Our sad, sorry air: What have we done; what can we do?

I watched with dread the evening local newscast; eyes fixed on the weather and pollution reports: a high of 76 and in my local area and likely highest in this region, the forecasted Air Quality Index (AQI, an unhealthy (for sensitive individuals) 129. Fine particulate matter pollution or particulates measuring less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter; enough to fit 20-to-30 of these particles across the width of an average human hair, and small enough to penetrate (and lodge deep within) lung tissue and beyond as in the case of it entering the bloodstream which, when realized, can lead to cardiovascular disease such as heart attack and stroke, not to mention respiratory ailments like cancer of the lung and even premature death. Getting the picture?

320px-Los_Angeles_Basin_JPLLandsat[1]I can only imagine the looks on people’s faces of those traveling to the expansive California San Joaquin Valley, Los Angeles region (or wherever polluted air is present and problematic) via air transport upon their detecting, observing, witnessing the muck for the very first time from 30,000 or so feet up. No doubt, no different was my reaction upon my first experience catching sight of such. Yuck – a sad and sorry situation for sure!

For the Valley to be – excuse the expression – full of hot air – especially at this time of year – is one thing. But, for it to be fraught with the miasmic crud that everyone who is immersed in this lung-damaging stew is exposed to, well, that is quite another.

PM buildup fallout

In the Valley each year, it is estimated that as many as 800 early deaths can be tied to fine particulate matter pollution (PM 2.5) and/or the ultrafine version of the same stuff. For all those living here who have a loved one who is directly affected, they are, more than likely, acutely aware of the scope and seriousness of the problem. Alternatively, for those residing in these parts whose health is not now adversely impacted or is oblivious to the ravages around them that deleterious air is responsible for, they, more than likely, do not have their minds preoccupied with matters related to polluted winter Valley air. In other words, it is not a top-of-the-mind issue with these folks. Because, after all, this notion is not, for them, an everyday concern. But, at the same time, it doesn’t mean it should be forgotten about like the way dirt swept under the rug sometimes is.

And, of course, there are the usual suspects or aspects in our existences that we are quite familiar with like the creation, presence and buildup over time of noxious fumes emitted from auto tailpipes, fireplace chimneys, industrial smokestacks, oil-drilling-and-oil-refining-related releases, restaurant charbroiler activity; the list goes on.

To make matters worse, new residential subdivisions (tracts of housing) crop from fertile farm fields where once agricultural plantings took root and flourished. These are not housing enclaves that are completely unto themselves, isolated from all others, all else. No, they have roads that allow residents and others access. And to facilitate that access into and out of such are conveyances, typically taking the form of internal-combustion-powered vehicles that require the burning of fossil fuels to provide propulsion which air-pollutes in the process; subdivision begets subdivision, like the good turn that deserves another, the same it seems is the way of the housing tract.

What once in the Valley had been few-and-far-between homesteads, has transformed, evolved, been recreated as monster sprawl, all of which has prompted more on-the-road vehicles, on-the-road driving and accompanying that unhealthy urban air. Add in all of the activity related to business and industry, that which is connected with oil and natural gas drilling and production, business and distance travel as is consistent with vacation-taking, agriculture and more, it’s no wonder words like glum, sullen, hazy, dirty, toxic, contaminated, filthy, sickening, smoggy and polluted are the going and more common modifiers used when talking about and describing San Joaquin Valley air. And, the fact that the rate of change in population is on the plus side, it can’t help but exacerbate our already damaged, deplorable and deteriorated air condition.

A change in the wind?

Human_respiratory_system-NIH[1] (340x226)The reality is Valley air (any air) not need be this way – at all! And, the air that we breathe, to use a boxing metaphor, might be “down for the count,” but need not be defeated.

It is all a matter of having the recognition, the resolve, the resources, and perhaps the most prominent of all, caring or concern enough to want to effect positive change and nip this problem in the bud, honestly, there is absolutely nothing to prevent that from happening.

Recognition – there has to be the recognition that bad air is a reality in the Valley and at the same time, recognition that such does not have to be a part of life. There is another term for this: unaccepted status quo.

Resolve – the drive, the will, the motivation, the passion for wanting to change the status quo and right a listing air-quality ship.

Resources – it’s one thing to want to take action to clean up the air or at least make it cleaner, it’s quite another in terms of having the correct resources (money, tools, plans and processes) to make air-cleaning, air-cleansing possible, probable.

and, although not a word that starts with “R” but no less important, is:

Caring (concern) – Caring enough to want to make a difference is probably half the battle right there.

Whatever it is that created the Valley’s bad-air predicament; what was done to put the air in an unhealthy state of repair, can be undone. Never forget that. And, turning the ugly air duckling into the beautiful air swan (another metaphor) will take unrelenting, painstaking effort. As the saying goes: It won’t be easy. But nothing worth doing ever is.

The end-game – clean air – is what makes it all worthwhile.

Let’s get to work, shall we?

Images: NASA (upper); U.S. National Institutes of Health: Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (lower)

This post was last revised on Apr. 1, 2020 @ 7:41 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

– Alan Kandel