CATS: In-the-cab, approach-lit light, lighting systems. Techniques that save bucks, energy, Earth

Number 36 in the Clean Air Technologies Series.


In “CATS: For environmental sustainability, security and even safety, solar ‘lights’ the way,” in the first few paragraphs, I described what I had observed on a part of the then return leg of what had at the time been a vacation taken to the California coastal community of Monterey. And, what I wrote was this exactly:

“On a recent trip back to Fresno from Monterey, California, upon entering State Route (SR) 99 from SR 152, I noticed quite a few of the light standards that had previously been used to supply light for roadway illumination purposes were unlit.

“So what was the reason or reasons for this move? Were said lights off because of copper wire theft or was this an attempt by state or county interests to conserve energy, save money or both?

“Now I would have to think that each of those standards cost a pretty penny to put up and if not used, then wouldn’t that sort of defeat the purpose of their being installed in the first place?

“So getting back to the energy-conservation/money-savings scenario, I guess I could accept that. Besides, it isn’t as if motor vehicles don’t come with headlights.”

This elicits memories of a time when the city of Fresno (where I reside) decided – as a cost-cutting measure – to keep the lamps on as many as – if I recall correctly – 10,000 roadway lighting standards scattered throughout the city, turned off. Obviously, complaints from citizens were lodged. Also, if I’m not mistaken, these 10,000 or so lights were eventually turned back on.


Public transit traffic light in Sweden
Public transit traffic light in Sweden

Now, in carrying the “lights out” move one step farther, imagine the money and energy that could be saved by keeping all such lighting standards off (at night) and illuminated only when motion or movement was detected by a sensor placed somewhere on the standard itself. This is similar in principle to the way motion-detection lighting operates.

But, why stop there?! The same could be applied to traffic signaling systems: If no traffic is approaching the intersections where such signaling is in use (like, say, during the middle of the night), these, too, could be disabled. Again, such would require the application/installation of motion-sensing devices to detect the presence of motor vehicle movement; that is, when such comes within close proximity to the traffic signaling system so equipped.

 Relatedly, a number of North American railroad concerns have adopted this practice, the very way in which said wayside (along the right-of-way) signaling systems function (wayside signals govern the movement of trains along tracks). Keeping such wayside signal-light system lights unlit (dark – in railroad parlance), until such time that an approaching train enters the track territory at a location whereby said approaching train causes the signal in question to illuminate thus providing a signal (indication – in railroad parlance) to the train’s engineer, conveying to that engineer what the condition of the track ahead is as it has to do with whether or not it is okay for the train in question to proceed at current (designated) speed (clear or proceed indication – a green aspect), slow (medium- or reduced-speed approach indication – a yellow aspect) or stop (stop indication – a red aspect), is a method to not only save energy, money and help the planet, but the lives of lamps used in this application are extended. This is similar in principle to the way warning signals operate at highway-railroad grade crossings (more commonly known as railroad crossings). Such is a win-win-win all around.

And, tomorrow?

It is here, at this juncture, where putting brainstorming skills to work could someday pay dividends in a really big way.

What I have in mind is: how about forgoing the wayside signaling practice entirely? Well, why not such a thing as right-of-way-based traffic-signaling-system control supplanted with inside-the-motor-vehicle cab (occupant compartment), cab-signaling?! This would require a wide-area-communications network to be set up for all motor vehicles operating in a given locale, obviously. And, if such an operating platform were established and implemented, one by one, traffic-signal-equipped intersections would become a thing of the past.

As a matter of fact, many a railroad operation utilizes this very technology, high-speed passenger train systems in particular. Instead of signals being put up along railroad rights-of-way to govern the movement of trains, as such is done via signals in locomotive or control-car cabs (hence the term “cab signals” in railroad parlance), signal aspects that the train operating engineer are required to be on the lookout for, and are readily available for viewing during times the affected train is under the control of said engineer, here again, with such a platform in place, both energy and money can be saved. And as for the environment, well, it is helped in the process, too.

Which brings this cliché to the fore: human limitation sometimes involves nothing more than the limit of the imagination; or something to that effect.

Top image above: Johan Olsson

Bay Area drivers experiencing worsening car-commute delay, one ranking shows

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) – the main transportation concern for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area – in its latest ranking finds that commuters are enduring worsening motor vehicle delay basically from dusk till dawn on at least one Bay Area freeway.

Bay Area overhead view as seen from space
Bay Area overhead view as seen from space

“The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) today [Oct. 3, 2016] unveiled its annual ranking of the Bay Area’s most congested freeway segments, with the afternoon drive on northbound U.S. 101 and eastbound Interstate 80 in San Francisco supplanting the morning commute along westbound I-80 from Hercules to San Francisco as the region’s most notorious location for traffic trouble,” the MTC in a news release declared. “The roughly six-mile stretch from the U.S. 101/ Interstate 280 interchange out to the Bay Bridge’s Yerba Buena Island Tunnel ranked #4 on the regional congestion list for 2014. Despite falling to #2 on the 2015 list, the westbound I-80 drive from State Route 4 in Hercules to U.S. 101 in San Francisco made history with congested conditions typically extending from 5:35 a.m. to 7:50 p.m. This is the first time routine congestion on any Bay Area freeway segment has not been interrupted by a mid-day break.”

The MTC web-based performance initiative uses the name Vital Signs and can be found here.

The commission, in no uncertain terms, defines “congested delay” as the amount of spent-in-traffic time traveling at speeds of less than or equal to 35 miles per hour. According to the transportation commission, congestion delay grew from an average 2.7 minutes each weekday in 2014 to an average 3.2 minutes per commuter last year – a 22 percent increase – this across the entire region and a percentage increase in “per-commuter-per-day” congested delay of more than three times that, from 1.9 minutes recorded in 2010.

Moreover, “Seven of the region’s 10 most congested freeway segments in 2015 ranked in the Top 10 for 2014 as well,” the MTC related.

Several other key findings as revealed in the news release, including:

  • Population: The Bay Area’s population rose to 7.6 million by the end of 2015, with about one out of every four residents living in Santa Clara County;
  • Employment: Bay Area employment hit an all-time high of 3.7 million in 2015, with nearly half of the region’s jobs located in San Francisco or Silicon Valley;
  • Miles Traveled in Congestion: 94 percent of the Bay Area’s total freeway mileage was traveled in free-flow or moderate-flow conditions last year, down a percentage point from 2014;
  • Transit Asset Condition: Nearly 30 percent of the region’s buses, railcars, tracks and other transit assets are past their useful life. With 71 percent of its fleet past its useful life, BART’s maintenance needs dwarf those of other transit agencies; and
  • Particulate and Ozone Concentrations: While Bay Area air quality has improved markedly over the decades, adverse weather conditions linked to the drought caused regional particulate and ozone concentrations to increase slightly in 2015.

(Source: “Fresh Data on Bay Area’s Vital Signs Show Big Jump in Freeway Congestion for 2015,” Oct. 3, 2016 news release).

From the “Traffic Gridlock Sets New Records for Traveler Misery: Action Needed to Reduce Traffic Congestion’s Impact on Drivers, Businesses and Local Economies,” Aug. 26, 2015 Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) press release, there is this:

“Of America’s Top 10 Worst Traffic cities, 7 of them experienced population growth outpacing the national average of 0.7 percent last year, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, Houston and Riverside, CA.” Further, according to the TTI in the same release, San Francisco is the third most car-commuter-delayed region in the United States (with a per-commuter delay of 78 hours), behind Washington, D.C. (first) and Los Angeles (second), with 82 hours and 80 hours of delay, respectively, in 2015.

Image above: NASA


This post’s original title: Bay Area commuters experiencing worsening car commutes, one ranking shows, has been changed to more accurately reflect article information.

FWDS: Impact on landfill-produced methane from reduced food waste

Number 3 in the Food Waste Disposal Series.

163px-ARS_red_onion[1]“Today, there is a renewed interest in the issues related to food loss, both domestically and internationally. For example, USDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge on June 4, 2013, and the United Nations’ Environment Programme’s (UNEP) World Environment Day’s major theme in June 2013 was food waste. Some findings from the 1977 GAO report are still relevant today, given the resources used in the production of uneaten food, the negative externalities associated with food loss (e.g., pollution created during food production), and the growing pressures on the global food supply. … Therefore, it may become increasingly important to estimate the amount and value of food loss, including food waste, as a quantitative baseline for policymakers and the food industry to set targets and develop initiatives, legislation, or policies to minimize food waste, conserve resources, and improve human nutrition (Buzby and Hyman, 2012),” declare Jean C. Buzby, Hodan F. Wells and Jeffrey Hyman in The Estimated Amount, Value and Calories of Postharvest Food Losses at the Retail and Consumer Levels in the United States document (Economic Information Bulletin Number 121) from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s, Economic Research Service.1

The authors go on to define what is meant by “food loss” and “food waste.”

“Food loss,” according to Buzby, Wells and Hyman in the document is, after harvest, the portion of available edible food left uneaten no matter the reason,2 further explaining that “food waste,” as a food-loss component, is the uneaten food item itself.3

Meanwhile, the EPA, in its “Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2013 Fact Sheet – Assessing Trends in Material Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States, June 2015,” report, finds that in the U.S., in 2013 before recycling, food accounted for 14.6 percent of all Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) being discarded, and for the same year after recycling and composting, wasted food totaled 21.1 percent of an aggregate 167 million tons of MSW.4 The 14.6 percent’s numerical equivalent is 37.0986 million tons of a total 254.1 million MSW tons.5

Additionally, it should be noted that in California, landfills are responsible for 21 percent of all methane (CH4) gas generated from all sources which, in the Golden State, totaled 39.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent units in 2014, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board (ARB), the ARB further relating “CH4 has a global warming potential of 25, indicating one gram of CH4 is equivalent to 25 grams of CO2 over a 100-year timeframe. CH4 is the second most important GHG in California, accounting for 9% of 2014 GHG emissions in CO2 equivalent units.”6

320px-Landfill_face[1]All of which is important because the less waste there is ending up in landfills, the less methane will be produced and released into the air as a result.

Not to fret as there is good news in this regard to report: According to the EPA, the rate of recycling went from under 10 percent of municipal solid waste generated in 1980 to 34.3 percent in 2013 while landfill disposal of such generated waste fell from 89 percent in 1980 to 52.8 percent in 2013.7

So, trying to eliminate as much refuse – food waste or otherwise – from the waste stream going to landfills is paramount.

In the fourth in the FWDS, looked at will be successful ways of reducing food waste.


  1. Buzby, Jean C., Hodan F. Wells, and Jeffrey Hyman. The Estimated Amount, Value and Calories of Postharvest Food Losses at the Retail and Consumer Levels in the United States, EIB-121, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, February 2014, p. 1.
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid
  4. “Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2013 Fact Sheet – Assessing Trends in Material Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States, June 2015,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, p. 6 and “Figure 5. Total MSW Generation (by material), 2013 – 254 Million Tons (before recycling)” and “Figure 7. Total MSW Discards (by material), 2013 – 167 Million Tons (after recycling and composting),” p. 7
  5. Ibid. “Figure 5. Total MSW Generation (by material), 2013 – 254 Million Tons (before recycling),” p. 7
  6. “Methane (CH4),” California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board
  7. “Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2013 Fact Sheet – Assessing Trends in Material Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States, June 2015,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, sidebar section, p. 4 and “Figure 4. Management of MSW in the United States, 2013,” p. 5

Upper image above: Stephen Ausmus, U.S.D.A. Agricultural Research Service

Lower image above: Ashley Felton

Three helpful sustainability-related resources: How each may relate where air quality is concerned

The message: Don’t pollute. Easier said than done, right?

It is here, exactly, where three books can be of immense help. And, these are three of my absolute all-time favorites. They are:

30 Simple Energy Things You Can Do To Save The Earth by EarthWorks Press, Inc. and distributed by Pacific Gas & Electric Company

Sensei Domi’s Guide to Lean Management by Dominador Tomate

Cooling It! No Hair Shirt Solutions to Global Warming by Gar Lipow

The books

30 Simple Energy Things You Can Do To Save The Earth

This is a book that I have referred to several times in the past.

An excerpt from “World Environment Day this 5th day of June”:

“[I]n the guide ‘30 Simple Energy Things You Can Do To Save The Earth,’ in the section ‘Energy and the Environment,’ listed are areas and/or issues that are quite frequently in the spotlight for reasons not too difficult to imagine. These are: ‘Air Pollution,’ ‘Acid Rain,’ ‘Water Pollution,’ ‘The Greenhouse Effect,’ ‘Habitat Change.’ There are those along with this admonishment:

“‘Using too much energy doesn’t just waste resources—it affects the health of our planet. When you conserve energy, you not only lower your energy costs, you also reduce the need for more power plants, preserve natural resources, and decrease pollution. You should use energy only when you need it, and use only as much as you need.’”1

So, what is it about this reference that makes it so appealing? It is with the home in mind that this book is written with its many recommendations for improving conditions and energy efficiency in and around the house, predominantly. Not to be excluded is the automobile and offered are some car tips and how savings can be created in this regard. From what I remember, the book is free of charge.

sensei-domi-book-picNext up is: Sensei Domi’s Guide to Lean Management. This book in my opinion is directed toward the business professional and its lessons can be equally applied in business and industry alike. Even if you are not a business professional, text is very easily understood with plenty of anecdotal related items and illustrations and examples to add support and help the reader navigate his or her way through text with the greatest of ease.

Sensei Domi, in a nutshell, advises that his book is a reference guide on “Lean Enterprise” designed with small businesses in mind; a manual chock-full of information suited especially for people who seek to gain knowledge and understanding about said Lean Sigma concepts, obviating the necessity of having to take a course and breaking the bank in the process.2

Via email, Tomate provided further insights. He adds:

“We live in a cause-and-effect world. Lean Six Sigma reviews outcomes, reverse engineers, and determines the root causes of problems that affect [a] company, and, most certainly, can be applied to address air-quality issues.”

Only “how”? you may wonder.

Tomate explains. “Manufacturing industries have long histories of contributing to the cause of poor air quality; and, agencies like local air districts and the Environmental Protection Agency are working hard to effect [positive] change. I’ve used this paradigm countless times in providing solutions. But in order for this to work, it requires all parties to be on the same page. Resistance [to change] has been [a] major hurdle; old-school farming and oil-production industries [as is sometimes the case] see these changes as cost-prohibitive, constraining and profit-draining.”

Over time, Tomate hopes that such resistance will fade as it becomes apparent to more and more the damaging effect air pollution has and is having, particularly, on children’s respiratory health, all as a result of prolonged exposure to – and the continued breathing in of – the poison which is exactly what polluted air is. And, hence, exemplifying the cause-and-effect.

“Ignoring these debilitating conditions cannot be ignored,” Tomate urges. 3

This superb “Guide” is also free of charge as well.

And, finally, there is Cooling It! No Hair Shirt Solutions to Global Warming.

Some of what I wrote in: “Review: ‘Cooling It! No Hair Shirt Solutions to Global Warming.’”

Cooling It! No Hair Shirt Solutions to Global Warming, by Gar. W. Lipow is a roadmap showing us the way to become a more energy efficient nation and how relying on renewables-production processes like sun, wind, wave and tide (as opposed to dependence on fossil fuels) can not only help pave the way toward greater energy efficiencies being realized, but in so doing will not only enable us to effectively undo those effects caused from climate-damaging greenhouse gases but other impacts too such as air, water and soil degradation, mainly. These impacts, each and every one, are a result of a host of causes, inputs or triggers.”

Among topics covered are: waste, energy production and infrastructure and what kinds of improvements can be made with respect to each of these.

I close the review with these thoughts:

“My sense is that the main obstacles for full onboard acceptance and implementation of many of or all of the methods, principles, techniques that Lipow describes go beyond the political, social, structural and institutional. Progress momentum along these lines being what it is invariably is due to an ignorance or unfamiliarity with those techniques, principles and methods and exactly where this book can help answer that call.

“Although somewhat dated, Cooling It! in my opinion is every bit as relevant today as it was when released – perhaps even more so.”


  1. 30 Simple Energy Things You Can Do To Save The Earth, “Energy and the Environment,” EarthWorks Press, distributed by Pacific, Gas and Electric Company, 2006, pp. 13-15.
  2. Dominador Tomate, Sensei Domi’s Guide to Lean Management, “Knowledge is Power” section, Jan. 2016, p. 5
  3. Personal communication, Oct. 6, 2016

Image above courtesy of Dominador Tomate

Look what the wind blew in it – a closer look at the finer stuff in air

If blowing in the wind is the answer, then dust, dirt and debris is the question, obviously.



It is what you see inside the home, the matter that collects on and adheres to electronic/electric appliances, inside motor vehicles, just about anywhere one can imagine. It is the reason why I believe vacuum cleaners were invented. Other kinds of dust can be from woodworking and machining operations such as in sawing, sanding, grinding, planing or resurfacing, routing, you name it. The trick is to keep levels of dust in the air down, to minimize exposure or to completely avoid breathing the stuff in. Sometimes it is unavoidable; it is just a part of life. It has even been the subject of song as in the case of “Dust in the Wind,” a composition from the musical group Kansas. There was even a bowl named for dust and it lasted for years. This was, of course, way before I was born and I hope the Earth never experiences anything like this again – ever! Dust.


Now some may argue the kind of dust that was present and prevalent during the Dust Bowl years, was not really dust at all, rather blowing dirt. Just this morning, in fact, my neighbors were having their lawn mowed and even while the mowing operation was going on, a second yard-grooming person face-masked (he wore a mask), outfitted with leaf-blower in hand and a gas-powered model at that, was stirring the air with dirt. And, it was going every which way and loose.

Looking out my patio door, I had absolutely no trouble at all determining where all this dirt-blowing activity was taking place. Of course, I could hear where the sound of leaf-blowing was coming from. But, you know what really strikes me as odd?! The person whose job it was to disturb what was settled dirt in the manner done and send it airborne, was that this individual was wearing a face mask, I presume, to protect himself from breathing the fine dirt particles in. That would make sense, except for the fact that if this person recognizes that breathing in the dirt particles is not healthy and has to cover his nose and mouth to keep from having to inhale this matter, why is it that he proceeds to go the leaf-blower route at all? Maybe he has rationalized in his mind that it’s okay as long as he doesn’t have to breathe that airborne contamination in – I mean; it is really difficult to know for sure without getting from him a first-hand explanation as to “why.”

And, so this prompts another question: Wouldn’t using a broom and dustpan be less dirt-disruptive? That’s what I use to clean up my post lawn-mowing clutter, residue. Dirt.


If it isn’t dust and it’s not dirt and it still needs to be dealt with as in removed, it must be debris. Yes, though it could be ashes or ash, depending. I’ll get to the last part in a moment.

Probably once or twice a year, I clean out debris that settles in my home’s rain gutters. It’s a collection of assorted, well, debris. Everything from feathers, bird droppings, twigs, leaves, pine needles – perfect for bird-nest building, pine cones and whatever else can fall off a tree. The rain gutter is the perfect device for retaining this stuff. Some rain gutters are designed to keep debris like this out letting only water running off a structure’s roof getting inside, but my house doesn’t have this type. So, out comes my ladder, I climb up the rungs, sort through it all to remove the bigger items by hand which then get tossed into the green-waste bin, and then I spray water using a hose to move the rest of it down the downspout where it lands on the ground and where it will remain – in other words, it all comes out in the wash. Any bird feathers, meanwhile, get picked out by hand and these go in the bin designated for trash.

As for the ash, this could come from autumn-related leaf-burning activities should these be allowed, fireworks, rubbish burning which I am certain in places is still being done.

320px-msh82_st_helens_plume_from_harrys_ridge_05-19-821Ash also can be from erupting volcanoes, such as Mount St. Helens in 1980 in Washington State. From what I understand, places as far away as Portland in Oregon became covered in a layer of the volcanic ash as a result.

I’d be remiss if I did not include ash from the burning of coal or that from petroleum coke (petcoke) piles “air-lifted” (picked up) and redistributed by the wind which I’m not surprised is problematic from what I’ve read in the Windy City area of Chicago. Debris.

At least a couple of times throughout this discussion I have mentioned the method by which the above-mentioned, with the exception of ash, is disposed of. No matter how this is done, keeping all, or as much of it out of the air as possible is key.

So, there you have it; the poop (sorry, I couldn’t resist) on dust, dirt and debris. What I did not, however, make reference to is the stuff that comes out of automatic dryer exhaust. There may be a use for this matter – who knows?! But, alas, that’s another story.

Bottom image above: Lyn Topinka, U.S. Geological Survey

No relief from fine-particulate-matter air-pollution burden in Alaska … yet

It’s a more and more familiar refrain or so it seems: Particle pollution plagues a region. Regional level decision-makers accurately identify the problem, but conclude the problem is too big for them to tackle on their own. This forces their hand, turning to a higher-up for help. The higher-up in turn orders regional jurisdiction to draw up effective mitigating plan to bring area into compliance, the higher-up to decide to accept or reject from plan review. Regional decision-making board balks, insisting that the regional jurisdiction can’t go it alone, that problem’s scope is too big to handle sans help, in effect, sending the ball back into the higher-up’s court. The higher-up in regional jurisdiction’s opinion fails to act accordingly and in a timely manner and, as a result, regional authority files suit in a court of law.

This, in essence, outlines the situation in the community of Fairbanks in America’s 49th state – Alaska.

Coal_bituminous[1]The Earthjustice organization describes the situation in its fittingly named “Fairbanks Community Groups, Frustrated Over Lack of Action to Address Dirty Air, Notify of Intent to Sue EPA for Missing Its Third Deadline in Two Years: The Fairbanks North Star Borough has the worst episodes of fine particulate matter air pollution in the nation, but EPA has yet to take adequate action to improve air quality,” press release.

“Today [Aug. 3, 2016], Citizens for Clean Air, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, and the Sierra Club sent notice of intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for missing a third deadline in two years for addressing Fairbanks’s air pollution problem,” Earthjustice in the press release announced. “The groups called on the agency to meet its obligations under the law to require the Fairbanks North Star Borough to address its pollution controls because it is overdue in meeting basic clean air standards.

“The Fairbanks North Star Borough has the worst spikes in fine particulate matter air pollution in the nation—with levels spiking far in excess of the next most-polluted area and over three and a half times the recommended limit for unhealthy air. The air pollution problems have worsened since 2009, when state and municipal officials were first advised that soot and smoke levels in Fairbanks were unhealthy and dangerous.”

And, where, specifically, is all this pollution coming from? The Earthjustice organization in the release identifies the sources: the residential, transportation and industrial sectors; namely from “outdoor burning; wood- and coal-burning heating devices; automobiles and other vehicles; and industrial facilities like coal-fired power plants.”

Human_respiratory_system-NIH[1] (340x226)Pervading in the Fairbanks area is fine particulate matter pollution – PM 2.5 (tiny particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) – from these sources. PM 2.5 can lead to respiratory and heart disease, asthma, lung cancer and even premature death and facing heightened risk of being affected by such are those with chronic disease and the elderly, according to Earthjustice. “Fine particulate matter air pollution is of particular danger to children, reducing lung development, causing asthma, and impairing the immune system.”

“The Clean Air Act requires areas like Fairbanks that fail to meet clean air standards to bring themselves into compliance within six years of being deemed non-compliant,” Earthjustice emphasized. “Fairbanks has missed this deadline—in fact, it doesn’t even have an approved plan to bring itself into compliance—and the law requires EPA now to designate the Borough as a ‘serious non-attainment area,’ triggering stricter pollution control requirements to finally bring the area into compliance. EPA has missed its deadline to re-designate the area, and the groups are notifying the agency of their intent to sue to enforce this latest in a string of missed deadlines.”

Fireplace_Burning[1]The EPA was sued by the groups twice, once in April 2014 for failure to push the state planning process forward for cleaning Fairbanks’s air and once again this year in June, this time, for failing, by the statutory deadline, to accept or reject Alaska’s plan, according to Earthjustice in the release.

“Citizens for Clean Air, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, and the Sierra Club submitted a notice of intent to sue to EPA if the agency does not fulfill this mandatory duty,” Earthjustice added. The Alaska office of the not-for-profit Earthjustice environmental law firm is representing the three groups.

Middle image above: U.S. National Institutes of Health: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

At odds: CAA, Valley a contradiction in terms as one columnist sees it

To regular Air Quality Matters blog readers, the name Lois Henry should ring a bell. More importantly and relatedly and to provide some background, Henry’s essays regularly grace the Bakersfield Californian’s editorial pages. One of her recent op-eds has the title “Soberanes smoke illustrates one piece of valley’s air pollution puzzle,” which, by the way, was published in the Sept. 24, 2016 Bakersfield Californian edition.

This time, a part of what Henry alluded to in the op-ed is fugitive San Francisco Bay Area air. It isn’t so much that the Bay Area loses some of its air, given up to California’s 24,000 or so square-mile San Joaquin Valley (made possible with the assistance of prevailing winds, presumably), as it is what is oftentimes carried with and in it, that matters – that’d be pollution, that very thought not sitting particularly well with many on the Valley side of the coastal mountain divide (separating the two locales). It’s a reality that both causes trepidation and incites ire. Now, add to this the swirling debate over, of all things, percentages of tainted Bay Area air infiltrating the Valley, so, in getting to talking about this sore spot, it fast becomes apparent what a bone of contention such a topic as this has become.

Alas, the first piece of the Valley-related air-pollution puzzle, though this is just scratching the surface.

Meanwhile, Henry writes: “Folks here in the southern San Joaquin Valley have long contended that a significant portion of our pollution is brought in on the same breezes that keep air in coastal areas to the north so wonderfully pristine.”

Wait a minute! “A significant portion”? For reals?! So, what percentages are we talking about here anyway?

Okay, so according to one source1, roughly 27 percent, 11 percent and 7 percent of fugitive Bay Area pollutant-laden air lands in the north, center and south Valley sections, respectively. Henry-provided information in the speculative piece has the northern percentage pegged at 30 and around 7 percent is what manages to eventually find its way to the Valley’s southernmost reaches.

But, Henry retorts: “Hmmph. If the Soberanes smoke was any indication, I’d say NorCal’s emissions account for way more than 7 percent of our pollution.” The Soberanes Fire, incidentally, is a wildfire that has been burning in Monterey County west of the coastal mountain range since July this year, according to the Bakersfield Californian editorial author in question.

Why any of this matters, the reason has to do with how air pollution puzzle piece number one relates to puzzle piece number two.

From what I understand Henry to be communicating, the Clean Air Act may not be the right tool for the cleanup job at hand. In fact, Henry intones that the act does not take into account “economic or societal hardship.” She insists the CAA, which was once useful, has morphed into a pulverizer, a crusher, capable of decimating the economy of the Valley, basically.

Are you serious, Ms. Henry?! Apparently.

She also points out that the act has no provision for exempting unmet new, stricter air quality health standards and in place of the exemption penalties are assessed, much to her chagrin, or so it would seem. At least this is my interpretation of Henry’s words here.

“If a local district can’t come up with a plan to meet air standards,” Henry concedes, “the ultimate solution under the Clean Air Act is for the feds to take over.”

“The district cannot write a plan for new ozone and PM2.5 air standards because the technology does not exist to cut stationary sources any more than they’ve already been cut,” she insists.

There is much more Henry in her editorial has to offer. Her editorial in toto can be found here.

So let’s look at more of the way that pollution impacts the Valley.

For greater perspective, as it has to do with air pollution tracking during the ozone season, for example, there are numerous occasions when levels exceed limits. Ozone forms in the Valley based on a combination of factors: there are physical characteristics such as geography/topography (the Valley is bounded on three sides by mountain ranges on the east, south and west), and from the sunlight and heat and the preponderance of mobile and stationary sourced precursor emissions like hydrocarbons, oxides of nitrogen and more. If it is due to a lack of wind and/or rain, the result being no atmospheric mixing, plus the presence of mountains, these allow not only the building of ozone but its containment too. One point leading to the next, logic would then have it that whatever air pollution the Bay Area is serving up, under these conditions it would remain put. Furthermore, when hot and stagnant air is a factor in California’s central interior, fog and low-lying clouds typically prevail near the coast.

If this is what is going on where ozone is concerned, the same should hold true regarding fine particulate matter pollution during colder times of the year and it does.

Therefore, in putting two and two together, the question is how much of an impact is the state’s coastal conditions (weather, emissions, etc.) really having on the San Joaquin Valley, anyway – a little, a lot or at a level in between?

Personally, and speaking from experience, I don’t subscribe to the notion that Bay Area-to-Valley transboundary air drift (carrying in it pollutants, dust, debris, what-have-you), has too terribly much of an influence on the quality of South Valley air, especially during periods in which air stagnates.

Cleaning up Valley skies is an enormous job contingent on due diligence taken by the citizenry, government, business, industry (did I leave any entity out?), the full spectrum of helping concerns. People have to want to take this on in order for success to be realized. And, that there’s the bottom line.


  1. San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, Frequently Asked Questions, “How much comes from other areas” section. Also see: “Of smog standards, vehicle certifications and trans-boundary drifts” here.


Nine-in-ten breathe polluted air, so says WHO

When it comes to air-pollution-related analysis, the World Health Organization (WHO), regarding its most recent, has determined that the world over, 92 percent – or better than nine-in-ten – breathe polluted air.


“A new WHO air quality model confirms that 92% of the world’s population lives in places where air quality levels exceed WHO limits,” the WHO submitted in its “WHO releases country estimates on air pollution exposure and health impact,” Sept. 27, 2016 news release.

“‘The new WHO model shows countries where the air pollution danger spots are, and provides a baseline for monitoring progress in combatting it,’ says Dr. Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director General at WHO.

“It also represents the most detailed outdoor (or ambient) air pollution-related health data, by country, ever reported by WHO. The model is based on data derived from satellite measurements, air transport models and ground station monitors for more than 3000 locations, both rural and urban. It was developed by WHO in collaboration with the University of Bath, United Kingdom,” the WHO in the release continued.

2012 represents the year for which the most recent data exists.

The deaths of approximately 3 million people annually can be directly attributed to outdoor air pollution alone. In all, 6.5 million people prematurely die from the effects of all pollution – indoors and out, the WHO estimates. These deaths represent 11.6 percent of all worldwide deaths.

“Nearly 90% of air-pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, with nearly 2 out of 3 occurring in WHO’s South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions.

“Ninety-four per cent are due to noncommunicable diseases – notably cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Air pollution also increases the risks for acute respiratory infections,” the health organization continued.

“Major sources of air pollution include inefficient modes of transport, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants, and industrial activities.” Dust can be a factor as well.

And, the most vulnerable populations – the elderly and women and children – continue to be affected, according to the WHO.

Reliable data…

“The model has carefully calibrated data from satellite and ground stations to maximize reliability,” the WHO related. “National air pollution exposures were analysed against population and air pollution levels at a grid resolution of about 10 km x 10 km.

“‘This new model is a big step forward towards even more confident estimates of the huge global burden of more than 6 million deaths – 1 in 9 of total global deaths – from exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution,’ said Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. ‘More and more cities are monitoring air pollution now, satellite data is more comprehensive, and we are getting better at refining the related health estimates.’”

Help on the way

Starting this fall, the WHO introduces its BreatheLife campaign for the purpose of increasing public awareness of the dangers of polluted air as a serious climate and public health risk. There are “practical policy measures that cities can implement (such as better housing, transport, waste, and energy systems) and measures people can take as communities or individuals (for example, to stop waste burning, promote green spaces and walking/cycling),” which is what the campaign emphasizes, the WHO stated, all with air quality improvement in mind.

The very kinds of relief so desperately needed to set the world on a cleaner air track.

For more information, look here.

Fresno Bee op-ed calls for air cleanup/emissions reduction

On Sept. 21, 2016, The Fresno Bee Editorial Board printed an op-ed, the crux of the editorial having to do with work in California and the San Joaquin Valley centered on helping “economically disadvantaged communities” better deal with the effects of poor area air quality. This was indeed a big part of the story.

Brought out in the opinion piece also was information related to Senate Bill 859 (there was another bill referenced as well – Assembly Bill 1613), legislation that focuses on air quality issues in agriculture and directs monies to farms – dairy or otherwise – in an effort to help in the reduction of on-farm generated greenhouse-gas emissions. Nine-hundred-million dollars in cap-and-trade proceeds has been allocated in all.

The Editorial Board furthermore calls for the Brown administration to do more to advance (and at a more rapid pace) not only air cleanup, but Fresno’s downtown revitalization. There is no mistaking here that urban-core-revitalization and air-quality improvement are must-dos.

train-2-kandelAdd to these opinion-piece points, the message that high-speed rail in California will be a big benefit for the state as well as the Valley in that it will provide to millions of people a travel option whereby fast-moving trains will carry them throughout much of the state.

Important to note here is that in recent weeks there were other key pieces of legislation to which the Governor gave his blessing also, including Senate Bill (SB) 32 (which extends out to year 2030 the state’s pivotal Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 and calls for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by that 2030 date) in addition to Assembly Bills 1383, 1550 and 2722.

Now hear this: where the Bee Board writes: “Rather than dividing that pot [of money] up many ways and watering down the impacts of those dollars, the governor’s team should invest substantially in a small number of regions and ensure that measurable progress is made,” this obvious opinion is spot on, the Editorial Board further submitting: “We encourage Gov. Brown to make added investments that will support our community’s vision – and his vision – of Fresno as a state and world leader in providing economic opportunity, cleaning dirty air and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

To The Fresno Bee Board (and to other newsprint publisher editorial boards too): By all means do keep the positive press coming!

Calif.: Climate-change laws leader; black carbon, methane, fluorinated gases bill signed

California is the nation’s undisputed leader in the effort to regulate and tackle global warming emissions.

The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17[1]On Monday, Sept. 20, 2016, Governor Jerry Brown affixed his signature to California Senate Bill (SB) 1383 introduced by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), this according to information in a California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board (ARB) press release. This registers as the third in a string of climate bill signings: SB 32 on Sept. 8th and AB 1550, AB 1613, AB 2722 and SB 859 on Sept. 14th. (See: “More money to fight warming, polluted air in California issued”). “If followed worldwide, these acts would help cut the projected rate of global warming in half by 2050.

“‘Cutting black carbon and other super pollutants is the critical next step in our program to combat climate change,’ said Governor Brown at a signing ceremony near a Long Beach playground bordered by oil refinery smokestacks. ‘This bill curbs these dangerous pollutants and thereby protects public health and slows climate change.’

“SB 1383 reduces the emission of super pollutants (also known as short-lived climate pollutants) and promotes renewable gas by requiring a 50 percent reduction in black carbon and 40 percent reduction in methane and hydrofluorocarbon from 2013 levels by 2030,” the ARB went on in the release to state. “Sources of these super pollutants include petroleum-based transportation fuels, agriculture, waste disposal and synthetic gases used in refrigeration, air conditioning and aerosol products.”

Short-lived climate pollutants or SLCPs such as methane (CH4) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) account for around 18 percent of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions – the majority or the bulk consisting of carbon dioxide (CO2) gas (82 percent). But their ability to trap and retain heat (hence the term “heat-trapping gases”) is far greater. Meanwhile, according to the ARB, 20 percent of global warming can be attributed directly to emissions of methane.

SLCPs like the above-mentioned are released into the air from sources such as diesel exhaust, cook stoves and brick-making ovens, oil and natural gas production leakage and flaring, as well as from disposal of municipal solid waste, as pointed out in the Air Quality Matters post: “Black carbon a major air pollution culprit.”

And, as for black carbon, also in the same post it is stated: “Globally, 19 percent of emissions coming from the transportation sector is black carbon, estimates the UNEP [United Nations Environment Programme], a relatively large percentage of which is exhausted from the engines of diesel vehicles.”

Improving air, addressing warming

“California’s ongoing efforts to improve air quality and address climate change have already led to important reductions in super pollutants, and have provided a strong foundation for today’s legislation. SB 605 by Senator Lara, signed by Governor Brown in 2014, directed the California Air Resources Board to develop a comprehensive strategy for addressing super pollutants, which ultimately included reduction targets now set forth in this legislation. During last year’s Climate Week in New York, the Governor gave remarks at an event hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme, where he outlined goals for cutting super pollutants that are now codified by today’s legislation,” the state air regulatory agency further reported.

For more related to this, see: “ARB releases plan to slash short-lived climate pollutants” and “Governor Brown Announces 14 New Signatories to the Under 2 MOU Climate Agreement at Ceremony in New York.”

Image above: NASA