Archive for the ‘Dr. Arie Haagen-Smit’ Category

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.

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An expert (and smog sufferer) vents at Republicans efforts to weaken the Clean Air Act that helped our mountains reappear and our lungs to recover

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

This foreful and provocative blog post comes from Char Miller, Director and W.M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College, and editor of the just-published “Cities and Nature in the American West.” He comments every Wednesday at 2 p.m. on environmental issues.

“The postcard on my desk is almost 40 years old. Angelenos of a certain age will recognize it–a wide-angled, aerial shot of the downtown core of Los Angeles and its then, much-more modest skyline. Framed by the intersection of the Santa Monica and Harbor freeways, the whole scene is muffled in a brown smear of smog. Barely visible in the deep background, just poking above the thick toxic stew, is a snow-capped Mt. Baldy, the tallest of the San Gabriels. Reads the arch caption: “Greetings from Los Angeles.”

I first spotted the card in the fall of 1972 when I came to Southern California to attend Pitzer College, and immediately sent a steady stream of them to family and friends back east. They got its black humor, which I reinforced when I confessed (and perhaps bragged) that my dorm room was within five miles of Mt. Baldy, yet I almost never saw its bold face.

Now I see it every day, often with stunning clarity, as if the entire range was etched out of a blue true dream of sky. How strange, then, that Republicans in Congress are maneuvering to gut the Clean Air Act, stop the EPA from regulating Greenhouse gases, and, in a special affront to Los Angeles, roll back the federal agency’s ability to monitor tailpipe emissions. It’s enough to make you gasp for air.

Their regressive political agenda, designed to savage public health, ought to infuriate any who lived–and suffered–through the dark-sky years that hung over SoCal like a pall. It took decades of fierce struggle on the local, state, and national levels to build the political capital and legislative clout needed to write the binding regulations, a battle that began in the late 1940s and which is richly chronicled in Chip Jacobs’ and William J. Kelly’s Smogtown (2008).

It took just as long to create and fund the federal Environmental Protection Agency (1970) and the local South Coast Air Quality Management District (1976). Neither organization had an easy birth: President Nixon created the EPA with reluctance and under considerable pressure; and Governor Ronald Reagan twice vetoed the creation of SCAQMD, which only came into being with a stroke of Governor Jerry Brown’s pen. We have blue skies–when we have them–only because of the robust regulatory regime that emerged out of this fraught politics of smog.

We need to remember this history as well because nothing else accounts for the steady uptick in Southern California’s air quality. After all, what my vintage postcard, in its didactic back text, asserts were the central contributing factors to the region’s then-poisonous air, remains true: “Millions of people driving millions of cars plus temperature inversion provide Los Angeles with a near perfect environment for the production and containment of photochemical smog.” One result of this disturbing mix of technology and meteorology, it warns, is that the “LA Basin inversion acts as a giant lid over the smog, inhabitants and visitors.”

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From China to Chinatown: selective retention roundup

Monday, March 7th, 2011

* China is supposedly changing its stripes, from the dark red of capitalistic communism to some yet to be determined shade of green. The world’s fastest growing economy is on an energy conservation kick. Hard to believe, but here’s the New York Times story (color us skeptical): “… Bejing’s emphasis on saving energy reflects concerns about national security and the effects of high fuel costs on inflation, China’s export competitiveness and the country’s pollution problems. Any energy policy moves by Beijing hold global implications, given that China is the world’s biggest consumer of energy and largest emitter of greenhouse gases. And even the new efficiency goals assume that China’s overall energy consumption will grow, to meet the needs of the nation’s 1.3 billion people and its rapidly expanding economy …”

* Not depressed enough? Read up on a little apocalyptic scriptline called “potential mass extinction” from the destruction of endangered species. USA Today story tidbit: “… The IUCN lists 18,351 species on its “Red List of Threatened Species,” considered the global standard for the conservation status of animal and plant species. All are at risk based on current and projected habitat loss or destruction due to human encroachment and climate change. Of those, 1,940 are listed as critically endangered, meaning the species’ numbers have decreased, or will decrease, by 80% within three generations …”

* The Southern California Physician Magazine, which is associated with the venerable Los Angeles County Medical Association, has a long and worthwhile story about smog and health in its April edition. It begins with the lead anecdote from our book, and examines the grim air-pollution health realities, such as we know them. There’s also an extremely informative sidebar about the different sorts of emissions we face here in the basin. From the article: “… The most telling new study, however, is one released just this year from the RAND Corporation. Entitled “The Impact of Air Quality on Hospital Spending,” the study found that in failing to meet federal air quality standards over the years 2005-2007, California incurred an estimated 29,808 preventable hospital admissions and emergency room visits. Even more daunting in this era of escalating health care costs, the authors—John A. Romley, Andrew Hackbarth, and Dana P. Goldman—found that the additional hospital care cost health care purchasers and insurers $193.2 million. Medicare alone spent $103.6 million on air pollution-related hospital care during the course of the study (see “Air Pollution–Related Hospital Events and Charges”) …”

* Spot.us, a community funded news organization, will soon be starting a radio series about L.A. smog and its nexus with oil production and other factors in concert with newdesk.org. We’ll be blogging more about this terrific show — “Air Check” on the program “Hear in the City” — as the installments run. The lead journalist, Sara Harris, has been reading our book and recently interviewed us. Don’t call us the enviro James Ellroy for nothing! Please listen to the show on KPFK.

Caltech’s preeminent Engineering & Science magazine does book overview with emphasis on the High Priest of Hydrocarbons himself, Caltech’s very own Dr. Haagen-Smit.

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Good meat and potatoes roundup (article link) …

“On July 8, 1943, a thick blanket of gray mist engulfed Los Angeles, burning eyes and searing throats. The gaseous assault was so sudden that some thought the Japanese were beginning an invasion with chemical weapons. But the suffocating pall wasn’t foreign—it was smog. And so begins Smogtown, by Chip Jacobs and William J. Kelly, a history of the fight against air pollution in Southern California.

The authors deliver a blow-by-blow account of subsequent struggles to find the source of the smog and return to Los Angeles the clear blue skies that had drawn so many westward in the first place. The themes and characters are all too familiar: relentless economic growth versus the environment and health; timid politicians or, worse, political leaders who fail to recognize the magnitude of the problem; businesses and industries that care only about the bottom line; a public reluctant to sacrifice an unsustainable lifestyle; and the regulatory agencies caught in between.

The primary players include Caltech’s own Arnold Beckman (PhD ’28) and Arie J. Haagen-Smit, a chemistry professor from 1937 until his retirement in 1971. As a science advisor to the city, Beckman recruited Haagen-Smit, now considered the father of smog control, to figure out the smog’s underlying chemistry …”

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