The NYC Smog That Killed Hundreds in the 1960s

The NYC Smog That Killed Hundreds in the 1960s

M.C. Millman

On Wednesday, June 7, NYC's Health Commissioner referred to the 1966 New York City smog saying: "For a time, yesterday was the worst air quality in New York City since the 1960s." 

In 1966, thick smog blanketed New York City and its surrounding area, beginning November 23 and lasting through the 26th of the month. 

Stagnant air on November 23, 1966, trapped air pollutants, resulting in suffocating smog. Contaminants included carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide in the smokey haze. 

On November 25, the smog became severe enough to announce a first-stage alert. This meant that the City government asked residents to reduce their fuel consumption and car use voluntarily. The City also asked energy companies to use natural gas at their plants instead of fuel oil to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions.

The City's commissioner of air pollution control, Austin N. Heller, said "the pollution count was possibly the highest in the City's history" at the time. Health officials advised people with respiratory, lung, or heart conditions to remain indoors. November 26 brought a cold front, which ended the alert to the relief of New Yorkers. 

Medical researchers studied the smog's impact on health in the following months. Initially, the New York Times proudly claimed "no illnesses attributed to pollution." However, the vast impact of the smog on public health was documented in the aftermath. According to a New York Times article, a statistical analysis published in October 1967 found that the smog had likely caused 168 deaths. Other reports claim the number to be as high as 400 deaths.

National awareness of health pollution resulted from this smog incident. In response, NYC updated local air pollution control laws. President Lyndon B. Johnson worked on the 1967 Air Quality Act and the 1970 Clean Air Act.

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