So, air pollution’s harmless, eh? Yeah, and I’m thinking of this bridge I’d like to sell, too!

Some say harmless air pollution is. For anyone who thinks so, I’ve got news for you: It’s not. Reality check: Some types are more harmful than other types, but, all of it can cause harm.

Kilauea Volcano

So, I reference the volcanic activity on the island of Hawaii from the Kilauea Volcano. It right now is spewing toxic sulfur dioxide. That’s right, toxic SO2. So much so, that it is forcing the evacuation of those who would otherwise be in the danger zone. If this air pollutant wasn’t harmful to health, then why would people who are within nose shot be asked to vacate? They wouldn’t. Think about it.

Same thing for Porter Ranch, California where residents were compelled to evacuate their community in Oct. 2015 on account of leaking methane from a blown well of the nearby Aliso Canyon gas storage facility. Symptoms of methane exposure included headaches, nausea, nosebleeds not to mention vomiting.

Then there is the matter of carbon dioxide. It too has been classified as an air pollutant. Some will say: Hogwash! Or, it’s the farthest thing from the truth!

After all, they’ll say and do say and I’ve heard this, that carbon dioxide makes plants grow. “So, how can something essential to plant growth be harmful?” is often the counter, or something to this effect.

NASA’s Apollo 13 lunar mission liftoff

My counter is the scene in the movie Apollo 13 where on the return-to-Earth-part-of-the-mission, air inside the capsule was being replaced with carbon dioxide and a way had to be devised on the fly to correct what by that time was becoming a dangerous condition for the three astronauts on board. The astronauts’ lives depended on a reliable fix being found. Ground control in Houston came up with the answer and the proper fix was put in place and in time to save the day, as it were.

And, then I’m reminded of the cab-forward steam locomotives of the then Southern Pacific railroad, for example, designed to be used on the railroad’s California Donner Pass line with its many tunnels and snowsheds.

With the cab in the traditional behind the boiler location, engine crews, because of the release of smoke (pollution) from exhaust stacks situated up front, could become asphyxiated from breathing said smoke in, attributed to the extreme concentrations of smoke encountered. However, by locating the cab in front, all smoke entering the tunnel or snowshed confines happened behind said locomotive cabs with crews therefore spared of the unhealthful, death-inducing airborne poison.

So, I contend: If pollution weren’t dangerous, then there would have been absolutely no call for steam locomotives of this design to be produced.

And, finally, whether in large concentrations all at one time or over time, or in small concentrations at one time or over time, pollution in the air, as long as it’s breathed in, is harmful to health.

And, to all those who feel or know otherwise, this thinking is as incorrect as wrong gets. Oh, and there’s this bridge (see below) that I’d like to sell to you!

Brooklyn Bridge

Images: NASA (top, second); Wikimedia Commons (third); Jet Lowe, National Park Service (bottom)

This post was last revised on May 18, 2020 @ 1:27 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

– Alan Kandel