Archive for the ‘Smogtown: the Lung Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles’ Category

Reappearing mountains and good news for glaciers

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

* A little stroll down hydrocarbon lane by one of our favorite historians, D.J. Waldie. If you haven’t read him, you should, because he brings, with a buttery, meditative touch, searing insights of surburbia and things lost and found. And that includes the San Gabriels. Meet D.J. and his pal, Randy, in his KCET post.

” … Because of smog, Randy and I grew up not seeing the mountains that ring the basin except on exceptional days when, after rain and strong winds, for a day (or only a few hours) you could stand at the end of the Belmont Pier in Long Beach and see Catalina to the southwest, Saddleback Mountain in the Santa Ana range to the east, San Gorgonio to the northeast, the San Gabriels to the north, and the headlands of Palos Verdes to the west. And now and with increasing frequency and on the least exceptional days, some or most of this gigantic panorama can be seen from the streets that I walk each morning. Something has changed. It isn’t enough – not even very much much, really. Still, you can see the mountains, purple, moss green, and lunar gray. And I suppose that means something …”

* As Chip prepares to release his next book, as un-environmental as they come, he reminisces with this photo about the wonderful event the L.A Public Library’s Aloud program threw for the book. Warm nostalgia aside, he is still un-worthy of running a competent Power Point. Photo from Flicker.

* Is there a more powerful way to capture warming CO2 gases? USC researchers think so. Sand and plastic are looking possibly heroic, here. From the L.A. Times environmental blog (run by the smart and friend Dean Kuipers)

” … The new process, detailed in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, claims to have the highest carbon dioxide removal capacity for real-world conditions, where humidity and other factors often hinder common capture methods. This has huge implications for carbon removal, as well as for new carbon products. “Right now, the short term is that we’re making CO2-free air from this technology. For our applications in fuel cells and batteries and things like that,” says G.K. Surya Prakash, a professor at USC and director of the Lokar Hydrocarbon Research Institute there who is part of the study. “Ultimately, I think that these kinds of materials, if they are developed on a massive scale, it can extract CO2 from point sources like coal-burning power plants, cement plants, breweries and stuff like that” …”

San Joaquin Valley’s chemical pall not going anywhere, except inside peoples’ bodies

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Google at work on alternative energy

* Curious this issue doesn’t grab more mainstream media attention. It pits the demands of big Agriculture against the socioeconomics of migrant and poor workers subjected to a pretty ravaging environment – pesticides, old-fashioned smog, diesel particulates, infected water, etc. And we used to think Burbank, epicenter of water pollution, freeway fumebanks and toxic ground, was dispiriting. From California Watch:

If New Year’s resolutions could apply to places, perhaps no place is as worthy of concerted change as the San Joaquin Valley. Home to nearly 4 million people, the nation’s breadbasket is described as “a patchwork pattern of separate and unequal places” in a report by the UC Davis Center for Regional Change. Titled “Land of Risk/Land of Opportunity,” the report confirms what community members and advocates have long suspected – that environmental hazards tend to be clustered around low-income populations with low levels of education and English literacy. These include urban neighborhoods like West Fresno, which has borne the brunt of slaughterhouses, waste dumps and other undesirable land uses, as well as unincorporated rural communities like Earlimart, where pesticide drift prompted years of citizen activism and ultimately new legislation. The report, linked here, is well worth reading. It’s chief finding may be that “one-third of the nearly 4 million people in the region face both high degrees of environmental risks and high degrees of social vulnerability.”

* Other news of note:

- The last word on the Solyndra controversy from the Washington Post.

- Wind-power as alternative energy is no longer just about tilting. It’s about practicality. Got a roof? Read about it here in Slate via MSNBC.

- Not everything that web juggernaut Google embarks on turns to gold … or even energy. Talking Points Memo nails it well with this piece.

- Finally, from the Department of We Already Knew That (Hereon referred to as the DWAKT) , this about America’s most gridlocked byways being in Los Angeles. Have you been on the Harbor Freeway lately, or noticed a hovering orange-brown film still clinging to the lower atmosphere? If you have, DWAKT is going to sound superfluous and gang-piling. Good old car culture. It begat smog, and smog begat environmentalism. If you doubt it, check out our acclaimed Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution of Los Angeles. We leave the obvious in the chemical dust to tell the full story.

Holiday Season first annual point – counterpoint babble

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

* POINT: The Ontario International Airport is worse than Los Angeles City Hall’s red-haired stepchild. It’s more akin to the deserted, forlorn cousin promised housing in a garden shed. Glad folks are just learning this.

- From the L.A. Times: “After three decades of steady growth and earning a Forbes magazine nod as one of the nation’s top “alternative airports,” Ontario International is now among the fastest-declining midsize airports in the country. A pillar of pride for the Inland Empire, which rode the housing boom to a colossal bust, the sprawling facility owned and operated by the city of Los Angeles lost a third of its 7.2 million annual passengers between 2007 and 2010. The airport is on track to lose an additional 200,000 this year — setting it back to 1987 levels, when Ronald Reagan was president and the Dow was below 3,000. Nationally, only Cincinnati is shedding travelers at a faster pace …”

* COUNTER-POINT: (A.K.A. first to the punch): my piece on this subject from way back when.

- “Thirty-six years ago, during the money-loathing Summer of Love, Los Angeles got control of the air at a bead-like price. For $1.2-million and future concessions, the city bought a postage-stamp airport in the dusty flatlands of the Inland Empire in the era before the subdivisions and chain-malls invaded. Though dry in detail, if not colonial in result, the 1967-transaction provided each side with something immediately useful. Los Angeles International Airport secured a backup landing strip for those nights coastal fog (or smog) socked in its runways. Ontario inherited a strapping big-city patriarch that could lure commercial jetliners to the scruffy, San Bernardino County outpost while chasing federal dollars to expand it. Ontario’s airfield was barely more than parched earth and booster dreams when L.A. came along. It had taken World War II training needs to convert the dirt runways there to concrete, and defense contractors after that to bulk up the facilities. The first passenger terminal, one converted from a hybrid chapel-theater-canteen, didn’t rise until the 1960s. It was bush league at best …”

* POINT: The cities of Glendale, Burbank and northwest Los Angeles have tried their level best to keep hexavalent chromium (chrome-six, “The Erin Brockovich chemical) under state standards by either diluting the tainted fluid with fresh suppies, shutting off compromised acquifers or just dumping the stuff into the Los Angeles River. Research in Glendale, meantime, is underway to figure out how to remove the industrial contaminant point blank. This is an enormous issue where the Cold War, environmental science, Superfund policies and municipal water management weave in and out of the water table pocked by decades of defense manufacturing (mainly Lockheed), chrome plating and other industrial work involving heavy metals. You just wouldn’t know it’s a crisis from the scant media coverage. Consider this short piece from the L.A. Times:

- “Although the City Council last week approved spending an additional $400,000 to continue research at two testing facilities — just two months after the council gave the green light to spend $550,000 in grant and state funding on more research — some city officials are getting antsy …”

* COUNTERPOINT: My article that launched a series and community hullaballoo about local chrome-six water contamination after I worked with the L.A. Times in the year-2000 exposing the problem. Sometimes, it seems like we all have dementia when it comes to remembering that there’s an unusually pernicious toxin infesting our water. Maybe it was the recession or terrorism that spurred us kick this can down the road? Or, environmental fatigue? Couldn’t be politics (insert laugh track) or the sheer magnitude of the issue.

(more…)

Smog, particulate matter, state lying, headlights on in the daytime murk – a festival of Chinese pollution links

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

In the Middle East, the Arab Spring unfolded. In Europe, the debt crisis sparked riots and soul-searching. In the United States, every big metro area seems to have experienced the jolt from an “Occupy” campaign unhappy with the concentration of wealth in upper-crust minority. But in China, many city dwellers are fighting for their every breath — or just flat dying — in air off the scale in terms of noxious chemicals brought about by the country’s breakneck industrialization. Will China’s communist leadership continue playing the great denial game until the mobs come for them, as they have in other parts of the world, or will there finally be some responsibility, accountability and truth-telling. I wouldn’t hold your breath for the latter, if past behavior is any barometer. I’d hold my breath unitl I escpaed Chinese airspace. Is this the way to run an ecomomic giant: foul up the air willy nilly and then call it a pesky fog or a great exaggeration.

* Score one for the U.S. We called their dirty air what it was. Ideological meterologists settled for “fog.” Who was right, and at what cost to average people? See this Wall Street Journal story:

” … The U.S. Embassy in Beijing, which broadcasts readings from its own pollution monitoring equipment on an hourly basis through Twitter, has been instrumental in piercing the veil around air quality in China’s capital — particularly in the month or so since celebrity real estate mogul Pan Shiyi cited its readings in calling for tougher air monitoring standards. Authorities in Beijing and most other Chinese cities measure air pollution by counting only particles between 2.5 and 10 micrometers in diameter. The embassy counts particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), which experts say make up the most of the city’s air pollution and cause more damage to the lungs. While Twitter is blocked in China, third-party developers have used the embassy’s feed to build mobile apps that are accessible inside the country. The most recent online outpouring seems to have been set off on Sunday night, when the embassy published a PM2.5 air quality index reading above 500 – a level expats refer to as “Crazy Bad” – that contrasted sharply with the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Environmental Protection’s description of air pollution over the weekend as “light.” …”

* L.A. Times on this issue from a dynamite reporter. MSBNC gets in its 2 cents.

* So you’re visiting the mighty Asian economic tiger and need to hit the bricks for the road home. Maybe breathe without hacking again. Good luck finding the airport through those hovering, blinding chemicals. GPS anyone? The L.A. Times reports:

“Whether it was fog or smog, thousands of travelers have been delayed since Sunday evening by the almost opaque air around Beijing Capital Airport. The delays at one of the busiest airports in the world raise questions about whether air pollution in China has gotten bad enough to derail the country’s economic growth. Hundreds of flights were canceled and even the highway to the airport had to be closed … Beijingers bought more than 20,000 face masks on Taobao, a shopping website; and people took to the Internet to mock their own government’s reporting of air quality. “They are treating citizens as idiots,” complained a young man on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like microblog. A middle-aged man wrote sarcastically, “The city looks like a fairyland but thanks to the government, it is only ‘slight pollution.’ ” …”

* Excellent, courageous coverage on this issue all the way around, and we really love what the Atlantic has to say in this blog, which has a link to a disgusting and revealing video. This is toxic air, folks, not a trick of the light:

“Everyone I know in Northern China has been writing about the recent sieges of off-the-scale air pollution, especially in Beijing. Much of the political and press controversy involves “PM 2.5″ — the fine-particulate pollution that is threatening to human health, that is closely monitored in the rest of the world, but for which the only known, publicly available data in China has come from an “unauthorized” measuring site on the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing … As you see the video, bear in mind that what you might take for swirling “fog” on a moist morning in Seattle or along the Maine or California coast is in fact toxic air. That’s the point of the recent controversy, since the government has insisted on calling it “fog.” …”

Somebody needs to get these people a copy of our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles. The world was supposed to know better by now.

If we want to ditch fossil fuels, and all the smog and global warming that it manufactures in bulk, perhaps we should we get ourselves far beyond the clouds.

Monday, November 21st, 2011

* We love this type of story. Ingenuity meets necessity. Graps exceeds reach. A scientific revolution that might lubricate social harmony. Orbital power plants: a warming, exhaust-laden envivorment needs you.

From MSNBC:

“The sun’s abundant energy, if harvested in space, could provide a cost-effective way to meet global power needs in as little as 30 years with seed money from governments, according to a study by an international scientific group. Orbiting power plants capable of collecting solar energy and beaming it to Earth appear “technically feasible” within a decade or two based on technologies now in the laboratory, a study group of the Paris-headquartered International Academy of Astronautics said … ” Colonel Michael Smith, the U.S. Air Force’s chief futurist as director of the Center for Strategy and Technology at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, said the idea has the potential to send safe, clean electrical energy worldwide “if we can make it work. “Isn’t that what government and industry should be working to do?” he said in a telephone interview.

Sidebar: how realistic?

“The idea of beaming down power from outer space has surfaced in science-fiction stories and government studies for decades now. Commercial deals have been struck, prototype satellites have been proposed, international initiatives have been announced. But has any real progress been made toward developing space-based solar power systems? That’s what we’re talking about this Sunday on “Virtually Speaking Science.”

* In less inspiring news, check out this New York Times story detailing President Obama’s decision to pare back on anti-smog rules. We’re in 2011, but it’s the same story that it’s been for decades. When political fortunes go south and the economy sputters, hard-won environmental regulation is recast as reckless oversight so our government leaders can water them down, to hell wilth the consequences. Maybe some day Uncle Sam will, green-wise, grow up to the point it stops creating false choices. Maybe.

From the New York Times (with their standard picture of a polluted L.A. skyline):

“The summons from the president came without warning the Thursday before Labor Day. As she was driven the four blocks to the White House, Lisa P. Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, suspected that the news would not be good. What she did not see coming was a rare public rebuke the president was about to deliver by rejecting her proposal to tighten the national standard for smog. The half-hour meeting in the Oval Office was not a negotiation; the president had decided against ratcheting up the ozone rule because of the cost and the uncertainty it would impose on industry and local governments. He clearly understood the scientific, legal and political implications. He told Ms. Jackson that she would have an opportunity to revisit the Clean Air Act standard in 2013 — if they were still in office. We are just not going to do this now, he said … The full retreat on the smog standard was the first and most important environmental decision of the presidential campaign season that is now fully under way. An examination of that decision, based on interviews with lobbyists on both sides, former officials and policy makers at the upper reaches of the White House and the E.P.A., illustrates the new calculus on political and policy shifts as the White House sharpens its focus on the president’s re-election …”

Our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution, makes clear we are on history’s hamster wheel here.

Update on air pollution health effects while driving. L.A. has been a cancer petri dish on this front since World War II.

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

But the Wall Street Journal chimes in with a pithy update.

” …  As roadways choke on traffic, researchers suspect that the tailpipe exhaust from cars and trucks—especially tiny carbon particles already implicated in heart disease, cancer and respiratory ailments—may also injure brain cells and synapses key to learning and memory.  

Columbia University’s Frederica Perera discusses the link between exposure to pollutants in the womb and mental impacts in children. Plus, how New York City – one of the most congested cities in the U.S. – is improving traffic flow.

New public-health studies and laboratory experiments suggest that, at every stage of life, traffic fumes exact a measurable toll on mental capacity, intelligence and emotional stability. “There are more and more scientists trying to find whether and why exposure to traffic exhaust can damage the human brain,” says medical epidemiologist Jiu-Chiuan Chen at the University of Southern California who is analyzing the effects of traffic pollution on the brain health of 7,500 women in 22 states. “The human data are very new …”

Lots of local scientists are working on this subject. Angelenos, in fact, are the oldtimers in this field. At one point, the raw threat from chronic, toxic smog was considered to be more of a cancer progenitor than cigarette smoking. Now we are learning more, especially about the effects of carbon molecules on neuro-biologoy. For a look waaaaay back, to 1940′s California when university doctors and researchers put their mind on the subject, read our critically acclaimed book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles.

Drivers beware. That tailpipe in front of you may have a say on your life-span.