Breathing Air You Can See

harbin pollutionHave you seen the pictures from Harbin, China? Smog got so bad school was cancelled and the airport closed. Visibility was so low drivers couldn’t see traffic lights, often until it was too late!

You can cancel school and close airports, but you’ve got to breath. Breathing shouldn’t be hazardous to your health!

You know, that used to be the story here in the Los Angeles area. Maybe not as bad as China, but at one time LA smog was the butt of jokes from coast-to-coast. We had air you could see! Long time Angelinos remember well. Mountain vistas would disappear for days or weeks at a time. Eyes would tear. Hacking coughs would persist.

Our smog is primarily linked to automobile tailpipes, but our location has a lot to do with it as well.

Most of us live in a low basin with mountains to the east. Temperature inversions trap emissions in the atmosphere, then sunlight (which we have plenty of) converts them to secondary pollutants, like ozone.

Before there were cars and industry there was haze in the Southland, but it took the internal combustion engine and dirty fuels to make that haze poisonous.

Too depressing. You deserve some good news… and there is some. According to NOAA:

“In California’s Los Angeles Basin, levels of some vehicle-related air pollutants have decreased by about 98 percent since the 1960s, even as area residents now burn three times as much gasoline and diesel fuel.”

We have what Harbin, China does not–very stringent pollution controls. Our cars run cleaner. We evaporate less fuel into the atmosphere. We’re more careful about what’s emitted from smokestacks
and chimneys.

Ask a seasoned SoCal native what it used to be like here. You might be amazed.

We still don’t meet the EPA’s standards for ozone levels. But, we’re moving in the right direction. On the other hand Harbin’s air pollution was 40 times what the World Health Organization considers safe!

Getting cleaner air isn’t easy and it isn’t cheap. That’s one reason developing nations see some of the worst air.

“See some of the worst air.” Pun intended.

4 thoughts on “Breathing Air You Can See”

  1. Geoff, you are so right about the smog problems in So. CA, especially along the San Fernando Valley, San Gabriel Valley & San Bernardino. If you flew into Ontario Airport, you couldn’t even see the mountains at times. A lot of people ended up with lung cancer even if they didn’t smoke. The emissions from cars and mfg plants were causing most of the problems. The EPA finally cracked down and told the car mfg & plants, they had to clean up their act. They still have smog in CA, but nothing like it was years ago. That is when you had to have your cars checked every 2 years or DMV wouldn’t renew a car’s registration. Finally the same thing happened in CT. You don’t see cars puffing smoke from their tailpipes like you once did.

  2. One of my musician friends recently emigrated from Canada to Beijing, and she just released a music video she shot there. I was amazed to note that in all the outside shots, it looked like she and the band were in a fog bank. Nope – just a relatively clear day in Beijing!

  3. I remember flying into LAX or Orange County airports in the 80’s and seeing nothing but at thick brown haze until you were into it shortly before landing. I said I would never want to live there and i am glad it’s better now.

  4. When I was in high school one of the house masters came by to talk with us and he told us about the air in LA. He’d lived there for a while before moving back East. He said when you woke up in the morning you could tell what kind of day it would be just by smacking your lips. The air was so bad you could TASTE it. This was back in the ’70s mind you.
    The thing that gets me is that so many ‘business people’ want to gut our clean air regulations so they can pump what they want into the atmosphere without having to spend money to clean it up. But China is a perfect example of why we simply CAN’T do that. And that THEY need to start getting serious about air pollution as well.

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