Air: It ain’t what it used to be … but it can be again

“Have another hit, of fresh air,” so goes the chorus in the Quicksilver Messenger Service song: “Fresh Air.” This is 1970s-era stuff.

Fresh air. What does that mean? Such would seem to be a relative or loosely defined term. It used to be I would hear the phrase as in “stepping outside to get a breath of fresh air,” but not so much anymore. Can that be done nowadays? I mean is there a place left on Earth where a person can find such and take a “fresh-air breath” as it were?

Time for a brief review.

The Industrial Revolution (IR) – begun in 1760 – changed, if not revolutionized, manufacturing and transportation, which affected quality of life – both positively and negatively at the same time. I believe that the benefits of the Industrial Revolution overshadowed the IR fallout as it seemed no real effort was initiated to deal with the negative consequences which, in this case, took the form of pollution. Population growth in this regard only exacerbated conditions. The larger the population, the greater the production output hence contributing to an expanding transportation sector and thus resulting in increased emissions.

Then about the mid-1900s is when I believe that so-called “fallout” was finally getting the attention it deserved. And speaking of the 1970s, 1970 is when the environmental movement in America first took hold and then took off. From what I understand, it was born out of a deep and abiding concern to address not only pollution that was present in the air, but that which was in water and on land as well. Call it a three-pronged environmental advance.

Meanwhile, a while back I shared information about SOA (Secondary Organic Aerosols) and PAH (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) and how there was this bond that was formed between them.

“Molecules of pollutants like PAHs, in a sense, hitch rides aboard the SOAs and while in transit, they work their way inside. The two elements thus form a kind of symbiotic relationship which results in a much slower element breakdown or decay than what would normally occur absent this type of kinship,” I wrote in “Tracking pollution: Research helps explain air-contaminant survival.”

Also uncovered was that air pollutants can enter respiratory and cardiovascular systems and can be detrimental to human health. I learned as well particulate matter can be detected in urine.

In “EPA’s new fine particle standard fuels debate,” I wrote: “It is important to note in another Bee article: ‘Asthma study finds seasonal surprises,’ through research conducted by University of California at San Francisco-Fresno Medical Education Program lead researcher Tim Tyner, it was discovered that traces of chemicals related to PM 2.5 were found in urine samples. Moreover, in nine non-asthmatic women study participants, it was likewise discovered there was some narrowing of ‘airways in the lungs,’ there being a presumptive link to fine particle pollution.”

The takeaway here is that polluted air that isn’t inhaled or photocatalyzed, for example, into harmless substances persists.


From: “CATS: Photocatalysis process helps render some toxic air contaminants harmless,” I wrote: “‘CristalACTiV™ photocatalysts, added as an active ingredient in paints or in construction materials or directly applied on a variety of substrates, provide de-polluting and self-cleaning functionality to the surfaces treated, rendering them photoactive. Harmful pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOC) or sulfur oxides (SOx) are degraded to harmless substances when they come in contact with the photoactive surfaces,’ notes the company on its Web site.”

Scientific and technological breakthroughs such as this and others are steps in the corrective direction and I do mean “corrective.”

Knowing such work is in progress provides a great deal of hope that cleaner air and clearer skies are in store.

– Alan Kandel