EPA sued over LA’s, SJV’s alleged failure to meet fine particle standard

It is no secret that two of America’s worst regions for particulate matter pollution less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM 2.5), about 1/30th the width of a human hair, are the Los Angeles-South Coast and San Joaquin Valley air basins. What may not be so well-known are longer-term health impacts of heart and lung disease connected with this pollutant’s inhalation.

As it turns out, those two California locales have, so far, apparently, failed to attain even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) PM 2.5 annual national ambient air quality standard (NAAQS) for health of 15 micrograms per cubic meter of air or its 24-hour NAAQS for health of 65 micrograms per cubic meter of air, both set in 1997. The current PM 2.5 national ambient air quality standards, meanwhile, are 12 micrograms (set by EPA in 2012) and 35 micrograms (set by EPA in 2006) per cubic meter of air, respectively.

It appears also as though the regions in question have had ample time to meet said standards (the target date or deadline being Dec. 31, 2011), but have not. From what I understand, it is for this reason that groups such as the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air and others, have filed suit in this regard against the EPA in a U.S. District Court in San Francisco, California.

Information is spelled out in a court document posted here.

Meanwhile, motor vehicles in state are one of the main contributing factors of the fine particle problem, if not the main contributor.

In the California Air Pollution Control Officers’ Association’s report “California’s Progress Toward Clean Air 2014,” CAPCOA, in the Executive Summary, notes, “Examples of the motor vehicle problem exist in the two most severely polluted regions in the state and nation – the San Joaquin Valley (an area with low population density and high traffic volumes) and the South Coast air basin (high population density and high traffic volumes). While these areas have made tremendous strides in improving air quality they are far from meeting state and federal air quality standards.”

As it relates, “The purpose of this report is to provide objective information … on California’s progress toward cleaner air as well as challenges that remain in meeting health-based air quality standards,” CAPCOA further wrote.

The $64 million question then becomes: Will the standards in question ever be attained and to meet them, what actions are needed?

CAPCOA mentions a multi-pronged mitigating strategy.

One: adoption of new regulations and enforcement of existing ones.

Two: clean-technologies incentive-based programs and based on voluntary participation.

Three: public/private efforts involving research and development, demonstration and deployment of clean-air technologies.

Four: community outreach and education efforts aimed at informing constituents and emphasizing air-quality improvement and what constituents can do to help in this regard.

Adds CAPCOA: “The state’s most severely polluted regions, which include the San Joaquin Valley and South Coast Air Basin, will need extensive deployment of zero and near zero emissions technologies to meet current and future clean air standards.”

The Golden State-based organization then mentions the jointly written Vision for Clean Air: A Framework for Air Quality and Climate Planning document, a collaboration of the San Joaquin Valley and South Coast air districts.

Look for more on this matter when details become available.

California high-speed rail clears important legal hurdle

It was in “California style high-speed rail: Will it prevail?” that I presented several of the issues surrounding the project still needing resolving.

To repeat, I wrote: “Meanwhile, Tim Sheehan in The Fresno Bee on June 5, 2014 in ‘Kings County lawsuit challenges Fresno-Bakersfield high-speed rail’ wrote: ‘The Kings County Board of Supervisors, the Farm Bureau and a group of county residents filed suit Thursday in Sacramento County Superior Court challenging the approval of a high-speed rail route through the county between Fresno and Bakersfield.’

train 2 kandel California high speed rail clears important legal hurdle“And, added Sheehan, ‘Thursday’s lawsuit is the latest legal shot fired by Kings County and the Citizens for High-Speed Rail Accountability in a three-year battle opposing the state’s proposed $68 billion bullet-train project. An earlier lawsuit dating to 2012, now pending in a state appeals court, contends that the rail authority’s plan violates Proposition 1A, the $9.9 billion high-speed rail bond measure approved by voters in 2008.’”

Well, the California State Supreme Court, in a near-unanimous ruling, agreed to not hear an appeal sought by Kings County plaintiffs related to funding of the state’s planned high-speed rail system. This decision by the state’s highest court was handed down on Oct. 15th.

Robert Cruickshank at the California High Speed Rail Blog seemed quite resolute in his response. “To be clear: the Supreme Court didn’t feel Kings County and the anti-HSR forces that joined them had enough of a case to merit even a hearing. That’s a much bigger smackdown than if the Supreme Court had taken the case and upheld the Court of Appeals anyway. It’s the Supreme Court’s way of telling Kings County and the other plaintiffs that their arguments were literally not even worth hearing,” Cruickshank wrote.

So, what is in store?

For one, from a separate article, one of the plaintiffs – Hanford homeowner Aaron Fukuda – vowed to not abandon the fight. Is Fukuda’s goal, then, to stop the 800-mile project from moving ahead or is he trying, through legal means, to ensure that state high-speed rail will be the best it can be when built?

Meanwhile, Chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, Dan Richard, has indicated that in going forward, movement will be aggressive.

Oddly enough, there isn’t a single high-speed rail system operating anywhere in the America’s – North, Central or South – at least, none that I’m aware of. Though all this could change in the span of a couple of dozen years or less.

320px Acela Express and Metro North railcar1 300x225 California high speed rail clears important legal hurdleSystems, though, are being considered. Among them are Texas (Texas Central Railway high-speed rail linking Dallas-Ft.Worth and Houston), Minnesota (Zip Rail connecting Minneapolis-St. Paul and Rochester), California-Nevada (XpressWest bridging Victorville-Palmdale and Las Vegas) and Baltimore, Maryland-Washington, D.C., (an amalgam of interests proposing a high-speed magnetically levitated train).

Add to these planned systems in Argentina, Brazil and a Mexico City-Guadalajara, Jalisco line.

Ironically, full build-out of California’s system, expected in 2033, if that transpires, some 70 years will have passed since Japan inaugurated its first high-speed train line between Tokyo and Osaka in 1964.

What does all this have to do with air pollution or its mitigation? High capacity, high quality, high-speed electric trains around the globe, emissions-reduction-wise, deliver. For more on this, see: “For National Transportation Week, road, rail, air compared” here.

Image at bottom: Connor Harris

Clean diesels: Are they or aren’t they … ‘clean’?

Not to digress too much, but hanging out by the railroad tracks as a kid (off to the side and at a safe viewing distance, to be sure), you learn pretty quickly some of the characteristics and practices of the industry, such as control-signal-aspect indication (what each signal display color and/or position means – which could come in quite handy as far as determining when the next train is likely to show up). Coupled with this, there is the familiarization regarding the sights, sounds and smells the big diesel locomotives produced and by smells I mean the smell of diesel exhaust, part and parcel of railway diesel-engine operation.

Meanwhile, in the automotive realm? Well, where the diesel engine is concerned, it is little different or, it was, anyway.

As it relates, back on June 22, 2013 in “Diesel: It isn’t just for trucks, buses and locomotives anymore,” quoted was Diesel Technology Forum Executive Director Allen R. Schaeffer who in “Are hybrids the best ‘green’ bet for motorists? No: New diesels go further on a tank, are greener,” stressed, “Gone are the clatter and smoke, and wheezy slow performance. They’ve been replaced with clean, quiet and fun to drive cars.”

182px Diesel engine PSF1 Clean diesels: Are they or aren’t they … ‘clean’?
Two Cycle Diesel engine with Roots blower

I wouldn’t know about the fun-to-drive part. But, diesels being smoke-less?! Let’s just say I have my doubts. They do pollute; I know that. As for how much pollution and what pollutants are emitted from such, that is the question. Furthermore, the last sentence in the paragraph above, that is, except for the “quiet and fun to drive” part, appears to be somewhat at odds with the information presented two paragraphs below.

So, check it out.

The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) press release: “New ICCT study shows real-world exhaust emissions from modern diesel cars seven times higher than EU, US regulatory limits,” of Oct. 11, 2014 is quite telling.

The ICCT declared in no uncertain terms, “On-road nitrogen oxides emission levels of modern diesel cars are on average about seven times higher than the limit set by the Euro 6 emission standard, which went into effect September 2014. This is the key finding from a new report published today in Berlin by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), an independent research organization.”

Wait, there is more.

“The study, which is the most comprehensive report on the real-world behavior of the latest generation of diesel cars published to date, found remarkable differences among individual vehicle models, indicating that technologies for real-world clean diesels already exist but are not being employed consistently by different vehicle manufacturers,” the ICCT went on to state. “The findings come at a time when the European Commission is preparing to propose an improved car emissions testing procedure, including on-road measurement, that could take effect in 2017.”

According to the research organization, in the EU, around half of new cars, are diesel-powered.

Added the ICCT: “The European Commission is currently preparing to require on-road testing as part of the passenger car type-approval process in the EU. According to these plans, vehicle manufacturers from 2017 would have to test new vehicles not only under laboratory conditions but also on the road, using PEMS [Portable Emissions Measurement Systems] equipment. Technical experts from the EU member states will meet in Brussels on October 15 to discuss further steps and whether the new regulation can be approved at the end of 2014, as originally planned.”

It is my belief in speaking to Europe’s relatively high passenger diesel car numbers, the notion that the diesel cars in question emit lower levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) and for that reason, in an effort to try to limit CO2 and other greenhouse gases from motor vehicles, there was a concerted effort advanced to promote increased reliance on diesel as applied to automotive engine propulsion.

Now, as to whether or not clean diesels are, in fact, “clean,” on this I believe the jury is still out.

Image above: Pearson Scott Foresman

Putting pollution in its place about town, at home, on the job

There is no shortage of ideas when it comes to thinking of ways to get air pollution under control. I’m not going to say in doing so it won’t take work. It will. Now, add to this a dash of innovation here and a dash of inventiveness there, and talk about light at the end of the tunnel. That’s it.

About town

320px Salt Lake City panorama1 Putting pollution in its place about town, at home, on the jobIn thinking about my own situation, the nitty-gritty regarding the waste I generate, well, it’s in two forms: it is biodegradable and non-biodegradable. As for the biodegradable waste (sewage, green waste) as well as the non-biodegradable refuse placed in garbage containers and recycle bins, well, as means to dispose of/dispense with this stuff/substance, there is a waste-collection entity that picks it up and hauls it away for further processing. As such, I pay for this service and that is as it should be. Since I create waste, I pay to have it removed – it’s that simple.

Meanwhile, in the handling and hauling processes there is a certain amount of emissions that are, well, emitted, produced from the waste-collection entity in doing its job.

End of story? It very well could be. But, it doesn’t have to be.

Thinking outside the waste bin for a moment, what if a program existed whereby there was incentive for the entity collecting the waste to encourage or even enable the emissions from its collection and haulage operations to be significantly lowered?

So, what are we talking about here, exactly? One approach that could fit the bill is the procurement of cleaner-burning, less-polluting equipment. Say, the waste collecting, handling and processing outfit in question is able to purchase new trucks and what-not, but only a few at a time. Maybe also the investment for said equipment is greater compared to what so-called “standard” equipment would be. Looking on the plus side, over time there would be less expenditure for fuel because truck types that are cleaner-burning, it is a good bet that they are also more fuel-efficient. What’s more, if in purchasing equipment that is easier on the environment and better from a public-health point of view, there is the strong possibility of such company owning such equipment qualifying for a rebate. It’s not unheard of for rebates to be made available, either offered by the equipment manufacturer or a distributor of such, or even by an air quality/pollution control/management district.

Okay, so now the question becomes where the money to allow for such rebates would come from or what the source for such could be, in other words.

Here’s an idea.

I drive a car. Even though its emissions are considered ultra-low, it still pollutes. Depending on how much I drive (or more appropriately how many miles I put on it over the course of a year) this could be the basis for a charge being levied on the vehicle. Obviously, the more the vehicle is driven, the more emissions would be produced and a fee could be assessed based off of that. Another approach would be to charge a set amount, identical to what others in the region would be charged.

So, getting back to the commercial operation example, at the end of the day, the monies collected could be the very same that could be used to help provide funds for the above-mentioned rebates. Over the long-term drivers would be driving cleaner-burning or emissions-free motor vehicles and air would improve all as a result. And these rebates or incentives would not just be limited to owners of commercial vehicles but to owners of passenger vehicles too.

Along with this, perhaps there is opportunity for owners/operators of said equipment to get a cost break on insurance coverage, simply because the vehicles driven and operated are easier on the environment and on people’s respiratory and cardiovascular systems. As a result, maybe there are likely to be reduced health costs related to community residents where such efforts are in effect. I just do not see why such a program, if put in place, would not be worthwhile.

At home

Immediately coming to mind is yard work. Here again, more environmentally friendly means of taking care of the lawn/yard is really as easy as one, two, three.

SolarpanelBp1 300x168 Putting pollution in its place about town, at home, on the jobOne: A lawnmower exchange program is coordinated with local air quality control district in cooperation with lawnmower manufacturer. Participating lawnmower owner exchanges used, polluting type for one that doesn’t, such as that of a cordless electric model.

Two: lawnmower owner turns in an existing mower and in response is presented with coupon to be redeemed on the purchase of new mower. At the same time a discount is given or a brand new mower is offered at no charge depending on the exchange program terms and conditions.

Three: lawnmower owner mails coupon to mower manufacturer in question and new mower is delivered to said mower owner.

This is exactly the protocol I followed when I took part in an exchange program of this nature.

For the house, meanwhile, the addition of a photovoltaic system, whether purchased or leased, also helps.

Of course, there are the specifics to be worked through, but many people and businesses are getting and have already gotten with the solar-system program.

On the job

What about in the workplace? For employers who participate in efforts to encourage employees to lead healthier lives, the presumption here being a healthier workforce and work environment is conducive to yielding greater productivity levels, well, there is obviously something to be said regarding an approach like this.

Hydroponic onions nasa1 300x204 Putting pollution in its place about town, at home, on the job
Hydroponic growing technique

There is also the presumption that increased productivity leads to business uptick regardless of type. And, this could lead to upped payrolls. Now the breadwinner, instead of earning less, now earns more. Perhaps as an outgrowth, a so-affected employee who maybe lives a good distance from work will now have the means to move closer to their job, providing for a shorter commute. Because the driving distance is cut, transportation expenses are lowered. The time for commuting being less, this might enable this person more time to spend with family and/or friends. There are any number of benefits that can be had.

Moreover, a shorter commute translates into fewer emissions being put into the air, that is, unless the affected worker already makes use of active transportation (on foot or by bike) in getting back and forth between home and work.

Creating opportunities for less environmental damage whether about town, at home or on the job works for me.

Image at bottom: NASA/Kennedy Space Center

Making sense of air quality data – PM 2.5

Fine particulate matter or PM 2.5 (particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) is expressed in micrograms per cubic meter of air.

Fireplace Burning1 300x225 Making sense of air quality data – PM 2.5What this refers to is the concentration in the air of fine particulates. For instance, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assigned a health standard for PM 2.5 of 35 micrograms per cubic meter (35 μg/m3 set by the EPA on Oct. 17, 2006). This particular threshold is in reference to daily ambient PM 2.5 or over a period of 24 hours. So, for every cubic meter of air, if the fine particulate matter concentration is greater than 35 micrograms, the standard is exceeded. This corresponds to an Air Quality Index (AQI) of 101 and places air at the unhealthy-for-sensitive-individuals or populations level.

Then there is the U.S. EPA annual fine particulate matter standard. This is set at 12 μg/m3 of air and became effective on Dec. 14, 2012.

Again, nothing too complicated about this.

Concentrations of PM 2.5 can vary, from a minimum of 1 μg/m3 of air to 75 μg/m3 and higher. For concentrations between 1 and 12, air is considered to be good. Above 12, the quality of the air worsens. For a more detailed description, see: The “Real-Time Air Advisory Network” (“RAAN”) on the Web site of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District here.

Real-time observations, real-world conditions

On Dec. 12, 2013, in Central Fresno, fine particulate matter peaked at 74 μg/m3 at hour zero (the transition from Dec. 11th to Dec. 12th – midnight). Then there was a precipitous decline between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. dropping from 75 micrograms to 40 micrograms, respectively. A low of 28 micrograms was reached at 8 a.m.

Between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. it was all uphill from there – literally, downhill from there – figuratively.

By 10 p.m. on the 12th, PM 2.5 concentrations reached a level of 76 μg/m3, finally dropping to 70 micrograms at hour 24 rising slightly from 69 micrograms at 11 p.m. The range for the day? It went from a low of 28 to a high of 76 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The 76 micrograms corresponds to air that is very unhealthy. Between 10 a.m. on the 12th and 7 a.m. the following day when concentrations finally reached 35 micrograms, outdoor Central Fresno air was unhealthy to breathe.

It is important to understand that stagnant air conditions were present throughout the San Joaquin Valley basically between Dec. 2013 and Feb. 2014. There was much written in the media about this high-pressure ridge that had parked itself over California and which seemingly refused to leave. The term given to this condition: “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge,” also known variously as “Triple R” and “RRR.”

Meantime, check out the difference between conditions in Central Fresno and the Fresno County rural community of Huron in this regard. The highest reading for Dec. 12th was 41. This occurred both at 1 p.m. and 9 p.m. On Dec. 13th, concentrations never got above 40 micrograms per cubic meter of air, and that occurred at noon.

In the Oct. 10, 2014 “Making sense of air quality data – ozone” post and today’s post, “Making sense of air quality data – PM 2.5,” evident are several differences.

For one, whereas ozone by-and-large in the San Joaquin Valley is a warm-weather phenomenon, particulate matter, on the other hand, while present in the Valley year round, is far more pronounced and problematic in times when cooler weather is on hand. In addition, the presence of high levels of fine particulate matter pollution in cooler periods is very often associated with wood-burning among other activities. Stagnant air conditions serve to exacerbate conditions in this regard irrespective of whether it is ozone or fine particulate matter pollution we are talking about here.

450px San Diego Fireworks 225x300 Making sense of air quality data – PM 2.5
Photo courtesy PDPhoto.org

One more point to touch upon with respect to PM 2.5. On July 4, 2011, in Central Fresno fine particle pollution spiked to 78 micrograms per cubic meter of air at 11 p.m. Air did not return to healthy levels until 1 a.m. on July 5th when it reached 14 micrograms.

This compares to Independence Day PM 2.5 concentrations only reaching a maximum of 28 micrograms this year in Central Fresno and that was at 11 p.m. Having spent July 4th this year on California’s Central Coast, I cannot speak to weather conditions present in the Valley that day, but apparently conditions were significantly more pleasant or comfortable or favorable weather-wise compared to the 4th of three years prior. What a difference!

Making sense of air quality data – ozone

Ozone or O3 is expressed in parts per million (ppm) or parts per billion (ppb).

What this refers to is the concentration of ozone in the air. For instance, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2008 assigned a health standard for ozone of 75 ppb. So, for every billion parts of air, if the concentration of ozone is greater than 75 parts per billion (or 0.075 parts for every million parts of air), the standard is exceeded. This corresponds to an Air Quality Index (AQI) of 101 and places air at the unhealthy-for-sensitive-individuals or populations level.

Nothing too complicated about this.

Next up is forecasted versus observed ozone readings or values.

Much like predicting weather, there is the forecasting of air quality. In referring to ozone, O3 may be forecasted to be at a moderate level (an AQI of between 51 and 100) on a given day in a particular location with actual observed AQI reading or value to be 49, at the upper end of the good range, in this case 0 to 50. What may have been forecasted for that day was an AQI of 51.

Even though having this type of information at one’s disposal can be both beneficial and valuable, it may, at the same time, have limited value or benefit.

Real-time, real-world application

Suppose a person resides in an area where there is unhealthy air quality regularly. Suppose also, that this same person plans outdoor exercise around air quality conditions. With limited air quality information on hand, on days when the AQI is, say, predicted to be over 100, the person in question may decide to forego all outdoor exercise altogether and wait until such time that the forecasted AQI will be 100 or less.

Well, the addition of another data tool may prove helpful in this regard.

On the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District Web site there is what is called “RAAN” or “Real-Time Air Advisory Network.” Using this tool, one is able to see detailed day-to-day monitoring data.

Take Wed., Oct. 8, 2014 as an example.

In Central Fresno, for that day, there were a range of O3 readings: On the “Air District Real-Time Outdoor Activity Risk” chart, at 1 a.m. O3 was at its lowest level: 6 ppb. In fact, the level of O3 fluctuated between 6 ppb and 19 ppb during the early morning hours between what is designated as hours zero and five. Notice though there is missing data between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and noon as well as between 8 p.m. and midnight. But plainly evident is that between essentially noon and 2 p.m. on Oct. 8th, ozone spiked, reaching a level of 99 ppb at 2 p.m. or 24 ppb above the upper end of the healthy range. Furthermore, between noon and 1 p.m. air went from the moderate category to the unhealthy-for-sensitive-populations category and went from the unhealthy-for-sensitive-populations category to the moderate category between the hours of 3 p.m. when the observed O3 concentration was 94 ppb and 5 p.m. when the recorded concentration of O3 was 75 ppb. Meanwhile, air was unhealthy at 99 ppb at 2 p.m. and dove back into the good range at 6 p.m.

Bike diamond lane1 Making sense of air quality data – ozoneThis “RAAN” data can be referenced hourly as a means to get the most recent data available as it becomes available and not just from this one monitoring station but from a number of different monitoring sites. In response, a person may plan outdoor activities such as exercise at times of the day when ozone levels are low. Moreover, for those who may opt to walk or bike to and from work, having access to the most up-to-date data as it becomes available could indeed prove quite helpful.

Please note a disclaimer in reference to the chart in question, in essence, points out data in real-time might not be totally accurate and is furthermore unchecked. Unchecked, in this case, may mean unsubstantiated.

Even so, I view such information as useful.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the coin is information related to fine particulate matter or PM 2.5. “RAAN” data is available regarding PM 2.5 also.

Relatedly, you may be interested in knowing what kinds of air quality data and/or information is/are available in your area.

For more information, see: AirNow at www.airnow.gov

To tackle polluted air holistic, not piecemeal, approach needed

The Earth seen from Apollo 171 To tackle polluted air holistic, not piecemeal, approach neededAccording to World Health Organization estimates, globally, one-in-eight people are dying prematurely due to air pollution’s effects. Many more live lives suffering this scourge’s ill-effects, these ill-effects taking many forms. It is important to note that pollution in cities (the big cities especially) is far more pronounced and problematic than that which is present outside them.

One of many facets and facts related to the damage polluted air causes has to do with the amount of money paid for healthcare used in treating those whose health has been adversely affected from such. To provide specificity to what I’m talking about here, just in California’s eight-county San Joaquin Valley, the monetary amount is an estimated annual $6 billion.

Pollution the name, mitigation the game

Thinking transportation, I recently read about Japan’s Shinkansen bullet train celebrating on Oct. 1, 2014 its 50th anniversary. I learned train arrivals at stations are minutes apart with delays of trains of no more than 36 seconds on average. Since the system, carrying riders between Tokyo and Osaka (a distance of 319 miles), first opened, around 10 billion riders have ridden Shinkansen trains. One-hundred-fifty-one-million passengers ride the system each year. Each hour as many as 13 trains per direction scurry passengers between the Tokyo and Osaka stations. Not only is Japan’s bullet train the world’s first, it is as well the world’s busiest.

Staying with high-speed rail, in the Golden State, meanwhile, the number of expected daily and yearly riders looks like what?

In “State of state air: The worse for wear, but nothing that can’t be fixed” I offered, “Projections or forecasts are that 37.4 million people will ride the [planned California high-speed rail system] spine [line] between the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles basin anticipating this segment is operational in 2027 and this is at the 95 percent confidence level.

“Of the total forecasted ridership, if those living in California comprise 70 percent of all high-speed-train travelers, then this means 26.18 million residents a year would journey by state high-speed rail. That amounts to a daily in-state resident ridership base of 71,726. Overall, roughly 102,466 daily HSR trips would be taken.”

Furthermore, in “Can, will California’s GHG emissions drop to 1990 levels by 2020?” I pointed out, “indications are there were 31.0141 million registered California motor vehicles and vehicle travel miles totaled 322.849 billion. In two decades, while the number of in-state drivers increased by almost 66 percent, vehicle travel miles more than doubled.”

Those numbers are considerable and one can’t help but see and understand not only the juxtaposition but the implications too – it is not too difficult to envisage the shape of things to come if current trends persist.

Consider this: If 10 percent of all in-state trips by 2027 are rail-based – a time when California’s population is projected to reach 43.7 million (based on an annual growth rate of 1.05 percent), and assuming average motor vehicle fuel economy is double what it is currently and at that time produced on average is half what emissions in the transportation sector are today – there is no question in my mind that the emissions saved by not having to add extra road and highway lane and airport and airport runway capacity, all other things remaining unchanged (such as the price of gas, for example), will have a profound air-corrective effect and make a significant positive difference.

All-encompassing approach needed

So now let’s think about the human-health or quality-of-life implications. What I expressed earlier in the “State of state air” piece bears repeating:

“If there is to be a marked difference in state air quality made, coupled to high-speed rail and heightened [very fuel-efficient vehicle] sales must be a serious rethinking with respect to mode-moving method and/or mode type, travel patterns, land use and building design, energy production, energy consumption – the very things I’ve talked about on this blog – and one I did not yet discuss – manufacturing – in order to help get the air to a state of healthy repair which itself will lead to improved quality of life for all.”

That said, the holistic rather than piecemeal air-cleaning approach is the one that gets my vote.

Image above: NASA

Further air quality gains noted by South Coast Air District in study

It is no secret that California’s South Coast and San Joaquin Valley air basins are notorious for having some of this nation’s dirtiest and unhealthiest air. But, fret not, for there is renewed hope – in the Southland anyway. In that region, indications are air quality is improving.

320px Los Angeles Basin JPLLandsat1 Further air quality gains noted by South Coast Air District in study
The Southland region as seen from space

On Sept. 29th, in “Air quality improvement at the Port of Long Beach: Yesterday, today and …” I was happy to report that “[d]iesel air pollution from ships, trucks, trains and other big machines at the Port of Long Beach has declined by 82 percent since 2005, a comprehensive air quality analysis has found.” (The above, as originally presented, was first published in: “Air Pollution Continues Decline at Port of Long Beach: 2013 marks 7 straight years of improved air quality,” a Port of Long Beach (POLB) news item).

Now comes exciting word air in the region on the whole is cleaner.

In an Oct. 2, 2014 news release, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) expressed “SCAQMD’s Multiple Air Toxics Study IV (MATES IV) found that the average cancer risk from air pollution across the region declined from 1,194 in 1 million during MATES III in 2005 to 418 in 1 million in 2012-13 using similar methods of analysis. This risk reduction follows a trend of declining toxic emissions in the region since the first MATES study was conducted in 1987.”

Responsible for 68.2 percent of the regional cancer risk was diesel particulate matter emissions, mainly from “diesel trucks and other diesel-powered vehicles and equipment,” the SCAQMD found. Moreover, the air regulatory body found 90 percent of the risk to be from mobile sources; mobile sources that include cars, trucks, marine vessels (ships), railway locomotives, aircraft and equipment used in construction.

To bring greater perspective, “[t]he highest cancer risk, about 1,050 in 1 million was found in and around the ports of Los Angeles, the region’s hub of goods movement activity powered by ships, trucks and locomotives,” the SCAQMD noted. “Central Los Angeles and transportation corridors including freeways and rail lines also had some of the highest risks. The lowest cancer risks were found in central and south Orange County, southwest Riverside County and the Coachella Valley. Since MATES III, the greatest reductions in cancer risk have occurred in areas with the highest overall risk, including the ports.”

The air regulatory agency reminds interested persons that the improvement was not solely attributable to the recessionary economy, adding that between 2010 and 2013 the decline in toxic emissions was evidenced despite a jump in activity involving the handling of containers moving through the ports at both Long Beach and Los Angeles. In fact, throughout the region as a whole, emissions since 2005 have been cut by half.

The SCAQMD also made quite clear, “Toxic air pollutants are specific hazardous chemicals that are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects. Health effects from other pollutants including ozone and fine particulates (PM2.5) are not addressed in the MATES studies and are assessed in the agency’s Air Quality Management Plans.”

For more, see: “Major Air Toxics Study Shows Steep Decline in Cancer Risk to Southland Residents” here.

Image above: NASA

So why not an on-board-vehicle engine exhaust self-diagnosing feature?!

In the 1990s, by invitation of an employee of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, I was granted access to the company’s Barstow, California locomotive shop (repair and maintenance facility). This, of course, was only allowed while under the direct supervision of this particular railroad employee. One piece of equipment on hand was that of what I remember being a spectrometer. The instrument was used to analyze locomotive engine lubricating oil and thus was used to detect in these oils various impurities, looking for certain impurities, if I have this correct. Through analysis, if any detected impurities in the samples of engine lubricating oils tested were discovered, based on determinations made, this information no doubt could then prove invaluable in terms of overall locomotive engine performance, diagnostics and repair.

Now I can’t tell you exactly when locomotive on-board computers first saw application in U.S. railway operations (a function of which is to perform locomotive prime-mover (the engine) and other critical-component-aspect diagnostics), but my guess is this would have been sometime in the 1980s. Moreover, I cannot say for certain when computers – also used for diagnostic purposes – first showed up on motor vehicles. There is a term that is used (with an accompanying representative acronym) for this function: It is referred to as on-board diagnostics capability or OBD.

Every two years, as per California state law, my motor vehicle (as long as it is being operated) requires a Smog Check and hence a corresponding certification is given if all performance measures are met. Levels of the exhaust emissions of NOx (nitrogen oxides), HC (hydrocarbons), CO2 (carbon dioxide) and CO (carbon monoxides) are measured. As well, additional emissions-control functions and equipment are checked.

In California, vehicles are tested at two speeds (15 and 25 miles per hour) and with crankshaft spinning at 1,939 revolutions per minute at each speed.

Now remember, in California these tests are typically performed every two years. One exception would be if I intended to sell my car, then a Smog Check must be conducted before said vehicle could be sold.

At any rate, I think what would be advantageous is being able to forgo the two-year wait for such testing to take place.

And, here’s why. So, what if the vehicle falls out of spec between evaluations? I would hazard a guess, regarding older vehicles in operation especially, this does happen. Depending upon what type of abnormality exists and the extent of the abnormality, this will determine to what increased degree what type of pollution will be added to the air as a result.

If there was a capability built into the car’s on-board diagnostics system to regularly monitor engine and exhaust performance on an on-going basis, I believe this would be far reaching in helping not only spot trouble but do so at a point in time before matters get significantly worse with repairs potentially being much more extensive and repair costs potentially being much more expensive. What I am not advocating is that something of this nature be used in lieu of biennial Smog Checks. As suggested, the way I see it this is just one more tool that could be employed to detect engine trouble sooner.

Bottom line: I would certainly want to know if my motor vehicle engine is underperforming before it is due for its two-year Smog Check check-up. That way, I would know ahead of time prior to taking the car in for testing that it will either pass or it won’t. This way there is the potential for money and time to be saved, not to mention the potential for less pollution to be emitted into the air.

And, speaking of potential, I see great potential with just such a built-in feature.

For more on California’s Smog Check and STAR programs, see: “California Smog Check Program gets upgrade with ‘STAR’” here.

Air quality improvement at the Port of Long Beach: Yesterday, today and …

I first wrote about the Port of Long Beach (POLB) California air quality issues back on Nov. 7, 2012 in “Regarding air-pollution cleanup at the Port of Long Beach: A progress report” here.

Encouraging was the news then; it is even more so now.

Then

253px Green flag port1 Air quality improvement at the Port of Long Beach: Yesterday, today and …“Between 2005 and 2011, POLB air-pollution clean-up gains have been impressive: nitrogen oxides have been reduced by 50 percent, sulfur oxides an astounding 80 percent, emissions of airborne diesel particulate matter experienced a 75 percent drop while greenhouse gas emissions declined 23 percent, although there was a 10 percent reduction in containerized port activity during this time, this according to the Port document, “Port Clean Air Programs Cut Pollution by 75%.”

So, what was behind the improvement?

In “Port of Long Beach, California clamping down in air pollution cleanup efforts,” in citing the POLB from its news story: “Port Eliminates 81% of Diesel Air Pollution: Report marks 6th consecutive year of air quality improvements,” I wrote: “‘The reasons for air quality improvement include bigger ships carrying cargo more efficiently, newer ships with cleaner engines, the Jan. 1, 2012 deadline for full implementation of the Clean Trucks Program, increasing use of shore power, and a new low-sulfur fuel rule for ships that started in August 2012.’”

Now

So, what does progress at the Port today look like?

Crane BridgeShip 300x200 Air quality improvement at the Port of Long Beach: Yesterday, today and …Well, in a POLB news item dated Sept. 23, 2014, the Port gushes: “Diesel air pollution from ships, trucks, trains and other big machines at the Port of Long Beach has declined by 82 percent since 2005, a comprehensive air quality analysis has found. The report – which focus on 2013 – show seven straight years of steadily declining air pollution from goods movement in the harbor area.”

The POLB further stated: “In addition to the drop in diesel emissions, smog-forming nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides have been cut 54 percent and 90 percent respectively. Emissions from Port operations have plunged even as shipping activity has increased slightly, with containerized cargo up 0.3 percent since 2005.”

The gains are no less than noteworthy. In fact, praiseworthy is what they really are!

Besides the shift to larger vessels with more efficient cargo-carrying capacity, cleaner ship engines, the lower sulfur content of ship fuels, availability of ship-fed electricity supplied from on-shore sources which is otherwise known as “shore power,” there has been “increased utilization of on-dock rail,” declared the POLB.

Tomorrow

Look for even further progress on this front in the days, weeks, months, years and decades ahead.

For more, see: “Air Pollution Continues Decline at Port of Long Beach: 2013 marks 7 straight years of improved air quality” here.