoke, car exhaust, garbage incinerators, ships in the harbor, coal, and gas-fueled power plants…all of these had become the norm and it was normal to see a cloudy, yellow tinge on the skyline. 

Huge corporations like General Electric and General Motors regularly dumped chemicals (over 170 million gallons of raw sewage), into the Hudson River which streamed down into the New York Harbor to make one deliciously murky, molotov cocktail. 


1966 Smog Over the City
Photo by Neal Boenzi for the NY Times (Public Domain)

The 1966 smog wasn’t EVEN the worst. In fact – there had already been two massive and deadly smogs PRIOR to this, one in 1963, and another in 1953. It took nearly TEN years for the government to realize that the deaths from the 1953 Smog incident were in fact, a result of the deadly congestion. 

According to an 1985 EPA article by Roy Popkin, “An episode that occured in NYC was not recognized until statistical evidence, presented almost nine years later, disclosed that during a brief period of weather stagnation at the time, in which unusually high levels of sulfur dioxide and smoke shade had been recorded, the number of deaths in New York City had been approximately 200 in excess of normal”

The government nearly shut down the entire city during the Thanksgiving weekend of 1966. Coal and gas-powered plants were ordered to shut down for the weekend, cars were asked to be driven as little as possible, and garbage incinerators were closed for the weekend and instead, replaced with ships carrying garbage to be dumped in the sea. More on that BS strategy next time…

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Clean Up, Clean Up, Everybody Everywhere

As a result of the smog, the city began enforcing restrictions on pollution which would eventually lead to the formation of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) on a national scale. In 1971, the city enacted the New York City Air Control Code which put strict rules in place regarding air pollution. Today, the air in New York City is significantly better than the toxic fumes of 1966. Now our main air complaints revolve around rotting street garbage during the Summer and that one empty train cart.

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