Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Autumn green — a terrific (and lung-scarring) video, Central Valley particulates, the mile-high cough and the White House smog fandango

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

 

* Why Central California — yup, the San Joaquin Valley — is such a smog breeding ground. From the Atlantic:

“… One of the big things we’re dealing with is that we have a 1 to 2 ratio of people to vehicle miles traveled,” says Jaime Holt at the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. These mobile sources of emissions add to the Valley’s problems, but Holt argues they’re not the main cause. The region’s agriculture is responsible for much of the region’s pollution. Up until a few years ago, farmers in the region would regularly burn brush and cuttings at the end of the season, creating huge sources of particulate matter in the air. A new state law, enforced since 2004, regulates the emissions of the agriculture industry in the state, and Holt says the Valley’s pollution problems have already started to decline. In 2002, more than 4,600 tons of 2.5-microgram particulate matter was recorded. In 2008, that figure was down to 1,600 tons. The problem is getting better, but it’s by no means solved. As agricultural burn-offs continue to decrease, the Valley can expect to see its air quality improve. But regardless of the value of those improvements, its geography and meteorology distinctly disadvantage it to suffer below average air quality …”

* Ever wonder about the quality of the air you breathe on airlines in that closed environment? Yep, we did, , too, and so have others. Here’s a story about potential domino lawsuits and a focus on what is either a dirty secret or an environmental mole-hill. MSBNC has the goods:

“A former flight attendant is believed to be the first person in the U.S. to settle a lawsuit against the Boeing Co. over what she claims is faulty aircraft design that allowed toxic fumes to reach the cabin, triggering tremors, memory loss and severe headaches. The amount and other details of the settlement Wednesday between former American Airlines worker Terry Williams, a 42-year-old mother of two, and Boeing were not made public as a condition of the agreement. But 250,000 pages of company documents turned over to the plaintiff’s legal team by Boeing seem certain to fuel the long-running battle over the safety of cabin air in commercial jetliners. “The issue is really heating up now,” Judith Murawski, a Seattle-area based industrial hygienist for the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, told msnbc.com, adding that she typically handles at least three new cases a week involving crew members exposed to fumes. Many calls come from crew members on their way to emergency rooms or urgent care clinics, she said …”

* You know your president is in trouble when his once bedrock convictions begin crumbling like a cracker dropped into a glass of water. Once more, we are showing ourselves to be the land of the short-sighted. Haven’t we already decided the environment matters and that sweeping, wholesale deregulation is not only recklessly unhealthy but economically dangerous? Who pays for all those pollution-sickened folks? Hint: you and me! The Washington Post, of course, has the lowdown.

“President Obama’s controversial decision last week to suspend new anti-smog standards offered hints — but not the full road map — of how the White House will navigate politically explosive battles with congressional Republicans over which industry regulations to sacrifice and which ones to fight for this fall. The Friday decision, which angered many environmental activists and won praise from business groups, represented the most high-profile case in a debate that carries deep implications for Obama’s reelection campaign as he tries to spur job creation, woo business donors and fire up his voting base. It came as the president prepares for a major address Thursday night to lay out a new employment strategy … The ozone decision signaled a new phase in Washington warfare. For their first two years, Obama and his team pushed through ambitious legislative initiatives such as the economic stimulus, the health-care overhaul and a rewrite of the financial regulatory system. Now, newly empowered congressional Republicans are driving an agenda of smaller government, deficit reduction and regulatory rollbacks that GOP lawmakers say will help spur job growth. And Obama, his presidency on the line amid fading hopes of a near-term economic recovery, is eager to show that he, too, recognizes the need to curb government overreach. At the same time, he needs to reassure anxious advocates on the left, many of whom have complained since last month’s debt-ceiling deal that the president has become too easily cowed by Republican arguments. It is a delicate balancing act for a president still searching for the right formula to spark the economy to life at the same time that he hopes to win back crucial independent voters.

Save the EPA from Republican bomb-throwers with a Smogtown Op-Ed in the NY Times, and other green news

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

* A snippet from my editorial in today’s New York Times “Room for Debate” online roudtable about whether Republican presidential candidates calling for the EPA’s dissolution have a point or are just giving red-meat to a fatigued, job-hungry people:

” … In national politics, California may be seen as Exhibit A for over-regulating the environment. But anyone making that argument must ignore what the state was like before the Environmental Protection Agency. Its rules and enforcement have made California a livable, thriving state. Now, if you’re a Republican presidential candidate irate about America’s wheezy economy, it’s easy to go Red Queen and call for guillotining the E.P.A. Scapegoating regulators as job-killing obstructionists can pump up the faithful, but it doesn’t reflect well on America’s environmental maturity. None of the White House hopefuls mention the expected $2 trillion in health and environmental benefits from the Clean Air Act by 2020. Few of the greenhouse skeptics, in fact, even broach fresh air at all, perhaps because they hail from states where it was never toxic …”

Read our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, and you’ll see just how instrumental California’s smog epidemic was in galvanizing an environmental ethos that led to creation of the EPA itself. The effects of those untamed, brown-exhaust-blowing tailpipes spawned a bureaucracy.

And now for something completely greener, we think.

* San Joaquin Valley toxic dump agrees to spend $1 million to better manage hazardous waste. From the L.A. Times:

“A toxic waste dump near a San Joaquin Valley community plagued by birth defects has agreed to pay $400,000 in fines and spend $600,000 on laboratory upgrades needed to properly manage hazardous materials at the facility, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday. The penalties were part of a consent decree that capped an 18-month investigation by the EPA and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control into the Chemical Waste Management landfill about 3 1/2 miles southwest of Kettleman City, a community of 1,500 mostly low-income Latino farmworkers. Company records revealed at least 18 instances over the last six years in which toxic waste had to be excavated from the landfill after it was learned that the laboratory had mistakenly concluded the material met treatment standards, EPA officials said …”

* The California-led greenhosue gas cap-and-trade was supposed to be a shiney achievement of former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration. It’s turned out to be something much more complicated, divisive and legally perilious than anyone believed. Still, the state Air Resources Board remains behind it through the court challenges and liberal backlash. Having covered the Anne Sholtz caper with the smog cap and trade here in Southern California, color me skeptical about how much a green market will achieve. Then again, this is the West Coast where we build the future day by day. From the L.A. Times:

“The California Air Resources Board voted to reaffirm its cap-and-trade plan Wednesday, a decision that puts the nation’s first-ever state carbon trading program back on track, for now. The on-again, off-again rules have been years in the making and are meant to complement AB 32, California’s landmark climate change law that mandates a reduction in carbon pollution to 1990 levels by 2020. The air board adopted a preliminary carbon trading plan in late 2008 but was sued by environmental justice groups in 2009. A San Francisco judge in March ordered the air board to more comprehensively analyze alternatives to the market-based trading system, such as a carbon tax or fee. In a unanimous vote in Sacramento on Wednesday, the board adopted the revised environmental analysis while still affirming its original decision. But the board’s vote may not forestall another legal challenge. The original plaintiffs argued in Wednesday’s hearing that the revised analysis still failed to adequately consider other options. UCLA law professor Cara Horowitz said “most assuredly” the matter would be back before the court. Board chief Mary Nichols said she has not always supported cap and trade in part because it would be difficult to administer. “I had my doubts,” she said, adding that many details remain to be hashed out. “It is a form of California leadership that involves some risk. This is still the most viable of the alternatives to achieve the goals of AB 32.” Originally scheduled for implementation next year, industry compliance with the cap-and-trade program will now take effect in 2013 …”

Nobody said clean air was free in the short term. They said just it was worth it in spades for future generations.

Friday, June 10th, 2011

By 2020, ozone-limiting regulations in the federal Clean Air Act enacted will have saved the country — wait for it — 230,000 lives and $2 trillion. Can we really afford to water down regulations when we net those types of gains? We don’t believe we can. Big Business disagrees in the continuation of a fight that’s been going on since L.A. first smog attack.

* From the Bloomberg story about lungs and politics.

“Cutting ozone pollution using the Clean Air Act will have saved $2 trillion by 2020 and prevented at least 230,000 deaths annually, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a report. Tougher emission restrictions adopted in 1990 helped avoid more than 160,000 premature deaths, 130,000 heart attacks, 13 million lost work days and 1.7 million asthma attacks last year, according to today’s report, which measured only the impact of amendments from 1990. By 2020, complying with the amendments would prevent 200,000 heart attacks, 17 million lost work days and 2.4 million asthma attacks, according to the report …”

* Speaking of the dangers of ozone emissions, Latinos are pressing the Obama Administration to keep the pressure on polluters as an environmental justice issue. From the L.A. Times:

“… EPA announced proposed ozone standards of 60-70 ppb in January 2010, but delayed implementing them and in December, said it would submit the issue to a scientific advisory panel. That panel since has endorsed the lower limits. The agency is slated to establish new standards in July. The George W. Bush administration had lowered the limit from 85 to 75 ppb. No urban area of California meets even the 1997 federal standard of 80 ppb. If states fail to meet federal standards, the government can withhold highway funding.
The Latino groups that signed the letter, from California, Texas and other states, are part of a growing environmental movement centered around some of the nation’s most polluted urban areas. Signatories included the Comite del Valle from Brawley, in California’s Central Valley, and the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California. Groups such as East Yard Communities in Los Angeles have been pushing for help with unhealthful air in their working-class neighborhoods, surrounded by freeways and large rail yards. In San Bernardino, air pollution authorities on Wednesday announced a major study of communities around large rail facilities that serve as a main inland hub of goods shipped across the U.S. The study will examine rates of cancer and asthma in those low-income communities …”

* An important Harvard study about traffic emissions has come out. Last year, America’s top 83 top urban areas saw 2,300 premature deaths and $18 billion in public health costs from motorists stuck in congestion. Particulate matter so fine it can penetrate the lung’s natural defenses and enter the bloodstream was a particular danger.

From the USA Today article

” …What the study says is when you are designing and evaluating (transportation) policies, you should take into account the pollution impacts, because they do matter,” says Katherine von Stackelberg of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, a co-author of the study. She says people at risk are those sitting in traffic and others exposed to the polluted air. Researchers evaluated premature deaths resulting from people breathing particulate matter. Previous studies have shown that motor vehicle emissions contribute up to one-third of particulate matter in urban areas. Researchers evaluated premature deaths resulting from people breathing particulate matter. Previous studies have shown that motor vehicle emissions contribute up to one-third of particulate matter in urban areas. “The report highlights the complete failure of elected leaders to adquately invest in new capacity for all modes of transportation,” says Matt Jeanneret, spokesman for the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, one of 29 groups that commissioned the study. “Sadly, traffic congestion in America can be summed up this way: Time lost, fuel lost — and now, lives lost …”

From lungs to the head: the inexorable path of smog through the body

Monday, April 11th, 2011

* Researchers at USC made news recently with their announcement that they discovered a correlation between microscopic air pollution particles and neurological conditions including Alzheimers. From the L.A. Times (and I encourage you to read the comments, too) blog:

“It is well known that air pollution from cars and trucks on Southern California freeways — a combination of soot, pavement dust and other toxic substances — can cause respiratory disease, heart attacks, cancer and premature death. Now, exposure to pollution particles roughly one-thousandth the width of a human hair has been linked to brain damage in mice, including signs associated with memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease, according to a USC study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. In a statement, senior author Caleb Finch, an expert on the effects of inflammation and holder of USC’s ARCO/William F. Kieschnick Chair in the Neurobiology of Aging, said “You can’t see them, but they are inhaled and have an effect on brain neurons that raises the possibility of long-term brain health consequences of freeway air.”

Of course, us Angelenos have been on the front lines of the smog-public health trenches since the mid-1940s. We detail the entire progression in our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles.

The first evidence that smog was unhealthy and not just a temporary misery came from mothers who noticed their children were afflicted with headaches, hacking coughs, distracted minds and a sort of spiritual torpor after exposure to the brown murk. Those doctors, though lacking today’s sophisticated equipment, soon developed a consensus that L.A. air pollution was a real threat to people’s pulmonary systems, especially among the aged and infirmed. Many doctors urged ill patients to flee the area.

One USC researcher said the region was “living in a giant cancer experiment.” Besides fears of massive cases of lung cancer (some believed it’d trigger more of it than cigarette smoking), physicians also noticed the hazy, ozone-laden air did a number of people’s tickers, causing tissue damage or igniting an irregular or elevated heart rates. Slowly, as the science improved in the 1950s and 1960s, researchers began noticing that smog was messing with people’s heads. Some Angelenos grew agitated and belligerent in smog, others became surly and even suicidal. Decades back, a top California medical official said Southern California’s noxious atmosphere was driving up admission into state mental hospitals. In a freakish aside, a small number of people suffered a smog-ignited syndrome called “globus hyperius,” an imaginary lump in the throat that can induce spasmadoic swallowing. 

It wasn’t until the 1990s that researchers drew connections between today’s mutated smog — one heavy on ultra-fine particulate pollution, much of it from diesel engines and proximity to freeways – neurological conditions like dementia and even autoimmune diseases like diabetes. Today’s mice are just confirming the episodic understanding that air pollution is far more harmful to certain people at more nuanced levels than we ever imagined.

This is a terribly important find for a tenacious urban condition of our own making.

Your authors will be appearing on a terrific new radio series airing on KPFK titled, “Air Check: Petroleum and Pollution from a Community Perspective”

Monday, March 14th, 2011

It’s being produced by Hear in the City in conjuction with Newdesk.org’s Toxic Tour project.” Our segement airs today (March 14) at 2 P.M. PST. Sara Harris is the lead journalist here. You can listen live at this link for KPFK (90.7-FM)

Here’s the show’s teaser:

“This series brings people affected by some of the most persistent point-source air pollution in the city to the forefront of a conversation about air quality and environmental justice. From the oilfields of the solidly middle-class, Black, Baldwin Hills neighborhood, to the working-class Latino families who live along the 710 Freeway corridor, in LAUSD schools sited dangerously close to freeways and using outdated diesel buses, and with community groups working with industry to demand tougher air regulations at the Ports of Los Angeles, Air Check would actively engage disproportionately impacted communities instead of using their stories to pepper news copy or spark one-off outrage that quickly fades away. We’ve chosen these communities to report with because scant media attention is paid to the air pollution they deal with daily. Rarely, if ever, do we hear who is working to change the situation and how.”

We’re flattered and proud to assist in this series, and hope our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, shed a little light where there was once just noxious, brown atmospheric chaff.

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.

Happy 2011, greenies. Read ‘em and don’t weep. Learn

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

 

* You know the economy is bad when a Democratic president reigns in the EPA that had started showing its teeth.

- From the New York Times story

“The Obama administration is retreating on long-delayed environmental regulations — new rules governing smog and toxic emissions from industrial boilers — as it adjusts to a changed political dynamic in Washington with a more muscular Republican opposition.”

* Tehran not only has nuclear weapons to make evidently. It has a capital shrouded in Western-style air pollution made by cars and fossil fuel consumption. When a government considers air purifiers, it’s blithering and bumbling and nowhere close to a solution. I’m sure the people opposed to the current regime haven’t missed that one when they’re not coughing and reaching for their inhalers. Good luck, Iran. Glade won’t save you.

- From the Washington Post article

“The Iranian capital is experiencing what officials say is the worst pollution in its history, prompting the government to shutter offices and consider placing air purifiers across the city as it seeks to combat the brown blanket of smog. The weeks of heavy pollution are taking a serious toll on residents of Tehran. Hospitals are reporting a strong increase in patients with breathing problems. Government offices have been closed for three days over the past three weeks, and schools and universities have been shuttered for at least six days …”

* From green action-hero to has-been environmentalist – that’s the unflattering epigram hung around Arnold Schwarzenegger when his two years as California governor ended. Personally, I think that’s a gross overstatement. A leader can only achieve what the situation allows.

- Los Angeles Times story about his legacy.

L.A. smog crisis as an environmental/social case study wending its way into academia

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

 

We’re seeing our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, on more university-level reading reading and curriculum, and are grateful that Southern California’s decades of suffering and teeth-gnashing can reveal a lot about how and how not to confront an ecological adversary with many faces and facets.

As of today, Smogtown is listed in 435 public libraries, many with multiple copies.

For a taste of what some university professors are using to teach their students about Amercia’s pollution legacy, contemplate this list from a Holy Cross course entitled “Pollution and Power.” (Holy Cross is a small, Catholic liberal-arts college in Worcester, Massachusetts.

* Richard White, The Organic Machine: The Remaking of the Columbia River (Hill and Wang, 1996).

* Julie Sze, Noxious New York: The Racial Politics of Urban Health and Environmental Justice (MIT, 2006)

* Chip Jacobs, William J. Kelly, Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles (Overlook, 2008)

* Linda Nash, Inescapable Ecologies: A History of Environment, Disease, and Knowledge (California, 2007)

* Adam Rome, The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism (Cambridge, 2001)

 * Steve Lerner, Diamond: A Struggle for Environmental Justice in Louisiana’s Chemical Corridor (MIT, 2006)

This Bookforum review of Smogtown remains one of our favorites, even with its little jab. L.A. – a city of “irreconciliables”

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

 

 

Historians of Los Angeles have tended, even when critical of the city, to re-inforce its long-standing reputation as a place of fantasy. Among the first to examine LA as an object of serious scholarship was Reyner Banham, who, in Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (1971), imagined La La Land as a series of discrete laboratories for democratic life, an exciting but highly romanticized LA of sun, fun, and motoring. A generation later, that book found its dark opposite in Mike Davis’s City of Quartz (1990), which turned LA’s penchant for unreality against it, revealing a bloated science-fictional dystopia. Both books boast compelling urban histories and continuing relevance, but even as each attempted to explore the form and fundamental logic of the city, they glamorized its past, and LA remained under a haze of myth.

Some of it gets burned off in Smogtown, a meticulous chronicle of the city’s signature airborne grime and of the civic and social forces that emerged to stop it. The authors, Los Angeles–based journalists Chip Jacobs and William J. Kelly, bring LA back to its unglitzy basics in a story of greed, pollution, and molasses-slow political change. Their history describes a decidedly dreary Los Angeles: Patio furniture fades, flowers die, and a man’s coral-colored tie turns bluish-purple over the course of an afternoon—all due to the smog that rolled into the city quite unannounced one morning in 1943. “The blocked skies,” write Jacobs and Kelly, “were tantamount to acne on a beauty queen.”

While Angelenos choked on the black stuff, variously described as an “aerosol barrage” and a “hanging bouillabaisse,” the government floundered. The Bureau of Air Pollution Control (BAPC) was the first local agency to tackle the crisis, starting in 1945. It failed to identify the smog’s source, as its engineers focused chiefly on sulfurous factory smoke and ignored gasoline-related fumes. The BAPC was replaced in 1947 by the Air Pollution Control District (APCD), under whose aegis Dutch-born biochemist Arie Haagen-Smit isolated automobile exhaust as the culprit. The APCD, however, couldn’t get much traction on the problem; neither could its successor agency, the South Coast Air Quality Management District; nor could the California Air Resources Board, the superagency created to coordinate statewide efforts. As Jacobs and Kelly demonstrate, the reason so little got done for so long was simple: Haagen-Smit (known fondly as Haagy) had solved the mystery, but in “linking smog with the tailpipe,” he put the antipollution bureaucracy in a bind for decades—caught between California’s burgeoning car culture and the smog-bedeviled people of Los Angeles.

It’s enough to make you feel bad for bureaucrats. Speaking of APCD chief Louis McCabe, one observer recalls, “The poor chap was being harassed from all sides.” Haagy’s credibility was called into question by “scientists” funded by the automobile and oil industries while rumors spread in the general population about a plot by big-business polluters to indict the “little man’s automobile.” The smogmen were charged with the daunting task of mediating between the public and private sectors and one another, all while dealing with angry citizens who threatened to “[come] down there after you with a hatchet.”

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