Air fare extraordinaire: From apathy to zealousness and then some

A week ago one television news broadcast (the one I was watching, of course) had a news item pointing out America’s best city in which to live. Before the answer was revealed, I could only think of one place – Denver. I was close: Denver dropped to the number two spot. That means that last year, Denver was tops. So, which place is second-to-none? Austin, Texas if I’m not mistaken.

If it is the central-Texas city that now heads the list (at least according to one poll), how did the mile-high city get overtaken? What did Austin do to pull ahead? I’m curious. Alternatively, I could ask why Denver slipped a notch.

I would imagine one ranking criteria would be air quality. If so, what this tells me is that air quality in both metro regions is, at minimum, somewhat good if not just plain good.

Now you know in late April, the American Lung Association comes out with its annual “State of the Air” report. If this year is no exception, what I would expect to learn at that time via the lung association report is that Austin and Denver rank right up there among the nation’s cities with cleaner air.

So, it begs the question: What will be the association’s top pick as America’s cleanest-air city? I can’t wait! Will it be Portland, Oregon; San Francisco, California; Fort Myers, Florida; Santa Fe, New Mexico, just where, exactly?

Another question I would ask is: For those considering relocating, what percentage takes air quality into consideration when choosing a place to relocate to? Again, I’m curious.

And, I’m thinking of yet another question still: For all those places that rank poorly in the lung association’s “State of the Air” report, what if any action is taken to try to change that status once the situation is learned? Are the metros notoriously known for having poor air quality loath, either out of a lack of caring or concern, to do much at all about it?

There is another name for this – it’s called apathy.

There are places I suspect where residents believe it is the role of government to deal with the dirty-air problem plaguing their communities. Others, meanwhile, are convinced the bad air mucking up their views and lungs and what-not comes from sources from some upwind community and it is that city located upwind that must get its emissions under control, while still others subscribe to the notion that weather dictates all; in other words, leave it up to Mother Nature to solve all. I even once heard someone (on camera) exclaim that Fresno skies are blue (which, in this person’s view, is more often than not, apparently) so, why even fret. To him, at least, the whole matter seemed a non-issue. Seems absurd, if you ask me.

I have another way of describing that symptom. You heard right, symptom. It’s called not getting with the program.

The Guardian newspaper right now has published what seems is a series of articles bringing air pollution front and center, one columnist categorizing, describing polluted air and the number of people dying early on account of it – 6.5 million people worldwide – as a crisis – a world emergency, if you will.

Ten years ago this coming December, in my hometown, The Fresno Bee published a special feature titled: “Fighting For Air.” It was a truly comprehensive accounting of the situation besetting the San Joaquin Valley of California air pollution-wise. There was seemingly nothing having anything and everything to do with this that wasn’t included in the discourse. The feature was quite thorough, in other words.

From this, the one item that has stuck in my mind since then more than any other is the number of children in Fresno County who live their lives as asthmatics – the number is almost one in three, according to the Bee’s Barbara Anderson then, or roughly 75,000 out of 225,000 children. It’s no wonder the Bee columnist in the article where cited referred to Fresno County as the asthma capital of California.1 A sad-but-true reality.

A decade is a long time. I’m curious to know what’s changed, what hasn’t in that 10-year span. Is it time for a second “Fighting For Air – 10 years on” installment? Sure couldn’t hurt.

On the home front – Fresno – meanwhile, I suspect this winter this area air quality-wise will get a pretty clean bill of health thanks to abundant rain. The particulate matter season typically lasts from Nov. 1 to Feb. 28 in these here parts.

If it turns out to be good this one season, that’s not an excuse to become complacent. That is absolutely the wrong attitude to take because not every winter is going to be as wet as this one’s been. For those who have been keeping track, the southwest U.S. has suffered from at least five years of drought; a dry spell that’s been persistent.

Okay, so we got lucky and caught a break. How long this break will last is anyone’s guess. The better approach is to embrace technology, abide by the rules, regulations and just be good stewards of the land, water and air.

A textbook example of getting and staying with the program if ever there was one.

Notes

  1. “Fighting For Air,” Fresno is state’s asthma capital, The Fresno Bee, Dec. 16, 2007, p. 5

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

On-the-move pollution more health-impacting than once thought, study reveals

There is much that is being learned about air pollution on the move. For example, the distances Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons or PAHs traveled, how they are affected while in flight and what their impact is on human health are all areas researchers explored in a recent collaborative study conducted by Oregon State University (OSU), the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Peking University.

In “Globe-trotting pollutants raise some cancer risks four times higher than predicted,” an Oregon State University news release, published Jan. 26, 2017, this is all detailed.

“A new way of looking at how pollutants ride through the atmosphere has quadrupled the estimate of global lung cancer risk from a pollutant caused by combustion, to a level that is now double the allowable limit recommended by the World Health Organization.

“The findings, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition online, showed that tiny floating particles can grow semi-solid around pollutants, allowing them to last longer and travel much farther than what previous global climate models predicted.

“Scientists said the new estimates more closely match actual measurements of the pollutants from more than 300 urban and rural settings.”

What’s disturbing is the danger these so-called “globe-trotting pollutants” present to human health.

The study’s lead author, Manish Shrivastava, a PNNL scientist wrote: “‘This work brings together theory, lab experiments and field observations to show how viscous organic aerosols can largely elevate global human exposure to toxic particles, by shielding them from chemical degradation in the atmosphere,’” as noted in the release.

From the burning of fossil fuels, consumption of biofuels and fires from forests, released are pollutants and in these certain chemicals, namely, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, several of which, as identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, are known agents that cause cancer, information in the OSU release went on to point out.

“These tiny airborne particles form clouds, cause precipitation and reduce air quality, yet they are the most poorly understood aspect of the climate system.”

The PAHs react differently with different chemicals in different conditions. For example, “Recent experiments led by PNNL coauthor Alla Zelenyuk show that, depending on the conditions, the aerosol coatings can actually be quite viscous. If the atmosphere is cool and dry, the coating can become as viscous as tar, trapping PAHs and other chemicals. By preventing their movement, the viscous coating shields the PAHs from degradation.”

Moreover, researchers “using both old and new models,” looked at the extent of the protected pollutants’ journeys – across whole continents and oceans.

“Globally, the previous model predicted half a cancer death out of every 100,000 people, which is half the limit outlined by the World Health Organization (WHO) for PAH exposure. But using the new model, which showed that shielded PAHs actually travel great distances, the global risk was four times that, or two cancer deaths per 100,000 people, which exceeds WHO standards.”

Noted in the release also was the extent to which the WHO standards were exceeded which varied throughout different regions of the world. The extent, according to OSU, was greater in China and India and less in Western Europe and the U.S. In mid- and high-latitudes, meanwhile, compared to the tropics, shielding extent was much greater. “As the aerosols traversed the warm and humid tropics, ozone could get access to the PAH’s and oxidize them.”

As pointed out, uncertainty remains as to what this means to future environmental and human health risk assessments, Shrivastava going on to explain, “‘[w]e need to better understand how the shielding of PAHs varies with the complexity of aerosol composition, atmospheric chemical aging of aerosols, temperature and relative humidity. I was initially surprised to see so much oxidation over the tropics.’”

For more information see: “Tracking pollution: Research helps explain air-contaminant survival” here.

Article updated on Feb. 12, 2017 at 9:39 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.

Notes

  1. Illustration originally credited to Oregon State University. Information has since been updated to reflect proper attribution.

Illustration credit: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Will four disparate transportation projects hurt or help Fresno air?

In case you are not aware, the city of Fresno in California’s interior Central Valley, a metropolis whose residents number a half-million and who breathe some of the poorest quality air in the United States, has four major transportation projects going on simultaneously. These are:

  • The Q: A 15.7-mile bus rapid transit install
  • Midtown Trail: A 7.1-mile bike/pedestrian trail install
  • Fulton Corridor: A 0.5-mile street makeover
  • Highway 99: A 2-mile highway relocation project to shift to the west by 100 feet, six lanes (3 northbound and 3 southbound) between Ashlan and Clinton avenues (part of the California high-speed rail project to make sufficient room for HSR corridor right-of-way between those two locations)

All have the potential to improve mobility and/or air quality by lowering the amount of emissions coming from transportation – at least in the Fresno area.

BRT basic

Preparations are being made to bring bus rapid transit to city streets. The bulk of project funding was received from the federal government. “Enhanced” BRT stops are now under construction which should allow for quicker boarding and alighting by riders. These are being located on average each half-mile, a change from stops an average a quarter-mile apart. Fewer stops and, presumably, faster pickups and alightings for bus patrons, should, theoretically, make for quicker run times compared to what is realized at present, again, on this 15.7-mile route.

The L-shaped corridor will take buses over railroad crossings; one at Blackstone and McKinley, the other on Ventura Street near downtown. This does have the potential to affect schedules, especially, if long and long-and-slow trains are encountered. Whereas the Blackstone Street crossing has but one railroad track intersecting the roadway, the Ventura crossing has two.

Moreover, with stops located at an average spacing of one every half mile, this could possibly affect ridership. The idea here is to attract new riders and to keep existing ones if the service is to result in lower emissions released, provided, of course, that the new riders are car commuters and the cars they are currently using are not ones producing zero emissions.

So, it remains to be seen just what impact the upgraded bus service will have on regional air once up and running which is expected to be in fall of this year.

Trail trials

Fresno is not want for trails. There is no shortage of such in this mid-state metropolis. Some are in place where trains used to roll. Others are situated adjacent to canals or the longer water-coarse known as the San Joaquin River.

Now, this newest of city-based trails – the Midtown Trail – is going to set local taxpayers back an estimated $9.5 million for a trail said to be 7.1 miles long.

Okay, to enable air-pollution-emissions reduction in an urban community that’s 112 square miles in area, requires people hoof or bike it where they would otherwise take the auto. It’s definitely an “iffy” proposition. The trails would need to connect places people normally drive between in order to be effective in this way. And, for the Midtown Trail it will be no different. It is to begin (or end) at the Manchester Mall, essentially at Blackstone Street and Shields Avenue, run east where it is to connect with another trail along Clovis Avenue; in this case a former branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad whose reach once extended to Pinedale, a Fresno County island within city limits thus providing access to several rail-served businesses located there.

Until the results are in (when construction is finished), the jury, meanwhile, is still very much out on this.

Fulton folly?

The thinking behind replacing a pedestrian promenade with a street intended for shared use by pedestrians and motorists alike, as a means to cut air-pollutant emissions is indeed difficult to figure out.

The conversion of 6 blocks of what had been The Fulton Mall (an outdoor mall) between Inyo and Tuolumne streets is costing taxpayers $20 million. Uncle Sam contributed more than 75 percent of the funds with the remainder provided courtesy of state and local monies. It may well take something more than just the return of the street on these half-dozen blocks to achieve air-quality-improvement success using that approach.

Though, it’s entirely possible it could work. One way is for people frequenting to arrive sans the automobile – the polluting automobile, that is. And, that means on foot, bike or in low- or non-polluting transit. But this would only be possible if the people who are expected to frequent the venue would have otherwise relied on the internal-combustion-engine-propelled power vehicle to get there. It is the hope of many with a special interest in this project to see this area thrive economically – the corridor has fallen on economic hard times, the downturn beginning subsequent to Fulton Mall location-specific businesses pulling up stakes and moving north (in some cases, such moves taking place not long after the mall first opened in 1964).

So, can putting a road back in (as was the case before the pedestrian promenade and mall first came to life) do the trick to get the place back on good economic footing? Yes or no, will the site, regardless, see cleaner air? Time will tell. That part, at least, is a given.

High(-speed) hopes

Comes the high-speed train.

Though it’s not here yet, the high-speed railroad is on its way. There is quite a lot of construction activity going on prior to the train’s actual arrival.

Part of that work involves relocating 3 northbound and 3 southbound lanes of State Route 99 for 2 miles between Clinton and Ashlan avenues in Fresno 100 feet to the west to allow room for high-speed train tracks between those two thoroughfares. HSR trackage in this section will be bordered on the east by Union Pacific Railroad’s main Fresno freight yard and by the relocated SR-99 lanes (these currently in the process of being shifted) to the west.

What is presented here is probably garnering puzzled looks, the confusion no doubt having to do with how relocating highway lanes 100 feet farther west is going to achieve an improved air quality outcome?

It’s certainly understandable if there is. Please understand though that the potential for doing such is there if people who would otherwise be using the highway, switched to the railway. We’re not talking everyone making the switch, but enough to make a difference. And, it isn’t just highway users who could be high-speed rail candidates. It could as well be users of airways. And, it isn’t that the train riders will be riding trains, they’ll be riding rail-propped conveyances powered exclusively by clean energy. All of it according to the rail master plan.

Should the high-speed train service prompt local passenger-rail transit in communities where the train will stop and where such transit is currently absent, then the potential for even greater emissions savings exists too.

All of this infrastructure building has potential. It may turn out that some, when done, will prove completely ineffective at removing vehicle-exhaust emissions from air both in Fresno and its immediate environs.

At the end of the day, these four projects described could be viewed by Fresnans as “The Great Experiment” to learn what works transportation-related and what doesn’t in the air-cleanup sense.

Once findings are in, then the results can have implications for other regions of the state and nation.

In that sense, there is a lot riding (biking and walking too) on these four disparate greater Fresno-area-pavement enhancement and/or transportation advancement projects.

Notes

In “Fulton folly?” Fulton Corridor sits between Inyo Street on the south and Tuolumne Street on the north and not Kern Street as originally written. The article was updated on Feb. 9, 2017 and incorporates the change.

Lower image above: California High-Speed Rail Authority

Air quality and climate change: Birds of a feather or different animals completely?

This notion of global warming – is it real? And, if it is, what’s the deal?!

First, some background.

Both the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) agree that 2016 was Earth’s hottest year in recent times.

In a Jan. 18, 2017 news release, NASA confided: “Earth’s 2016 surface temperatures were the warmest since modern recordkeeping began in 1880, according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“Globally-averaged temperatures in 2016 were 1.78 degrees Fahrenheit (0.99 degrees Celsius) warmer than the mid-20th century mean. This makes 2016 the third year in a row to set a new record for global average surface temperatures.”

Based on information noted in the release, estimate certainty is at better than 95 percent.

Full disclosure: No discussion on either climate change or global warming could, would ever be complete without acknowledgment of those taking the opposing view. Though they are the non-believers, the so-called “climate deniers,” if you will, they, too, are entitled to take the stance they have.

For those who believe climate change and/or global warming to be the new reality, what’s behind the change? Natural forces: Are they, exclusively, what is to be attributed? Can the shift be blamed on humans? Or, is it likely a combination of both?

And, for those seeking answers, look no farther than the air. Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration is now at an average 403 parts per million.

And that isn’t even the half of it; in fact, it’s barely scratching the surface.

Consider also that ocean acidification is also on the rise from such and, because of this, what we’re just now beginning to witness is the negative impacts on sea life this is having. This is more than just a red-flag raiser. A wake-up call is what it should be.

Back to the first point, regardless of the reason(s) for the rise in atmospheric carbon, the point is it’s there and it has company in the way of other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. And, each has its own global warming potential or GWP.

Some is high, some is low.

Unlike carbon dioxide, those gases with a high GWP like methane (CH4) don’t survive in the air as long. But, because CH4 is a potent GHG, its ability to capture and retain heat produced by the sun is greater and hence the high GWP nomenclature applied.

So, the question on the table is: Air pollution and climate: If there’s a connection at all, what is it?

Even more specifically, in the Air Quality Matters post “An evapotranspiration, convection, polluted air connection?” I asked: “Can air pollution affect cloud formation and can this, in turn, impact planet weather and climate?”

And, the answer? From the same article, I wrote:

“In a Nov. 25, 2013 Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) news release, discussed is how air pollution may effect cloud formation and what, if any, affect this might have on warming/cooling among other considerations.

“‘Researchers had thought that pollution causes larger and longer-lasting storm clouds by making thunderheads draftier through a process known as convection,’ information in the PNNL release brought to light. ‘But atmospheric scientist Jiwen Fan and her colleagues show that pollution instead makes clouds linger by decreasing the size and increasing the lifespan of cloud and ice particles. The difference affects how scientists represent clouds in climate models.’

“Storm clouds absent pollution can contain bigger, heavier water droplets which, in turn, fall to Earth as rain. Contrast this with clouds impacted by air pollution and not only is there the potential for smaller water droplet formation, but that may be coupled with higher altitude formation of such. Higher-altitude clouds, according to information in the news release in question, are apparently better at facilitating ice-crystal creation and, as I understand things, it is that which can potentially affect both weather and climate.”

And, lastly (from the same post):

“Moreover, upon closer examination of cloud-based ice crystals and water droplets, the study team discovered that irrespective of location, pollution was behind the ice crystal and smaller-sized water droplet formation, information in the release noted.”

Contaminated air as an influencer of a changing climate? You know it!

Article updated: Feb. 5, 2017 at 9:49 p.m. Pacific Standard Time

Both images above: NASA

‘(I Did It) My Way’: May be SoCal’s goods movement air-cleanup anthem…or maybe not

So, sitting in my living room on Wed. evening Feb. 1, 2017, I watched intently the PBS (Public Broadcasting System) NOVA episode “Search for the Super Battery,” some of the program content shown previously on the Jan. 29, 2017 edition of CBS’ “Sunday Morning.”

Battery – Dry Cell

Batteries being the NOVA program’s key highlight, such others as energy storage, electric cars and air pollution, those playing, as it were, “second fiddle,” made in this production, more, I could say, than just cameo appearances. Obviously, those having the lesser roles, even so, played an integral part in the overall production.

Now, as to the pollution part its emphasis seemed to be centered on its need to be reduced so as to avoid climate catastrophe, that is, if I got the story, or perhaps more correctly, the story content straight.

Unlike other conversations focused on ways to lower or entirely eliminate harmful, unhealthful air toxins, everything regarding battery development as it related to the environmental sustainability aspect presented in this one NOVA edition showed promise.

I can imagine a world someday where batteries last and last and last, can be recharged umpteen million times more than what they can at present, are constructed of materials that do not ignite when punctured, overcharged or otherwise, and pose no environmental danger in both their manufacture and disposal. According to what narrator and host science and technology correspondent David Pogue in this NOVA segment uncovered, this place and time is not far off. As a matter of fact, from what I observed, we are knocking on that front door.

In a world of many issues affecting quality of life, air pollution and climate change being high on the list (I will have much more to say about this in an upcoming Air Quality Matters post), in the area of emissions reduction, there is considerable ground still to cover.

What is especially disheartening is the notion that premature deaths are growing in number (though the numbers of early deaths from long-term exposure to ambient fine particulate matter pollution per 100,000 were, in 2013, fewer than what they were in 1990 – 239 versus 272) regarding those resulting from exposure to polluted air (both fine particulate matter and ozone) over the long term. See additional information here.

Given this situation, new methods of combatting the stifling and debilitating nemesis that air pollution is – and the degree that the problem has gotten, are unequivocally called for. That said, I’m just not sure one of the latest – self-reducing, self-policing, call it what you will – in the transportation arena as expected to have been put forth today by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), is the way to go. Concerned is the movement of goods in particular. Sound crazy?

The thinking, presumably, is that produced will be positive results. Railroading, sea-faring cargo-carrying, trucking and even warehousing interests – if this action should come to pass – as I understand it, will be able to “voluntarily” employ their own measures to bring about emissions reductions and, whereby when all is said and done, again, presumably, air condition will be improved.

But, there’s a caveat: Based on my understanding, if the proposal’s joint-approach method can’t be agreed upon by all parties concerned within the span of a year, regulators will fast intervene by imposing strict air-pollutant emissions regulations. Details are spelled out in the Los Angeles Times article: “Air quality board set to adopt smog plan with voluntary measures for ports, tougher rules on refineries.”

So, this begs the question: Does a program of this type even have a snowball’s chance of success?

In the southern California region that includes Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange and Riverside counties, with a population of 17 million, smog in the area over the past year intensified. In 2016 the number of days of unhealthy smog was 132. This is up from 112, from the year preceding, according to the L.A. Times piece. Times reporter Tony Barboza noted also that roughly 40 percent of imported cargo for delivery all throughout the country arrives at the twin ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. Transportation activity – port-tied and independent of – is responsible for much of the area’s air-pollution problem.

One could easily argue that a programmatic, collaborative approach of this type should be given a chance to prove itself, instead of it being immediately dismissed as ineffective.

To help lend credence, what I saw in the “Search for the Super Battery” NOVA episode could be emblematic: several profiled, interviewed company representatives, with regard to the direction many concerns are taking in terms of their researching and developing alternative energy and storage capability, are indeed in some respects blazing a new trail, thus paving a course to what I see as a better way forward.

At the very least, this idea in essence of a “do-it-yourself” tack to reduce one’s environmental and air impact among the powers that be in the cargo-movement industry as it pertains to the South Coast Air Basin deserves a try.

If a success in this application at this time, who knows: voluntary efforts to cut pollutant emissions in the broader transportation sector could be next.

Then again, if not, strictly followed could be the previously and now firmly-established “standard” protocol – ahem, that’d be, employment of the traditional method of regulation, in case there is any wondering.

Lower image above: NASA

Whole lot of leaf…scratch that: Whole lot of dust blowing going on. Ouch!

Yesterday, I gave inconspicuous gazes as the neighbor, quite in vain, I might add, dutifully used his trusty leaf-blowing appurtenance in an all-but-futile attempt at bringing a prim and proper look to his yard, that is, after having tended to lawn-mowing and edging chores. What I observed from my across-the-street vantage point was the cloud of dust, dirt and debris that was kicked up in the process, the plume enveloping everything and everyone in its space (that would be my neighbor in this case), the bulk of which was going every which way a person could possibly imagine. I wasn’t staring, no; just paying slight, glancing looks, enough for me to see the hopelessness of it all.

His, a story that’s repeated many times over by many people, is for what reason exactly?

For those who make yard work their livelihood, imagine the additional number of jobs that could be had by foregoing the leaf-blowing part of the operation. I mean, it’s not like anyone getting their lawn manicured is going to get too terribly upset, or anything. On the contrary: I would have to surmise that all concerned should be highly appreciative of such action. I mean, think of all the fallout that could be avoided by ditching this (in my view) ridiculous practice. Moreover, if there isn’t a good rain or wind event to wash, blow, respectively, these troubles (by troubles, I mean the mixture of dirt, dust and debris) elsewhere, it is a good bet the automated dust-, dirt- and debris-blowing activity will send the refuse airborne only to settle on the property next door, out in the street and, believe it or not, right back to the place from whence it came and hence the futile reference.

After all, it’s not like the particles set aloft would ever become an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” situation or something, because unlike dust, dirt and even trash at times that’s found inside the home during regular or irregular cleaning cycles, the outside stuff flying about, can’t be swept under the rug, not that anyone ever does that, right?

So, I’m thinking of my own house-/yard-cleaning situation. Just last week I took the time to clean and tidy up my garage.

Sure, there was dirt and interestingly enough, “leaves” scattered about which warranted picking up, which I proceeded to do. Only, to accomplish this task I relied on dustpan and broom.

Predominantly dust, lint, dirt and spider webs abounded, and for these two cleaning-up accessories, it was total success. The piles of debris formed from sweeping were transferred to the dustpan, lifted up and then on into the trash bin it went, and little, if any at all ever became airborne, which when you think about it, that’s the beauty of removing said substance this way. It was an encore performance regarding the residue resting on the concrete walkway in evidence on the side of the house. Amazingly, no leaf-blower required!

My own history involving leaf-blowing devices isn’t a very favorable one. A really unforgettable one happened at of all places a wedding I once attended, and whereby the bride and groom both dressed to the nines, were showered not with the traditional fare – rice, but instead with, you guessed it, rained-down particles all courtesy of a careless, clueless leaf-blower person doing, well, the dirty work one might say from the building adjacent to where the matrimonial event had only moments before just taken place. Fortunately, for the happy couple that day, having successfully tied the knot, the whole dirt-blowing misstep was just brushed off. As well, it should be.

If there is a positive takeaway from the dust-blowing escapade to that which my neighbor yesterday initiated, it is that the device he was using to get the task at hand done, it was that the one he employed was an electric, and not a gas-driven type. Hope springs eternal, doesn’t it?

To the uninitiated: Do you think the apparatuses that are the focus of this dialogue, have been given the name leaf-blower, that there is a reason behind this?

Alternatively speaking, as it has to do with leaf-blower operation, using such indoors, as per manufacturer instructions, “indoors” probably ain’t on the list. Not difficult to conjure in one’s mind the glaringly obvious reason for this.

Here I believe this phrase is appropriate: Get my drift?!

On the clean-air, clean-energy cutting edge: Practices, programs in Calif. getting results

The below in its totality was originally published by Jayant Kairam on the Environmental Defense Fund’s Energy Exchange blog.1

The late California historian Kevin Starr once wrote, “California had long since become one of the prisms through which the American people, for better and for worse, could glimpse their future.” These words have never felt truer. Just ask Gov. Jerry Brown or the leaders of the state legislature, who are all issuing various calls to action to protect and further the state’s leading climate and energy policies.

California is the sixth largest economy in the world and the most populous state in the nation. What’s more, we’ve shown that strong climate and energy policy is possible while building a dynamic economy. We’ve proved that clean energy creates far more jobs than fossil fuels – nationwide, more than 400,000, compared with 50,000 coal mining jobs – while protecting the natural world for all people.

It’s no shock our leaders are fired up. There’s too much at stake. With our state’s diverse, booming yet unequal economy, we are not unlike the rest of the nation. State-level leadership is more important than ever, and other states can and should learn from California to drive action across the U.S.

A case study in a clean energy economy

Business and economic growth relies, in part, on certainty and a long-term view. That’s why electric fleet-firm Proterra announced it would manufacture its buses just outside Los Angeles – it understands its market is on the West Coast. Proterra is only the most recent of a long list of firms that understand California’s environmental policies provide market opportunities.

Silicon Valley titans like Google, Apple, and Facebook are all are well on their way to meeting internal commitments to 100 percent renewable energy. And California was recently ranked among the top five states for corporations that seek to buy or build renewable energy generation – attracting job-creating enterprises.

Importantly, clean energy is sparking businesses of all sizes. A new report highlights how the state’s long-standing energy efficiency requirements have helped create 300,000 jobs in energy efficiency – most coming from small firms.

What to watch in California

These are just a few examples of how forward-thinking policy – including the state’s 2030 climate targets and 50 percent renewable portfolio standard – are shaping markets, creating jobs, and stimulating economic growth. Citizens are demanding strong policy as clean energy technologies from LEDs, to smart thermostats, to rooftop solar continue to fall in costs.

Thus, California leadership is looking ahead to the clean energy frontier while also defending what we have. The three themes that guide where we are heading broadly center around effectively integrating cost-effective renewables, capitalizing on the potential of distributed energy resources, and making sure those advancements are accessible to all Californians. As more states make clean energy growth critical to economic and social progress, including the success of wind power in Texas, the recent bipartisan legislative victory in Illinois, and New York’s overhaul of their energy sector, it’s apparent that progress is catching on.

Integrating renewables to shape a clean, reliable grid

Although California is not new to enacting policies aimed at integrating renewables onto the grid, it remains paramount. Recent analysis suggests we are two years ahead of schedule in terms of hitting energy-load predictions associated with the amount and speed of California’s solar growth, illustrated by the infamous duck curve. This is, no doubt, a good problem to have. However, the growth and cost competitiveness of renewables are making ever more pressing the challenge of meeting steep afternoon ramps in energy demand – when Californians come home and switch on their lights and appliances.

We are two years ahead of schedule in terms of hitting energy-load predictions associated with the amount and speed of solar growth.

The state has worked to tackle renewables integration challenges from multiple fronts. Regulators passed rules to incentivize energy storage. Successful and smart design of time-of-use rates has the potential to shift energy load, and drive customers to consume electricity when it’s cheapest and cleanest. Additionally, the push to create a western-wide electric market is in large part due to the need to find new markets for California’s cheap, wasted solar, and to bring in cost-effective renewables from other western states when Californians need it most.

Moreover, a recent study by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) showed that large-scale solar coupled with the right set of inverter technologies can transform renewables into grid resources that meet ramping and reliability needs. First and foremost, the key will be to extend our fantastic midday solar to serve energy demand throughout the day using clean energy strategies and incentives.

Optimizing distributed energy resources

California leads the nation in many indicators of distributed energy resources from the most advanced meters to solar installation. However, ensuring the positive impact of these clean resources reaches the grid is where the rubber hits the road. This will include mapping out and structuring markets so distributed energy resources, like battery storage, can provide cost-effective power where it is most beneficial to help offset the need for future generation capacity.

Thankfully, bolstered by California’s leading clean tech industry, the state is already testing market reforms and demonstrations to prove the potential of these distributed resources. Here are a few examples:

  • This past summer, the three major utilities in the state contracted 82 MW in demand response from the Demand Response Auction Mechanism, a cutting-edge market vehicle for residential demand response.
  • Market reform is also happening through aggregation. The CAISO, which controls much of the state’s grid, received approval for a framework in which smaller distributed energy resources can meet reliability needs at the wholesale level when grouped together.
  • The Department of Defense is funding the largest “vehicle-to-grid” demonstration project in the world at the Los Angeles Air Force Base to test the potential of two-way power sources like electric vehicle batteries. The aim is to determine whether the Defense Department’s fleet of electric vehicles can reliably provide power back to CAISO during times of peak demand.

As we look to further capitalize on the flexibility and affordability of distributed energy resources in forums like the major utilities’ long-term procurement planning processes, it will be critical to continue to push the tools that do the following: use methods like aggregation, use resources like two-way power, take location into account, and rethink the utility business model.

Ensuring success reaches all communities

California, through the [state Senate Bill] 350 Barriers Study, is also examining how clean energy can spur growth in low-income and disadvantaged communities across the state. This signals that the state realizes that in order to achieve our energy goals we need to ensure clean energy resources are accessible to all communities. Despite big economic gains, the state continues to grapple with near 20 percent poverty. In both urban and rural regions there are high percentages of renters and seniors, who may not have the financial capital or live in physical environments suitable for investing in clean energy. These barriers make solutions like rooftop solar, high efficiency appliances, and household storage just out of reach.

The state has shown a good track record of protecting burdened communities from further environmental harm and incentivizing job-creating clean energy. However, the robust, far-ranging set of recommendations in the Barriers Study provides a source of inspiration and acknowledgement that we need to do more.

Our state is a multi-faceted economy, built on a diversity of people, politics, and industries, and defined by wealth, poverty, and millions of hardworking Americans – just like the rest of the country. We invite states in regions from the Pacific Northwest to the Mississippi Delta to learn from California’s success, and the challenges.

Notes

  1. Copyright © 2017 Environmental Defense Fund. Used by permission.

Lower image above: United States Air Force

What’s that smell?! Sniffing out trouble at first whiff

If there’s a scent to be sensed, yoo hoo, over here, wind of it (pun intended) I will get! Trust me. Very little, if anything, ever, blows by, pleasant and unpleasant alike, the latter of which I would much prefer to forego completely. And, I’m not going to say “if you get my drift,” so I won’t.

The nose knows

It has been uttered (too often, I would guess) that what one can’t see can’t hurt one. This is so not true of polluted air. Polluted air that can be seen on the other hand, in some instances, is even more harmful than the stuff that can’t be detected by the naked eye, it just depends on the situation. And that which can’t be smelled, no doubt it is more of the same if that which can’t be nose-detected is poisonous or toxic. To exemplify, ozone is an odorless, colorless corrosive-to-the-lungs gas.

And, then there’s every other smelly chemical, element, gas, substance, vapor that is nose-sensed. Everything from perfume, cologne, hair spray, shaving cream, after shave lotion and deodorant/antiperspirant to the contents of the trash bin, jar/container for storing cooking fat and grease and the kitchen sink, in the garbage disposer part, of course. Or that connected with the community landfill, sewage-treatment plant and auto, bus, motorcycle, yard-maintenance gear, train and truck fumes to the fireplace, wood- or char-broiler chimney exhaust; smoke from cigars, cigarettes and pipes and even forgotten-about rotting or rotten food left inside the fridge. It’s a veritable painter’s palette of aromas, fragrances, odors, smells, stenches and stinks. At times it is enough to stimulate and on rare occasion overwhelm the sense of smell and on even rarer occasion and, unfortunately, much worse. The long and short of it is there is no fooling the nose.

Hypersensitivity

Some folks are way more sensitive to odors, fragrances, aromas, etc., than are others. Take the living situation of a good friend as a case in point.

Two items of particular note about my compadre: 1) He is a San Joaquin Valley (California) native, and 2) he has asthma. He told me once that when he relocated to the California central coast community of Santa Maria, only on the rarest of occasions did he need to take any allergy and/or sinus and/or asthma-control medicine – it was principally during the allergy, hay fever season when pollen was a problem. On the other hand, after returning to the land of his roots where bad air quality more or less dictates all, the medication(s) my friend relies upon to provide asthma- and allergy-symptom relief, taking such, if I understand correctly, was a ritual or routine followed regularly, and that could mean daily depending on conditions present.

Being hypersensitive isn’t limited to what occurs naturally or as a direct result of pollution in the air. Other times, those with allergies or hypersensitivity, may have an adverse reaction. For example, food aromas caused from cooking; a fragrance given off from a solution, cream or lotion or other skin-applied product; may prompt certain reactions to such that can manifest themselves in different forms in different people – from something as tame as having a dry cough, or causing eye irritation, being nauseated, all the way to a condition that is more intense like that of the dry heaves (gagging), to causing a far more serious reaction like a seizure or worse (e.g. gasping for air).

Coming immediately to mind is cigarette smoke (primary and/or secondary). I can remember as a young adult, after being away at college and upon returning to my home town after graduating, I was in the company of family members who smoked tobacco products and when said family members lit up in my presence and in the confines of an automobile with the air-conditioning system going and with closed windows all around, I got this burning sensation in my eyes. To say the experience was uncomfortable doesn’t even begin to describe the unpleasant feeling. Others, meanwhile, have told me that upon descending Interstate 5 – on what is referred to as The Grapevine – in their motor vehicles and into smog-shrouded southern California, they too have experienced a similar eye discomfort. During the times I have made similar treks I can’t say that I experienced the same luckily. Though I can’t exactly relate I do understand.

Finally, where I reside when the wind blows just so, the smells associated with farming activities has a tendency to carry on past. Though the odors are not intolerable, they are at times strong enough to let you know, that upon your taking a whiff, ag activity isn’t far off. Even smells from blooming, fragrant flowers of indigenous and non-native plant species can make their presence known. It comes with the territory and it is to be expected with regularity.

Aliso Canyon

At one time or another in everyone’s life, exposure to a potent smell of one kind or another, well, that’s practically a given.

Some odors, depending upon what such are made up of, can be detrimental to human health. And, as it may relate, releases of poisonous chemicals, substances, if inhaled, can be dangerous and can have tragic, disastrous or catastrophic consequences.

Coming immediately to mind is the situation related to the well leak of methane gas in late 2015 at the Aliso Canyon, California-based gas storage facility which prompted the evacuation of residents in nearby Porter Ranch. Complaints heard from town residents as reflected in various news accounts related to such ranged from headaches and nosebleeds to nausea and vomiting. Many of the townsfolk were relocated to various available lodging in multiple locations until such time that it was deemed safe by authorities for them to return to the Porter Ranch community.

Fantastic it was that the leak was plugged and conditions in the community have since returned to normal.

Middle image above: NASA

Bottom image above: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Op-ed updated on Jan. 26, 2017 at 9:10 p.m. P.S.T. Op-ed text adjusted on Jan. 26, 2017 at 9:24 p.m. P.S.T. and on Jan. 27, 2017 at 6:18 a.m. P.S.T.

Though an intensifying global bad-air problem, not all doom and gloom, World Bank report shows

The World Bank with assistance from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, Seattle, last year, released its The Cost of Air Pollution: Strengthening the Economic Case for Action study.

As to the seriousness of the air-pollution problem, The World Bank shared some sobering thoughts.

“Air pollution is recognized today as a major health risk. Exposure to air pollution, both ambient and household, increases a person’s risk of contracting a disease such as lung cancer, stroke, heart disease, and chronic bronchitis. According to the latest available estimates, in 2013, 5.5 million premature deaths worldwide, or 1 in every 10 total deaths, were attributable to air pollution. Air pollution has posed a significant health risk since the early 1990s, the earliest period for which global estimates of exposure and health effects are available.”1

Worldwide, air pollution is the fourth leading risk factor of premature death in 2013, as was also true in 1990 (with 4.8 million air-pollution attributable early deaths), according to The World Bank.2

Air pollution, according to The World Bank definition, includes household air pollution, ambient fine-particulate matter (PM 2.5) and ambient ozone.3

PM 2.5’s impacts

Fine-particulate-matter pollution (PM 2.5 – particles the size of no more than about a thirtieth the width or diameter of the average human hair – less than 2.5 micrometers across) is globally health-impacting. It is prevalent in the air in places like Chatham/Kent, Ontario, Canada; Tasmania in New Zealand; Delhi in India; Beijing, China; Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Bakersfield, California in the United States; Mexico City in Mexico and on and on the list goes. PM 2.5 can be found anywhere combustion occurs where the fuel burned, whether petroleum, coal, peat, wood, oil and various other fuels – fossil or otherwise, doesn’t completely burn (burns at less than 100 percent efficiency, in other words). When these particles are breathed in they can lodge deep in the lungs or enter the bloodstream and are known to lead or contribute to a number of diseases including ischemic heart disease, lower respiratory system disease, stroke, pneumonia, lung cancer and premature death.

And, as far as the problem goes, it is a mixed bag.

Consider this:

Ambient PM 2.5 pollution was responsible for 2,928,000 global deaths in 2013, The World Bank found, which compares with 2,238,000 deaths in 1990.4

When looking at the number of deaths per 100,000 people for those same two years, in 2013, the number is 239, whereas in 1990, the number of deaths per 100,000 people is 272.5

With regard to deaths per one-hundred-thousand people, the world’s PM 2.5 pollution problem has improved somewhat, and that’s encouraging.

Giving soot the boot: Further signs of encouragement

Cited below: “Box 1.2 Using an Air Quality Management Study and Economic Valuation to Help Ulaanbaatar Forge a Strategy to Combat Air Pollution,” from The Cost of Air Pollution: Strengthening the Economic Case for Action report.

“Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, is one of the world’s coldest capital cities. In recent years, it has also become known as one of the world’s most polluted cities. Most of the city’s air pollution appears during the winters, when 180,000 or so households living in informal settlements marked by traditional circular tents known as gers burn raw coal in stoves for heating and cooking. As a result, despite having a population of only 1.2 million, Ulaanbaatar has experienced levels of air pollution worse than those in much larger cities such as Beijing and Delhi.

“In 2007 efforts to replace the traditional heating stoves in the ger areas met with resistance from Ulaanbaatar government officials, who were not certain they wanted to prioritize stove removal, particularly given the cost. This led to a full-scale air quality management study, seeking a complete understanding of the sources, concentration levels, and health impacts of pollution and outlining the most cost-effective abatement options for the short, medium, and long term. The study revealed that switching out existing stoves with cleaner-burning, more efficient ones would yield net health benefits of $1.6 billion. The benefits of pursuing other options, such as moving ger households into apartments, would have come later. However, that delay would result in health-related losses of up to $3.5 billion if more immediate action was not taken. Delaying stove replacement by just three years would lead to health-related losses of about $1.0 billion.

“Armed with the results of this analysis, Ulaanbaatar decided to go ahead with the stove replacement program as one of the main pillars of its strategy to reduce air pollution. Since 2010, Ulaanbaatar has replaced nearly 170,000 stoves, reaching more than 90 percent of households in the ger areas. Continued monitoring of PM2.5 has revealed a notable reduction in pollution levels since the baseline study; yearly average concentrations declined from over 250 μg/m3 in 2008-09 to around 80 μg/m3 in 2014-15. Although a longer period of monitoring will be needed to establish definite trends in concentrations, these initial improvements are reason for optimism.”6

Cause for hope? You bet!

Where to look to learn more

For much more on The Cost of Air Pollution: Strengthening the Economic Case for Action, the joint World Bank, IHME study, go here.

Notes

  1. World Bank and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. 2016. The Cost of Air Pollution: Strengthening the Economic Case for Action. Washington, DC: World Bank. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO (“Executive Summary, Introduction,” p. x)
  2. Ibid. This translation was not created by The World Bank and should not be considered an official World Bank translation. The World Bank shall not be liable for any content or error in this translation.
  3. Ibid (“2. Health Impacts of Air Pollution: Trends in Exposure and Health Impacts from Ambient and Household Air Pollution, Total Health Impacts of Air Pollution,” p. 22). This translation was not created by The World Bank and should not be considered an official World Bank translation. The World Bank shall not be liable for any content or error in this translation.
  4. Ibid (“Figure 2.5 Total Deaths from Ambient PM2.5 Pollution by Region, 1990 and 2013,” p. 28). This translation was not created by The World Bank and should not be considered an official World Bank translation. The World Bank shall not be liable for any content or error in this translation.
  5. Ibid (“Figure 2.8 Deaths per 100,000 People from Ambient PM2.5 Pollution by Region, 1990 and 2013,” p. 30). This translation was not created by The World Bank and should not be considered an official World Bank translation. The World Bank shall not be liable for any content or error in this translation.
  6. World Bank and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. 2016. The Cost of Air Pollution: Strengthening the Economic Case for Action. Washington, DC: World Bank. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO (“Introduction, The Focus of This Report, Box. 1.2 Using an Air Quality Management Study and Economic Valuation to Help Ulaanbaatar Forge a Strategy to Combat Air Pollution,” p. 6

Now arriving: 40 new low-emissions locos for commuter-rail system

There’s a new train on the block, engine, actually, and it’s clean as well as lean.

The locomotive? A Progress Rail Services product; an EMD F125 diesel, which was first introduced in Los Angeles, California on Jul. 18, 2016.

What makes this model unique is that this first-of-its-kind diesel locomotive is designed to meet stringent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Tier 4 air emissions requirements and it is geared for higher-speed operation. So, for this diesel, intended for rail passenger service, it is as much about its ability to run at faster speeds as it is about its air-friendliness quality coupled with better performance fuel-efficiency-wise.

As described in the company’s Jul. 18, 2016 “Progress Rail Unveils First EMD F125 Passenger Locomotive” press release, Progress Rail Services announced: “Progress Rail, a Caterpillar company, has released its first EMD F125 passenger locomotive, produced at its Muncie, Indiana facility, to the Southern California Regional Rail Authority’s (SCRRA) commuter rail line, Metrolink.”

This was previously written about in the Air Quality Matters post: “Rail authority procures 20 low-emissions locos with a 2015-’16 delivery schedule.”

The Sept. 3, 2015 post opened as follows: “The 512-mile Metrolink system providing passenger-rail services in several southern California counties – Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura – has embarked on a program to upgrade and modernize its fleet of motive power by acquiring locomotives built to Tier 4 standards – the highest operating standards for diesel locomotives as it relates to prime mover (engine) performance in general, and in regard to emissions control and fuel efficiency, specifically.”

“Furthermore, noted Progress Rail Services Corporation, ‘[t]he F125 includes an SCR-only after-treatment system to meet U.S. EPA Tier 4 emissions standards. Equipped with an electronic fuel injection system, a Cat® C175 series diesel engine provides exceptional train acceleration advantages, compared to other less powerful locomotive products or older technologies, while maintaining Tier 4 emissions performance.’ EMD is an acronym for Electro-Motive Diesel while SCR stands for Selective Catalytic Reduction,” as further explained in the “Rail authority procures 20 low-emissions locos with a 2015-’16 delivery schedule,” post.

Now, updated information released provides new details.

“The new diesel-electric locomotive, which meets U.S. EPA Tier 4 standards, is the first of 40 125 mph passenger locomotives to be sold to Metrolink and delivered in the world,” Progress Rail Services in the Jul. 18, 2016 press release stated. Nitrogen oxide and particulate matter emissions in these new locomotives will be reduced by as much as 85 percent, that is, compared to the aging fleet of Metrolink railway engines these new models are to replace. Engine reliability is said to also be improved, according to Progress Rail Services in the same release.

“Funding has been provided through the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s (SCAQMD) Carl Moyer Program and the State of California’s Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP). The remaining budget will be accounted for through a combination of Metrolink member agency contributions and other subsidies,” Progress Rail Services related.

These engines are rated at 4,700 horsepower each.

More information can be found here and here.