On the morning of Day-2 (Tues., Apr. 29th) of Air Quality Awareness Week 2014, I made my way onto the patio outside my home after having just returned from a moderately brisk neighborhood walk. Temps in the 70s and air reasonably good.
Subsequent to sitting in one of the several patio chairs, I gazed skyward. Overhead, in my view were not one, but two southeast-to-northwest-traveling jet-planes, the duo passing within minutes of each other, the pair following almost identical flight paths, their separate sets of contrails eventually becoming one.
Almost immediately, my attention turned to the air. Thinking even more intently, I now contemplate the changes the air has gone through and how lives have been affected or altered. More locally, less globally, I consider how my life has been shaped by the presence of dirty air.
Dirty air being old as dirt itself, natural forces and human factors are contributors to – and the culprits of – the air that is damaged. So, air, even at the time of my birth 61 years ago, was impure. In time, my concern over such grew, closer and closer attention was paid, I cared more and my indifference waned. So, what happened?
As it has to do with this, I absolutely believe there was this one instance when “it hit me!” when it suddenly dawned on me, waking me up, so to speak; a “Houston! We have a problem” moment, if you like.
Smog, resulting from a mixing of ozone and various other unpalatable chemicals and compounds in the presence of sunlight and heat is the scourge of summer.
The first time I encountered noticeable smog where I actually became aware of its presence was in 1972 when visiting Anaheim and Fullerton in Southern California. Noticing its presence couldn’t be helped.
Then roughly five years later in 1977 a repeat occurrence, only this time the setting was approximately 250 miles to the north in Fresno, in the heart of the Central San Joaquin Valley. It was the tail end of summer and downtown buildings were obscured by a cloak of grayish-brown haze.
Then another encounter, followed by another and then another after that. More and more I paid notice, my becoming more and more aware.
And the problem seems no less evident today compared to that which I noticed for the very first time decades ago as the numbers of San Joaquin Valley smoggy days grow.
An unsettling ‘chill’ in the air
On the other hand and in regard to the season opposite – winter – wood-smoke emanating from residential fireplace chimneys, outdoor fire pits, chimineas and the like, filling the air, wafting in it that unmistakable wood-smoke smell, its odoriferous odor often strong, at times persisting, pervasive, smoke highly unpleasing to the eye, lungs, nose and throat.
Of course, the main air irritant at this particular time of year is soot, which often goes by another name: particulate matter pollution. (I plan to have more about this going into far greater detail in an upcoming Air Quality Matters post). And its sources are several: the transport, residential/commercial/construction and industrial sectors among others.
What’s not to understand?!
I have come to the realization – call it an epiphany if you like – that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize that conditions in the roughly 24,000 square-mile big Central Valley have reached the breaking point, so to speak, where there are more bad-air days than good, where healthcare costs related to polluted air’s effects stagger, mushrooming to an estimated annual $6 billion, and what should prompt serious concern and correction as in something needs to be done in terms of mitigating the damaging, deleterious and deplorable air – and not just here but elsewhere too.
As I have enunciated before, this is not a pretty picture. Oh, and one more point here that seems particularly fitting:
What part of the big-picture perspective are some interests just not getting? Can we do better? Absolutely!
All of which brings this discussion to this place and time, hence coming full circle.
Image above: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
– Alan Kandel