Archive for the ‘Smog Sundries’ Category

Smogtown set for e-book for Kindle and other mobile devices August 23. It’s a helluva, brown story for a warming age.

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Click here at amazon.com and let the journey begin

Some reasons to download it:

* Named one of 2008′s best environmental books by Booklist magazine

* Awarded silver medals at The Green Book Festival and Independent Book Publishers (IPPY) Awards. Winner of the Green Prize for Sustainable Literature from Santa Monica.

* Reviews

“[A] remarkably entertaining and informative chronicle of the birth and—so far—inexorable evolution of smog… This book is just amazing, a gripping story well told, with the requisite plucky scientists (including Arie Haagen-Smit, a Dutch biochemist who was “the Elvis of his field”), hapless politicians, and a nebulous biochemical villain who just will not be stopped.” –Booklist (Starred review)

“The history of smog has never been so sexy” — Los Angeles Times

“Smog in all its hazy-and sometimes humorous-permutations … a zany and provocative cultural history.” — Kirkus

“Finished with a particularly powerful, forward-looking epilogue, this friendly, accessible history should appeal to any American environmentalist.”– Publishers Weekly

“… a meticulous chronicle of the city’s signature airborne grime and of the civic and social forces that emerged to stop it … … The story of Smogtown is that of a city vying against time to reconcile incommensurables … ” — Bookforum

“The narrative that emerges is more than a tale of a region and a populace besieged by smog; it is also a parable for a nation beset by environmental and social problems … (a) well-researched cultural history” — Slate

“Writing in a hip, lively style, …[An] intriguing social history of an environmental problem that won’t go away. Recommended.” – Library Journal

“A well-documented, highly engaging, and widely relevant account of southern California’s battle with “the beast,” as the authors lovingly refer to smog. … Smogtown is not your typical “green’s” diatribe against big business and weak government. No, Jacobs and Kelly are much smarter-and fairer-than that” — Sustainablog

* From the dust jacket description:

“The smog beast wafted into downtown Los Angeles on July 26, 1943. Nobody knew what it was. Secretaries rubbed their eyes. Traffic cops seemed to disappear in the mysterious haze. Were Japanese saboteurs responsible? A reckless factory? The truth was much worse–it came from within, from Southern California’s burgeoning car-addicted, suburban lifestyle. Smogtown is the story of pollution, progress, and how an optimistic people confronted the epic struggle against airborne poisons barraging their hometowns. With wit, verve, and a fresh look at history, California based journalists Chip Jacobs and William J. Kelly highlight the bold personalities involved, the corporate- tainted science, the terrifying health costs, the attempts at cleanup, and how the smog battle helped mold the modern-day culture of Los Angeles. There are scofflaws aplenty and dirty deals, plus murders, suicides, spiritual despair, and an ever-present paranoia about mass disaster. Brimming with historic photographs, forgotten anecdotes, and new revelations about our environmentally precarious present, Smogtown is a journalistic classic for the modern age.”

The view of brown L.A. from green Washington and the dawn of the smog-eating building

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Us native Southern Californians are five degrees of jaded when it comes to breathing toxic, emission-rich air. Our lungs are psyches have never known anything else. Not so for people in America’s Great Northwest, where frequent rainfull fills the atmosphere rather than stagnant ozone, diesel particulates and a tired acceptance that we’ve beat back the smog monster as far as we can in our freeway culture.

Recently, I noticed a blog where a young Washingtonian who previously hadn’t heard much about L.A.’s sixty-year tango with smog did some web surfing and found himself disgusted and curious that despite 2.5 generations of improvement the smog crowns remain firmly on the heads of us Californians.

Outside perspectives are sometimes the best way for us to reflect. From Greencupboards, here how Connor interprets our hazy landscape. If nothing else, the historic pictures he links – including the infamous, 1950s L.A. club meeting where attendees wore gas masks as dark humor — are worth the mouse click.

“… I recently visited Los Angeles, California on a spring break trip. Looking up at the moon at night I was startled to see an orange glow radiating from it like a halo. This is not how the moon looks in Washington, where it appears pure and white, not here. I kept a keen eye out for smog in California as I traveled throughout the state, visiting both Azusa and Occidental Universities where I continued to gauge my visibility level. It was raining for the beginning of my trip so for the most part visibility was good. As I drove to the airport to leave the state the sun was coming up. The higher it got, the worse the visibility became. Mountains I could once see were lost to the golden haze of smog. Over the city in the airplane I looked down. I could barely see the ground- not due to height, but the orange haze that covered it like a dirty cotton ball. As I flew north I was relieved to clearly see the greenery below as I came back to Washington …”

From the department of why-didn’t-I-think of us, somebody has engineered a product that old smog generals here would’ve been doing half-gainers over if they hadn’t to fight the car companies tooth and nail in the 1950s and 1960s to make their vehicles less fumy. Anybody ready for “smog-eating buildings”? Aluminun titan Alcoa Corp. says it has invented a titanium-dioxide coating applied over commerical paint that exploits chemical reactions to break down nitrogen oxide and other unwelcome smog constituents. Not only does the coating keep the building clean, it helps purify the surrounding air, too.

Welcome to the 21st Century. From the fascinating, if brief Forbes story:

“… Candidly, when you first learn about this technology you think, ‘Wow you’ve got to be kidding,’” Craig Belnap, president of Alcoa Architectural Products, said last week when he gave me a sneak preview of the EcoClean panel at the company’s New York City offices in the iconic Lever House.

He holds up a mini-me version of a silver aluminum-skinned building panel like you’d find on any skyscraper in anywhere U.S.A.

It looks utterly unremarkable.

But invisible to the naked eye is a coating of titanium dioxide layered on top of the silver paint. Titanium dioxide particles serve as photo catalysts and when struck by sunlight their electrons become supercharged and interact with water molecules in the air. That interaction releases free radicals that break down organic material on the building panel and pollutants such as nitrogen oxide in the surrounding atmosphere.

“It’s really those free radicals that do all the work,” says Belnap. “They’re the components that attack organic material and oxidize them down to harmless compounds that can eventually be washed away by rain water …”

 

The case of the curious engineer and the inexplicably functioning lungs of smog-bessoted mice

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Note to readers: one of the unexpected treats of running a blog derived from a book about a whopper of a subject is learning how the work provokes in-depth curiosity and contemplation among experts who know the subject far better than the authors do. Sometimes as a book-writer you can only broach and present an issue and have to move on without a complete examination of it, lest you drown in cascading details. But the scientific minded don’t think that way, thank goodness. They never rest until they get their answer.

Ross Caballero is one of those people who read Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles and sunk his teeth into an important medical study deserving fuller attention than the book or newspapers at the time afforded it. Tapping his intellectual curiosity, he sought out to learn the results of a well-publicized study examining how lab animals reacted to L.A. air pollution – a topic that first provoked his interest decades earlier driving on the Hollywood Freeway — and discovered a counterintuitive, head-scratching conclusion just like the old researchers once did. The health consequences of air pollution fluctuate widely from organism to organism. Don’t underestimate the effects of genetics and biological defenses. And never assume anything.

So, it’s with pride and excitement that we present our first guest blogger, who not only made his patient pursuit informative. He made it entertaining and compelling. You can contact Ross at rosscaballero@cs.com

I recently read the book, Smogtown, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  The book discusses animal exposure studies done in the 1960s, which were conducted to assess adverse health effects of exposure to smog, and provides a footnote citing a Los Angeles Times article describing the then-underway tests.

That piqued my interest and set me off on a journey to learn more about the testing.  What I discovered is very interesting, and I want to share it with you.

But first, who am I, and why would I have any interest in this subject?  My name is Ross Caballero.  I am a retired engineer having worked in a variety of engineering fields: aerospace, civil, environmental, and chemical.  I spent the last approximate 20 years of my 40 year career working on issues dealing with air pollution, and I grew up in the Los Angeles area when smog was really, really bad.  One of the test sites mentioned in your book where animal exposure studies were conducted was in buildings located in the median of the Hollywood Freeway near Vermont Ave.  I drove by that facility many times in the 1960s and knew that some kind of animal studies were underway but never knew the details.  I was always intrigued as to “What’s going on in there?”  And yet I can never remember any newspaper article about what the test results were.  After reading your book, I decided to answer my question.

After spending a lot of time looking through the Los Angeles Times historical archives I was able to locate an additional seven articles that described the animal exposure tests.  All of the articles discuss the studies as either as-proposed or now-underway.  No article discusses any results.  Some of the articles mention names of researchers involved in one way or another with the study, most of whom were faculty members or researchers associated with the USC School of Medicine.  Searching the Los Angeles Times archives for other articles containing those names came up empty.  Looking at the USC School of Medicine’s Norris Library on-line data bases, I was unable to find any reference to any of the subject faculty/researchers concerning this study.

I was flummoxed.  This was a really big study.  It involved testing thousand of animals.  It had to have cost a huge amount of money.  It got a lot of publicity as it was planned and as it was being initially implemented.  Then, nothing after May 1964.  This story disappeared off the radar.  Why?

(more…)

Jacobs and Kelly at Smogtown panel – the long lost links

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Sorry it’s taken so long to bring you what we considered a fabulous night at the L.A. Central Library’s prestigious ALOUD program. On our panel were some incredible minds — Tom Hayden, Martin Schlageter and Kevin Roderick — and we still feel honored to have been invited a year and a half later.

Here’s the link to the podcast for the show, which was about 2/3s full — not bad for the middle of the week during a Laker’s Finals game.

Last month, with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s retirement of its last diesel bus, the LAPL’s Metro-transit librarian was kind to us again, highlighting Smogtown as “notable” book

In case you never saw us Googled, Santa Monica style, or made it the 2008 L.A. Times Festival of Books

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Like Al Gore, we’re just dudes with a Power Point and a story to share. Enjoy. This is from May, 2009, when we did an appearance at Google’s sun-splashed Santa Monica headquarters.

Chip also appeared at a panel on unknown/forgotten L.A. History at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books in spring 2008. Here’s the link.

Catch up time again … leading with a little video tribute and unrelated story about the astonishing animal and eco-expert Jane Goodall

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

From the L.A. Daily News piece

“Jane Goodall, the champion of chimpanzees, knelt Monday over a newly planted sticky monkey flower and kissed its leaves for good luck.

She had come to Calabasas to tour a restoration project at the headwaters of the Los Angeles River. But as luck would have it, the sticky monkey flower had yet to be planted.

So the world-renowned primatologist and conservationist knelt, grabbed a handful of soil and sunk the plant into the earth.

While she travels all over the world to talk about the importance of conservation and environmental responsibility, Goodall said it all comes down to a very simple message: One flower planted on a hillside can evolve into a global movement.

“I’ve visited these types of restoration projects all over the world, and it always amazes me how Mother Nature restores herself,” Goodall said …”

Global warming:

* The latest on President Obama’s energy bill, and the politics of cap and trade. It’s about the mighty benjamin. Washington Post story.

* A still frightening Washington Post story about how fast temperatures may rise this century.

* Aspens dying off from global warming. Sounds pretty familiar to Ponderosa Pines and smog. This time we’re smarter, right? Story link from the L.A. Times.

* EPA cracking down on coal-fired power plants. Story.

Odds and ends, green-style:

* Terrifiic piece of enviro. investigative reporting. Gosh, what a connect. From a New York Times piece of late.

* Reactive air pollutants: story