The dog days, smog days of summer: It’s that time of the year again

Right on schedule, smoggy days are here again (here, meaning in the San Joaquin Valley of California). And, such has come on with a vengeance. Around these parts and this time of the year especially smog is par for the course.

Today, in Fresno County, smack-dab in the center and thick of it all, the Air Quality Index is expected to reach 161 (the prediction as of this morning) – an unhealthy (for everyone) level. This is the worst it has been in quite some time. Tomorrow’s Index is forecast to reach 166!

Smog in this region forms because of a combination of factors.

NOx (oxides of nitrogen), VOC (volatile organic compounds) also known as ROG (reactive organic gases) such as ammonia, vapors from solvents and gasoline and petroleum products, in addition to HC (hydrocarbons), for example, from vehicle exhaust in the presence of both sunlight and heat, create the perfect smog-building-framework storm. Right here, right now all seem in ample supply.

The corrosive gas that ozone (O3) is in the Valley typically isn’t fleeting – it tends to hang in the air. The so-called “air-infiltrating” crud is, at the same time, lung-damaging. How lung damaging?

It can prompt coughing and wheezing and trigger in asthmatics, asthma attacks. The damage to the lung by ozone is likened to the lungs getting sunburned to delicate lung tissue getting a sanding via sandpaper.

Add in that the region has a bathtub-like geography/topography (hemmed in by mountains on three sides – the south, east and west), and it’s no wonder that oftentimes the smog in the Valley persists for days, weeks and sometimes for months on end. Literally and figuratively, it is not pretty.

In thinking about the factors, conditions that lead to the formation of smog in the region, certain elements can be adjusted to help reduce smog severity level while others cannot.

The single, biggest Valley smog-contributing aspect is driving – hands down. Upwards of 110 million miles are logged by motorists on Valley roads each weekday. That’s considerable. Removing a substantial amount of driving, or driving atmosphere-friendly vehicles or opting for greater dependence on public transit (though in the region options are somewhat limited) or active transportation modes such as walking and biking (not an easy proposition in high heat situations), can help. Implementing more sustainable, less air-polluting means on the farm, can go far and really make a difference in positively addressing VOC issues in agriculture. Employing the use of electric lawn implements when it comes to doing yardwork or maybe postponing yard chores for a while until air condition is improved, all can lead to lessening the negative impact on air. These are measures which the Valley’s inhabitants have direct control over.

The dog days, smog days of summer are here. The condition of the air need not be as severely polluted as it is at present. It is to everyone’s advantage to work toward improving air quality for those who live in California’s San Joaquin Valley. At the same time, there are some who will no doubt take a non-participatory tack and just leave it up to Mother Nature to provide relief, accomplished through the lowering of temperatures and a stirring of the air (at this time of the year it usually means winds) or leave it completely up to air regulatory concerns to implement the kinds of needed regulations that will result in positive change and improvement, the kind that can be directly observed.

I prefer to look at it thus: I don’t like when I look out my window and see that unmistakable brownish-grayish haze monopolizing the sky, my instinctively understanding that whether inside or outside my home, the air that I am breathing is robbing me of life. How much better the inside air is compared to that outdoors or if it’s any better at all, of this I’m not sure.

But this I know: I’m certainly not going to add to the mess and muck by driving around unnecessarily; set the thermostat to a lower temperature all in an effort to keep cool; keep lights on in my home when I know this isn’t needed; keep blinds covering windows in the open position; engage in daytime computer use when there is no rhyme or reason for doing so; and instead turn on ceiling fans, close window shades and blinds and compose articles such as this using pen and paper, that is, until I’m ready to upload and post digitally (in the latter part of the day or at night). For me, this works just fine.

Yes, these are the dog days, the smog days, the times when heat can be oppressive, smog in the air excessive and when that horrid-looking grayish-brownish hue to the sky is a sore sight for the eyes.

But, given a choice to do what I can to not make air worse by adding to the problem and instead lessening my impact on the air even if this means, in a manner of speaking, taking one for the team, you can bet your bottom dollar this will be my modus operandi because I know it is for the better of the whole.

Summer dog days, smog days. This time need not be bad – at all!


Coal for export rejected by Oakland City Council

We know that American railroads ship coal, coke, ore (taconite, iron, copper) and oil, both in its unrefined (natural) and refined states by railcar loads, literally, tons of it. But, what you probably don’t know is that Association of American Railroads President and Chief Executive Officer Edward R. Hamberger boldly stated in 1998 in essence: The energy of this century, the 21st, is going to be fossil-fuel-based.1

In terms of shipping and income, coal is big business for American rail, the industry’s bread-and-butter commodity.

Coal_bituminous[1]Coal, a natural resource used in the production of energy, is mined, of course, and must be transported from origin to destination and this can involve truck, train and pipeline even (the coal in slurry form) on land and barge and sailing vessel on water. A certain percentage of that which is mined domestically is destined for overseas.

But what if a town that coal is to be moved through and exported from wants absolutely no part of and refuses to have any of it? What does it do?

If it’s Oakland California, many of its citizens opposed to the very idea, protest, voice their concerns about environmental damage coal traveling through town and then dumped and stockpiled on docks can potentially cause. It is this that a number of Oakland residents fear will occur. And, the worry isn’t unfounded, apparently.

In its July 20, 2016 press release: “Oakland City Council Takes Final Vote, Confirming Coal Ban: Victory: Community unites to ban what would have been the largest coal export facility in California,” Earthjustice shared, “Late last night, the Oakland City Council voted to confirm an ordinance that would ban coal from being handled and stored in the City of Oakland, including a resolution to apply the ordinance to the proposed Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal. With the second vote—following the first vote on June 27th—the ban is confirmed.”

A victory for one community for sure!

Providing background, Earthjustice related, “A portion of the former Oakland Army Base is being developed as a bulk export facility, known as the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT). CCIG, the developer, promised not [to] include coal as a commodity handled by the terminal, but then solicited a partnership with Utah counties that would have allowed the state to export up to 10 million tons of coal from their mines each year.

“A Utah funding body approved $53 million to buy space at Oakland Bulk Terminal for these exports. This deal was conducted behind the backs of the Oakland City Council and the Port, both of which oppose coal as a commodity for shipping in Oakland. Additionally, the developer promised residents that the city-owned port would be coal free.

“For over a year, community members and advocacy groups have voiced concerns over how this decision will affect the community’s health, safety, and the environment. According to a national train company, each open-top rail car of coal can lose up to one ton of dust between the mines and the port, resulting in the release of 60,000 pounds of toxic fine particulate matter in communities near the rails. Additionally, this deal would have stifled California’s strong commitment to cutting carbon pollution, especially as the state continues to suffer from extreme drought, forest fires, and other signs of climate disruption.”

Legitimate concerns, all.

Not an isolated case

This isn’t the first time we’ve been made aware of something like this happening. In “Two state governors question Northwest’s role in the export of domestic coal,” written was: “A comprehensive examination of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions must be undertaken and completed prior to any decision being made on whether or not U.S. Northwest ports can be set up for coal export to China. This, in effect, is what Gov. John Kitzhaber of Oregon and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee expressed in a letter directed to the Council of Environmental Quality, information in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer article, ‘Govs to feds: Clear the air before exporting coal,’ revealed.

“The Seattle PI article’s author, Joel Connelly, further pointed out that the governors also in the letter asked if the U.S. should encourage the use of a fossil fuel that when ignited can pose a risk to public health, lead to the acidification of oceans and sea-level rise, and result in the more rapid melting of snow packs, etc.”

And, then there is this. In “Permitting of South Valley oil operation prompts lawsuit,” expressed in no uncertain terms is, “… [O]n Jan. 29, 2015, ‘[c]ommunity and environmental groups filed suit … over the expansion—orchestrated mostly in secret—of a crude oil operation in Kern County that could lead to a 1,000 percent increase in the amount of crude imported by rail into California each year,’ reported Earthjustice in the ‘Groups Sue to Stop Daily 100-Car Train Deliveries of Toxic Crude Oil to Bakersfield Terminal: Coalition sues over illegal permitting of major crude-by-rail project in Central Valley,’ press release. ‘The newly opened Bakersfield Crude Terminal in Taft, Calif., has the capacity to receive two 100-car unit trains a day of volatile crude oil from the Bakken shale formation as well as heavier, highly toxic tar sands.’

Unit train of oil tank cars
Unit train of oil tank cars

“The reason for the aforementioned legal challenge, in no uncertain terms, is this: ‘Today’s lawsuit was filed against the San Joaquin [Valley] Air Pollution Control District for the piecemeal permitting process that allowed one of the largest crude oil operations in California to expand largely in secret, without environmental review of the risks posed by importing millions of gallons a day of toxic, explosive oil from North Dakota and Canada,’ declared Earthjustice in the release.”

Bakersfield Crude Terminal
Bakersfield Crude Terminal

And, from the same article, add to that, this: “Earthjustice in the press release further observed: ‘In addition to dramatically increasing the risk to communities along the rail route, facilities such as the Bakersfield Crude Terminal are major sources of volatile organic compound emissions—a precursor to ozone air pollution. Breathing ozone is hazardous to respiratory health, and the San Joaquin Valley is one of two air basins in the United States designated ‘extreme nonattainment’ for federal ozone standards. The degraded state of the San Joaquin Valley’s air results in more than a thousand premature deaths each year, and one in six Valley children is diagnosed with asthma.’”


  1. Wes Vernon, “Special Report – Edward R. Hamberger: Gearing up for Rail’s Big Fight in 1999,” Expediter, RailNews Magazine, Dec. 1998, p. 12

Bottom, second from bottom images above: Elizabeth Forsyth, Earthjustice

A changed climate: Can we at least agree on that?

Tell me. Are we any closer now to reaching consensus on the reason(s) behind our changing climate than what we were, say, prior to COP-21 – the climate conference held in Paris, France (from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11) last year?

I certainly hope so because with consensus missing, the climate change issue remains divisive.

Okay, so let’s analyze.

According to Webster

The dictionary definition of “climate” is this: “n. 1. the composite or generally prevailing weather conditions of a region, as temperature, air pressure, humidity, precipitation, cloudiness, and winds, throughout the year, averaged over a series of years.”1

So far, so good.

ShipTracks_MODIS_2005may11[1]From my own observations about where I live in the San Joaquin Valley, when it comes to climate, since I first landed in Fresno in 1977, I have noticed, and I know this to be a fact (funny though it may sound), the one constant is change. The so-witnessed change has to do with when plants, trees go dormant and the time they emerge from their dormancy state. The period between the former and the latter has grown shorter and shorter. To me, a tell-tale sign regional climate conditions are undergoing change.

So, that a change is evident, I ask myself: ‘Why the change?’ There is something happening in the world prompting this.

Cutting back on carbon

Undergoing change the way the regional climate has, are human-contributing or -inducing factors (the burning of fossil fuels, itself an air-polluting process) to blame? Or, have the alterations evidenced occurred on account of the forces of nature? It’s plausible even that the change is due to the combination and contribution of both.

Understand this too: About a decade prior to the Industrial Revolution’s (IR) beginning circa 1760 in England, the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide occurring naturally was, according to David Archer, author of the recently published paper: “Near Miss: The importance of the natural atmospheric CO2 concentration to human historical evolution,” 278 parts per million of “dry” air. Now, here it is almost one-fifth of the way through the 21st century and atmospheric CO2 concentration is right around an average 400 ppm, an increase in CO2 in the air by 122 ppm.

The two areas – a changing climate and increased atmospheric CO2 concentration – are they related?

HFC, CO2 relief can’t come soon enough

Here on the Air Quality Matters blog this topic has received much attention. Be this as it may, I am still at a loss in terms of my knowing definitively whether consensus on this matter is even close at hand.

That said, I am encouraged that, when it comes to the changing climate, discussion is moving in a consensus-building direction. In this regard, events like COP-21 and the most recent gathering in Vienna, Austria, to reduce hydrofluorocarbon emissions (HFCs) – a greenhouse gas – in the air offer hope.


  1. Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, “climate” defined, 1991, p. 254

Image above: NASA

Southeasterners! Coming to a neighborhood near you: Higher-speed rail

Mainline passenger rail service in the American Southeast is on the move. A plan/proposal to increase passenger train speeds in Virginia to 90 miles per hour is afoot.

A start, this most assuredly is. The plan involves upgrade of an existing 123 miles of active, double-track railroad line tying together the nation’s capital and Richmond, Virginia. Important to note is 90 miles per hour here represents top and not average speed.

Now, according to one report, in order for this to be facilitated, required would be placement of a third main track along a line that currently plays host to both freight and Amtrak as well as Virginia Railway Express passenger trains.

What’s the projected cost of the project? As reported, in the billions and it is to be built as much as possible on existing freight-rail corridor rights-of-way the entire 123-mile distance. As of March 1 this year the endeavor had yet to be approved. From what I gather, this would serve as an interim measure until a true high-speed rail service is launched. Call it an incremental approach to high-speed rail building in the Southeast. And, such a service wouldn’t be operational until year 2025 at the earliest, or so it would appear.


An eventual extension as far south as Jacksonville, Florida and perhaps beyond, is the long-term plan, at least, with a northern connection to the current southern terminating point of Amtrak’s 456-mile Northeast Corridor (NEC) at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station. The NEC bridges together by rail the major metropolitan areas of D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark, New York, New Haven, Bridgeport, Providence and Boston among others. It is on this line that Acela Express trains travel as fast as 150 miles per hour, at least on the parts of the corridor located north of New York. Work is in progress to upgrade between 20 and 30 miles of track in the Garden State (New Jersey) to accommodate like Acela Express train speeds. Commuter and freight trains share this trackage.

Further, beginning soon on the Florida East Coast Railway, a private concern, between Miami and Orlando will be Brightline service. Brightline passenger train travelers can look forward to upper operating speeds ranging between 79 and 125 miles per hour.

High-speed eastern-seaboard-based service connecting the Sunshine, Peach, Palmetto, Tar Heel and Old Dominion states and the District of Columbia could be a big shot in the arm for tourism and if played out could prove to be a huge boon to the resort industry especially and for vacation travel in general, all provided in a most environmentally and air friendlier way.

Southeasterners prepare: Higher-speed rail’s a comin’ your way.

Image above: Federal Railroad Administration

Re cold food storage, it’s efficiency plus or it ain’t up to snuff

Cold storage done right

As it happens, refrigerators, as an in-the-home appliance, consume electricity. Understanding this, it is so confounding when I spot on site in supermarkets and grocery stores displayed meats in refrigeration units that are not fully enclosed.

At origin, destination and all points in between, all perishable food items necessitating refrigeration, must be kept cold to keep from spoiling, obviously. Where and how such is stored can, energy-wise, make all the difference.

Case in point: In the July 2016 Fruit Growers News issue, the cover story is appropriately named: “Modern storage: Facilities use less energy, improve efficiency and fruit quality.”

Two different enterprises are mentioned: Crist Brothers Orchards and Valicoff Fruit.

The former, an apple-growing concern in Walden, New York, in 2013 invested in a new controlled atmosphere (CA) storage facility with eight rooms in all with each being able to hold around 850 bins. “There’s a large loading and unloading area that’s refrigerated, and can serve as backup cold storage in an overflow situation,” Fruit Growers News Managing Editor Matt Milkovich wrote. “The storage controls can be operated remotely, using a smartphone, iPad or similar device.”

Concrete and wood supported by some steel is what the facility is made of while the rooms themselves are constructed from prefabbed panels of foam to create an air-tight seal. Moreover, they’re energy efficient, according to Milkovich.

Meanwhile, in the case of the latter, Valicoff Fruit of Wapato, Washington, was looking to increase storage capacity.

“Built in 2014, the new facility has six airtight CA rooms (oxygen levels are reduced, and CO2 levels are controlled with carbon scrubbers and other technology), with the potential to expand to 18,” Milkovich related. “The building has a steel frame with walls of insulated metal panels (and an insulated floor).”

Farther on in the article, the Fruit Growers News managing editor continued: “Storage Control Systems (SCS) designed the facility, and worked with Concord Construction to build it.”

The facility makes use of what is called a “Hycool refrigeration system,” a substitute for the more common refrigerants of ammonia and Freon, with Hycool being better for the environment, according to Milkovich, citing Brett Valicoff in the article.

The storing of cold food has definitely come a long way. That said, still obfuscating though is why there are grocery stores that have refrigeration units of the “not-totally-enclosed” kind, and such are used to store perishable food items. Puzzling, indeed!

Tribute to an achiever extraordinaire

Does this ever take me back! I was a student studying Engineering Technology at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo back in the early and mid-1970s. As it happened, some 35 miles up California’s central coast to the north in the town of Cambria resided Art Beal (now deceased), a former Olympic swimmer. The colorful character Art was (to give you some idea, he also made it known to many, myself included, his two alter egos: “Der Tinkerpaw” and “Captain Nitt Witt”), no doubt made him the talk of the town – I mean, I don’t understand how he couldn’t be. To me as I’m sure to others, what made Art, Art and set him apart, was his more creative side, exemplified by the home he had designed and built.

Set back somewhat from the town’s main drag was located this, yes, humble abode of his, consisting of all things, abalone shells, bicycle handle bars, toilet seats, basically, whatever he could find, and the way everything was melded together just so, has created what is today the conversation starter it is. Ergo, it is quite fitting and it should come as little surprise that Art’s digs, as it were, would be situated on none other than Nitt Witt Ridge.

An amiable chap Art was; quite the character and that’s putting it mildly. In his late seventies when I first met this extraordinary person, on each visit, I was always welcomed; never turned away. Art always made time. Besides enjoying the many stories this amazing and incredible human being seemed so eager to share, one of the things I most admired about the place he hung his hat was the absence of what I would refer to as the common refrigerator. So where did he keep the food that required chilling? Because of the way his house was constructed, what he had devised to keep his food cold was, in essence, a small room in the house’s center, so well insulated (from the outside elements), in fact, that the temperature inside that room was indeed low enough that there was nary a need for him to own the standard electrically-powered model. Though not one to make wagers, but if I did, I would bet that the house on Nitt Witt Ridge has one of the lowest monthly energy bills in all of California for its size. Way cool! (Full disclosure: Sorry, I couldn’t resist).


  1. Matt Milkovich, “Modern storage: Facilities use less energy, improve efficiency and fruit quality,” Fruit Growers News, Jul. 2016, pp. 1, 5

CATS: Energy, environment, money-saving train-braking system makes sense

Number 35 in the Clean Air Technologies Series.

Ideas, innovations and inventions that save energy, save the air and save money make sense, most definitely.

Carbon ceramic disc brake
Carbon ceramic disc brake

Now imagine a device capable of converting energy from braking and turning it into useful electricity.

Well, imagine no more as that technology has arrived, that is, in the railway realm.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), in its “Will Brake For Batteries: SEPTA, Constellation, and Viridity Energy Announce 8.75-Megawatt Energy Storage Project: One of the nation’s largest behind-the-meter battery storage networks will capture and reuse the energy created by braking subway trains,” press release expressed in no uncertain terms: “A battery storage network, which captures and reuses the energy created by braking subway cars, will help Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) reduce operating costs, ensure energy resiliency, and support the stability of the energy grid.

“Constellation, a subsidiary of Exelon Corporation, will fund, own, and operate the 8.75 megawatt battery storage network, deployed at seven SEPTA substations,” the Pennsylvania-based transportation agency in the release further expressed. “The network is designed to used (sic) stored energy to power trains as they accelerate from stations and can provide emergency generation for trains in the event of a power outage. An expansion of SEPTA’s 1.8 MW battery storage pilot program completed in 2014, the new network brings the agency’s total battery storage capacity to more than 10 MW.”

In the SEPTA application, the “stored energy will help to balance electric load on the PJM Interconnection, the regional transmission organization that manages the movement of wholesale electricity in 13 states and the District of Columbia,” SEPTA went on to explain in the release. “Viridity Energy will provide energy market services for the project, bidding the batteries into the PJM market as frequency regulation resources to help match generation with demand and maintain the desired electrical frequency on the grid.”

The expectation is that the system, according to information presented in said release, is to be commercially operational later this year.

And, around the corner?

From this, one can surmise a world of possibilities. Take, for example, the two brake-system components responsible for the braking function that results in the slowing and/or stopping action – brake shoe and corresponding rolling wheel or brake pad and corresponding wheel-attached rotating disc (in a disc-brake system) – with brakes engaged (i.e., the former in each case contacting the latter with the necessary and sufficient amount of applied pressure and hence causing braking action) and how this works. Imagine being able to capture the heat produced via the friction created in the braking process and converting it into electricity directly. From this the use potential would be virtually limitless.

Who knows?! Application of this very technology in the automobile realm might be just around the corner. In battery-electric-vehicle (BEV) applications for one, the ability to recharge batteries via the conversion of brake energy into electrical energy especially while in transit, well, the advantage of doing such not only speaks volumes, it goes without saying!

DSCN4298 (340x255)

Creating air quality success in California’s heartland: How hard can this be?!

This year marks 25 years of Amtrak California Capitol Corridor service in December. The Capitol Corridor train was a late-comer in the grand scheme of the nationalized Amtrak passenger rail program. And, the success story that CC service is more or less mirrors that of Amtrak itself. Each are remarkable stories in their own right considering America’s railroad was faced with the prospect of discontinuance shortly after startup – in the case of nationwide Amtrak service, that would be May 1, 1971.

Amtrak is what Amtrak does. The bigger story here, however, is what effect transportation has on the environment and on air quality in particular. This is an oft-repeated story here on the Air Quality Matters blog no question, but some new, interesting and important information has come to light and it happens to have a San Joaquin Valley focus.


I’ve read that $2.5 billion in highway construction monies designated for Valley use is being withheld (I would guess indefinitely) as long as regional air quality fails to meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

This is such a bad idea. That the monies themselves are being withheld, isn’t the problem. Rather, that those specific funds are being tied up for no other reason than because this area of the country is way out of air compliance with respect to meeting those newest air-quality standards is what is – the problem. To put it bluntly: think just how oxymoronic the very idea of such sounds, the thinking behind this being totally backward (and when I say totally, I mean “totally”) – this is just so fundamentally wrong!!

Human_respiratory_system-NIH[1] (340x226)The San Joaquin Valley, with over four million residents and two million private passenger vehicles, is home to some of the most polluted air in the nation. It’s the worst for fine particulate matter pollution and ranks right up there for ozone or smog behind Los Angeles which tops the American Lung Association’s list for such. Childhood asthma rates in Fresno alone, are off the charts. About one-in-three children suffers from the disease, according to information in a Dec. 2007 The Fresno Bee special report called “Fighting For Air.”

What is more, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District claims that more than 85 percent of regional air pollution (fine particulates and ozone predominantly) emanates from the exhaust pipes of trucks, buses, cars, trains and other types of off-road vehicles and equipment – collectively, mobile sources.

Then there is NOx or oxides of nitrogen pollution. Different sources produce different amounts. In tons per day the breakdown is as follows:

  • Heavy duty trucks: ~ 115
  • Passenger vehicles: ~ 80
  • Agricultural equipment: ~ 55
  • Stationary and Area Sources: ~ 45
  • Off-road equipment: ~ 20
  • Other off-road including trains: ~ 20

(Source: “Figure 1 – San Joaquin Valley NOx Emissions and Federal Air Quality Standards,” from Jun. 22, 2016 letter directed to Gina McCarthy, Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and produced and signed by Seyed Sadredin, Executive Director/Air Pollution Control Officer, San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, p. 5, accessible using the following link:

Instead of the Valley as well as its inhabitants being rewarded with guaranteed road-building funding, that is, should this area ever be in air compliance (the air itself earning healthful status – good air quality, in other words), that the monies are even available at all for this purpose makes absolutely no sense. It’s a no-brainer. (Hint: It is roadway driving, predominantly, that is the reason the Valley has gotten into this predicament in the first place). In case there is any doubt, fossil-fuel-combustion-power-propelled driving results in more airborne NOx being released than from all other mobile-sources related activity combined. The presumption is roadway expansion would spell more driving and more driving is synonymous with more polluted air. NOx, incidentally, is the building block (the precursor emission) for both ozone- and particulate-matter pollution.

To use an analogy, by rewarding this region with allocated highway-building monies as a result of our collectively meeting all pertinent air-quality standards, well, truth be told, that makes about as much sense as relinquishing productive farmland and, in its place, erecting housing tract after housing tract (and, on a larger plane, subdivision after subdivision), which, historically, has done nothing but further exacerbate the already poor condition of area air, especially given that there is much land within Valley cities’ spheres of influence available for development and redevelopment, be it high, medium or low density. This goes by another name: it is called “infill building.”

You see my point?

train-2-kandelOn the other hand, provided it were allowed – and I’m not saying it is – but, provided it were, in diverting that two-and-a-half-billion dollars for construction on the backbone of the California high-speed rail project in the Valley, in the long run, think how much better that would be for area air considering that trains will operate using 100 percent renewable electricity which will create no emissions of their own.

In the final analysis and as far as I’m concerned, that $2.5 billion earmarked for highway construction in the Valley is grossly misappropriated, that is, as long as it is for air-pollution-relief purposes which it is. Mind-boggling, just mind-boggling!

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

Researchers conclude: fertilizer + animal waste + combustion = sooty air

According to one research group, in many developed parts of the world, farming is a huge producer of fine-particulate-matter emissions.

Cow_female_black_white[1]How so? The American Geophysical Union (AGU) states in its press release: “Farms a Major Source of Air Pollution, Study Finds,” explains”: “Emissions from farms outweigh all other human sources of fine-particulate air pollution in much of the United States, Europe, Russia and China, according to new research.”

So, what’s to blame? Combustion emissions in combination with waste from animals along with fertilizers rich in nitrogen – that’s it exactly, according to the AGU.

“The good news is if combustion emissions decline in coming decades, as most projections say, fine-particle pollution will go down even if fertilizer use doubles as expected, according to the new study published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union,” the AGU went on in the release to explain.

“Agricultural air pollution comes mainly in the form of ammonia, which enters the air as a gas from heavily fertilized fields and livestock waste. It then combines with pollutants from combustion—mainly nitrogen oxides and sulfates from vehicles, power plants and industrial processes—to create tiny solid particles, or aerosols, no more than 2.5 micrometers across, about 1/30 the width of a human hair,” the AGU added.

This isn’t the first time fertilizers have been implicated as having a negative contributing effect on the environment.

In “Groundbreaking fertilizer-based anti-air-pollution program launched,” a Nov. 15, 2014 Air Quality Matters blogpost, it is noted, “Already underway is an ambitious agriculture-centric fertilizer-pollution-reducing initiative which aims to improve both air and water quality. …

“And, on this, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) offers considerable background and insight.

“In ‘EDF launches initiative to reduce fertilizer pollution from commodity grain crops: Collaborative effort will improve water quality, cut GHGs and reduce supply chain risk,’ an EDF press release, made quite clear is: ‘Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has launched a new, collaborative initiative to eliminate fertilizer pollution as a major environmental concern in the United States. The effort will engage farmers and businesses throughout the supply chain to transform the way fertilizer-dependent grain crops are grown and sourced,’” it was further revealed.

You can read more here.

With regard to: “Significant atmospheric aerosol pollution caused by world food cultivation” (the study in question), the study’s lead author Susanne Bauer, a Columbia University Center for Climate Systems Research and NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies atmospheric scientist, at any rate, as pointed out in the concluding two thoughts in the AGU release, had this to say:

“If future industrial emissions do go down, much farm-produced ammonia will end up in the Earth’s troposphere, roughly 2 to 10 kilometers (1 to 6 miles) above the surface, Bauer said. There, lightning and other natural processes may also help create fine particulates, but most of these particles would be trapped by raindrops and harmlessly removed from the atmosphere, she said,” the AGU wrote.

Meanwhile, and as it relates, the author who headed a Nature study done last year seems somewhat skeptical.

“Johannes Lelieveld, lead author of the 2015 Nature study, disagreed: ‘One should be cautious about suggesting that food production could be increased’ without increasing pollution, because that ‘critically depends’ on the assumption that societies will successfully curb industrial emissions, he said. Lelieveld pointed out that even with recent reductions in industrial pollution, most nations, including the United States, still have large areas that exceed the World Meteorological Organization’s recommended maximum of particulate matter,” the AGU stated.

Valley suffocating largely on truck, train pollution – some cooperation, please!

Diesel-smoke[1]All across the United States (the world, really) cars, trucks, trains and more foul the outside air we breathe. Emissions of the greenhouse gas kind, just from transportation alone, weigh in at 28 percent. Heat-trapping greenhouse gases (GHG), at molecular levels, act like sponges, absorbing and holding heat from the sun. The terminology, incidentally, applied to that ability/capability is global warming potential or GWP. GWP for each GHG is different. For some, their GWPs are higher but, for these, their longevities are shorter and are thus referred to as short-lived climate pollutants or SLCPs. For others, the ones with longer lifespans, their GWPs are lower. Two GHGs that exemplify this are methane and carbon dioxide, respectively.

Now, as to the transportation GHGs, here at the Air Quality Matters blog, news and commentary dealing with such has run the gamut: from the good to the not-so and seemingly all that is in between. Yet, in it all, one theme stands out; that being, emissions from transport continue to grow instead of the opposite. And, the fact that this is the case makes these matters more burden- and worrisome.

The problem is especially pronounced in California’s San Joaquin Valley. And compounding – not helping – matters is an area population increase which, in this part of the country, has historically been greater, that is, compared to others.

With the rate of population growth being greater, this means that it takes more to meet consumers’ needs. More food, more housing, more services, more of everything, really, and that naturally means more activity associated with transport. As a result GHGs from transport tip the scales in the Valley at 40 percent. Consider also, according to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (air district) – the air regulatory body in the region – 85 percent of all regional air pollution is mobile-sources-derived. Much of that is directly related to the movement of freight and a healthy proportion of this doesn’t even stop here and instead passes on through on trucks and on trains on their way to destinations farther afield.

TrainCombine all that with pollution sourced locally plus area geography and topography that facilitates not only the capture but the retention of corrosive air (mountains ring the Valley on three sides – the east, south and west) and this all adds up to one big air-pollution dilemma, a fact of life for folks in these here parts.

What with area geography and topography and pass-through goods-movement conditions that aren’t easily alterable (the latter of which isn’t likely to see major routing changes anytime soon), what is left are such physical aspects that can be controlled (on both the local and regional levels) as advancement and innovation in technology as well as modification to lifestyle on the parts of the area public. Setting a course of corrective change will take considerable doing, effort on the parts of many, all working toward reaching a goal of producing a more sustainable world, and included in that is cleaner air and if that means a major upending and unraveling of business-as-usual practices (more familiarly known as the status quo), then so be it.

Working smartly, not hardly

In a press statement, the air district asserted: “Today [Jun. 22, 2016] the Valley Air District submitted a petition to the Federal EPA … requesting that the EPA take regulatory action to reduce air pollution from heavy duty trucks and locomotives. This petition was approved last week by the Valley Air District Governing Board.

Diesel particulate filter
Diesel particulate filter

“The Board took this action as the Valley Air District begins the public process to develop an air quality attainment plan to meet the latest health standards for particulates and ozone as mandated under federal law. According to the Valley Air District, meeting these federal standards requires another 90% reduction in fossil fuel combustion emissions. With Valley businesses already subject to the toughest air regulations in the nation, the needed reductions can only come from mobile sources that fall under the EPA’s legal jurisdiction.”

Further, “‘Although the Valley has seen tremendous improvement in air quality over the last twenty years, meeting these new standards is impossible without the EPA taking responsibility for reducing pollution from sources that fall under their legal jurisdiction,’ stated Seyed Sadredin, Executive Director / Air Pollution Control Officer of the Valley Air District. ‘A national standard to reduce emissions from trucks and locomotives is not only necessary to satisfy the federal mandates, but it will also help ensure that California businesses, and Valley businesses in particular, are not unfairly disadvantaged,’ added Sadredin.”

(Contained in the news release too are enclosed relevant documents providing much more detailed information).

Ridding the San Joaquin Valley air of fine particle and smog pollution to the point where current standards for such pollutants are met, can/will these be reached? The hope is they are.

Third image above: Dana60Cummins


‘Buy-back’ sounds like the plan for 500K American VW diesel-vehicle owners

“Buy-back” is the operative term, at least, at present, anyway.

To bring all up to speed, Volkswagen is on the hook, according to one source, for as much as $10 billion as compensation to remedy problems caused by the nearly half-a-million diesel-engine-equipped vehicles in the U.S. possessing what’s called “defeat-device” software. These vehicles, when under lab-testing conditions, met strict emissions standards, but then did not when said same vehicles were actually driven on roads, in some cases emitting up to 40 times the legal limit for nitrogen oxide (NOx), a pollutant found to damage lungs. Preliminary approval of related court settlement proceedings could happen in the coming weeks, while full green-lighting could come in the fall.

“In California, VW’s cheating was particularly harmful, because our air quality is worse than anywhere else in the nation, with 23 million people living within the nation’s only severe nonattainment areas for ozone pollution, and 12 million living in areas with nation-leading levels of fine particle pollution,” declared the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board (ARB) in the news release “Volkswagen to spend over one billion dollars in California to address illegal emissions caused by cheating devices on its 2.0-liter diesel vehicles: Funds to fully mitigate pollution from cheating and make investments to expand California’s growing Zero-Emission Vehicle market.”

Further, the ARB noted: “California Air Resources Board Chair Mary D. Nichols and Attorney General Kamala D. Harris announced [Jun. 28, 2016] that German automaker Volkswagen AG and related entities have agreed to funding or investments totaling more than one billion dollars in California to fully remedy the environmental harm caused by using illegal ‘defeat devices’ to cheat emissions tests in 71,000 2.0-liter diesel cars sold in California between 2009-2015.

“The money for California includes approximately $380 million for projects to reduce smog-producing pollution by incentivizing clean heavy-duty vehicles and equipment in disadvantaged communities, and $800 million in investments to advance California’s nation-leading zero-emissions vehicle programs. VW will make these payments and investments in installments over several years. California’s share represents one-quarter of the $4.7 billion mitigation fund and ZEV investment obligations.

“The mitigation funding and ZEV investments are part of a settlement requiring Volkswagen to offer consumers a buyback and lease termination for all 500,000 model-year 2009-2015 2.0-liter diesel vehicles sold or leased nationwide, and spend up to $10 billion to compensate consumers under the program.

“In addition to the buyback option, Volkswagen may also propose an emissions modification plan to U.S. EPA and CARB, and if approved, VW will offer owners and lessees the option of having their vehicles modified to substantially reduce emissions in lieu of having the car bought back by VW,” added the ARB in the release.

Meanwhile, there are an estimated additional 80,000 vehicles equipped with 3.0-liter diesel motors also that have been targeted, apparently, for future recall action, the affected brands being VW, Audi and possibly Porsche also. Worldwide, some 11 million diesel-powered vehicles are affected in all.

When all is said and done, meaning all mitigation/redress plans are final, approved and fully implemented, will all concerned and affected be able to breathe a sigh of relief.

The sooner that day comes, the better.

This article was updated on June 30, 2016 at 7:14 a.m. P.D.T.