More than meets the nose and eyes only: Air quality

Contrary to what you may think, the word “quality” when paired with the word “air” doesn’t always connote, or isn’t always connected necessarily with something good, something bad. Air quality can be in reference to matter-of-fact kind of stuff like temperature, humidity, density and characteristics or conditions such as fragrance, odor or smell. Call these the inconsequentials, nothing out of the ordinary – the routine, if you will; the kinds of conditions or features we very often take for granted. On the other hand, when it has to do with extremes, like what happened during the 1930s Dust-Bowl era, where it was all those Americans affected could do to escape its ravages, that preoccupation with was all they could think of, most if not all probably wondering when the devastation would end and if conditions would ever return to normal again. They did, thankfully.

But, there is more to air quality than just that. Way more.

The word-combo evokes thoughts of what kind of condition the air is in. Is it clean, good, healthy, safe or just the opposite? As it relates, in response to, the Air Quality Index or AQI was devised. The AQI categories vary, including everything from “good” to “unhealthy for sensitive individuals” to “hazardous” for everyone. For the different categories, not only are these represented by defining colors such as green for good, yellow for moderate, orange for unhealthy for sensitive individuals and so on and so forth, but they as well have correspondingly assigned numbers ranging from 0 to 500 or higher, the former indicating an absence of impurities or pollutants, the latter referencing air quality of the unhealthiest or unsafest of conditions. This has all been outlined here before in case you may be wondering.

What’s new, what’s different

Whereas air-quality-wise, in the mid-20th century the main preoccupation was with smogs, first in Los Angeles in the 1940s and then in London, England the following decade and lasting well into the ‘60s, ‘70s and beyond, little by little the concern and focus shifted. First the concern was on fixing the hole in the stratospheric ozone layer over Antarctica beginning in the ‘80s followed shortly thereafter by worry centered on climate change and global warming, the main thrust of the attention heaped on the seemingly unending rise in greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.

There was the recognition by a number of interests or interested persons related to climate change’s and global warming’s human-connection component, meanwhile, this as far back as the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Interest in the movement in terms of protesting against and combating climate change – by reducing carbon footprints and curtailing greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas and from other sources like released methane from hydraulic fracturing (also known more commonly as fracking) and from cow burps and what not through bovine dietary changes as well as the capturing and repurposing of methane via dairy digester systems using such, for example, to generate energy not to mention the widespread acceptance of the adoption of photovoltaic (solar) systems that nowadays includes electricity storage technology, as well as through alternative energy and electricity generating capability plus advances like carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) and redistribution methods in the way of carbon dioxide being filtered out of the air and subsequently being piped to greenhouses (also known as hothouses) to help aid in the raising, growing of crops and other plants along with the utilization of batteries instead of gasoline or diesel fuel to power electric vehicles (EVs, variously known as zero-emissions vehicles and ZEV acronym), in addition to a whole host of other air-cleaning or air-scrubbing innovations and inventions, etc., etc., etc. – by the early 21st century really began to pick up steam. The dynamic has gained a substantial amount of momentum bolstered by staunch climate activism, so much of it in fact, that at this stage there appears to be no let-up in sight with the movement or cause only getting stronger.

No more than what meets the ear, nose and eye, really

When you think about it, when you get right down to it, we are frequently reminded of the quality of the air whether we are cognizant of that fact or not. When we take out the garbage, detect a distinct odor indoors, start the car and get wind of the motor vehicle’s exhaust, get a whiff of a freshly mowed lawn, and on and on and on, the most common detecting device here is the nose. But, detection comes – no surprises here – in more than one form: The eyes play a key role too. And, not just in being employed in spotting, for example, smog on the horizon.

We are likewise reminded on product warning labels, such as in a label enunciating a carbon monoxide or radon gas warning. Or when taking the gas-powered car to get smog tested, the corresponding printout detailing the specific measurements, like for CO (carbon monoxide), NOx (oxides of nitrogen) and HC (hydrocarbons). Or even on paintcan labels, those bringing information to the fore regarding, for instance, the inclusion of certain VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and/or about the possible presence of other potentially hazardous chemicals and/or the specific mention of possibly dangerous inhalation-related indications.

No, it doesn’t stop there: We even call on the sense of hearing at times to alert us of a dangerous, hazardous or unsafe condition, such as when an indoor carbon monoxide or smoke detector alarm sounds.

As it turns out all of this sensory prompting can be of benefit and even go so far as to save a life or lives but only if we take the time and make the effort to take heed, using our eyes, noses and even our ears alerting us to conditions having to do with air quality, be it of the positive or negative type.

As truth would have it, our senses don’t lie. That’s a fact!

– Alan Kandel

Copyrighted material.