Air Pollution: Some Solutions


         It is steadily becoming harder to breathe these days. Every major city in the world is experiencing the ill effects of air pollution. The level of toxic air pollutants, known as toxics, has been on the rise globally, though not nationally, since the Clean Air Act of 1990, according to Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards [OAQPS], an office within the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA]. However, though more regions -- i.e., cities, metropolitan areas, rural areas, etc. -- are meeting the Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, certain areas were and still are designated as "nonattainment" areas. These areas are regions which do not meet all the National Ambient Air Quality Standards [NAAQS] for ground-level ozone, a primary constituent of smog (USEPA-- National Air--Ozone and Carbon Monoxide 1).
         What are air pollutants and what is their composition? According to studies done by Brigham Young University on air pollution, air pollutants are made up of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, ozone, and lead (Health Problems 3). They are in particulate form meaning these compounds are particles 10 microns in size -- i.e., the diameter of an average human hair. In fact, most sources agree that these are the main components of outdoor, versus indoor, air pollution.
         Locally, the state of Arizona has had trouble with sulfur dioxide levels in the past near mining areas such as Globe-Miami (USEPA--Breathing Easier 5-2,3). Those problems have been addressed and have been reported as below the Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards (USEPA--Breathing Easier ES-2,5-2,3). The big problem which remains is within the most densely populated part of Arizona -- Phoenix proper and Mesa (figure 1). According to the National Air Quality and Emissions Trends Report of 1995 by the USEPA Office of Air and Radiation, designated nonattainment areas successfully met USEPA standards in 1995 or 1996. Phoenix still is not one of those areas. Since the establishment of the Clean Air Act, Phoenix has had problems with particulates and has not had much success reaching national standards (USEPA--National Air 3). The problem continues to worsen because as the Phoenix population continues to grow, air pollution levels due to human activities increases (Maricopa County 3).
         The causes of air pollution are overpopulation, human activities such as the build up of industry and vehicle emissions; specifically diesel particulate emissions all of which produce harmful breathable particulates. These pollutants seriously affect human health. We do not just experience ill health affects from this pollution but we are dying from it as well. What we need to do is take steps to reduce the rate of increase of these pollutants in our air. If one does not have the energy or inclination to "fight city hall", then at least one should do all they can from day to day to reduce their polluting habits such as following no burn day rules and try to use public transportation more. On a commercial level, companies should support new technology which makes vehicular emissions cleaner while at the government level, commercial fleet owners should be rewarded for owning new vehicles with clean emissions and people who turn in the cars that are high polluters should be rewarded.
         A subject often considered though not in the yet in the main-stream is the topic of overpopulation contributing to negative effects on our environment. As an analogy, from time to time, deer populations in certain wilderness areas explode, the results of which is damage by the deer on the immediate environment. In such animal populations, hunting is advocated. However, when a city or outlying area becomes saturated with people, should we advocate hunting to control the population? The idea is naturally a highly absurd one. However, the effects of our population explosion is more injurious to not only our immediate environment but the entire Earth's population of living matter. H.C. Wohlers agrees, according to Trieff; Wohlers believes in a global or total environmental approach (Trieff 5). This total environmental approach was apparently developed out of the realization that a number of parameters affect the quality of life in the world -- food, population, energy resources, industrialization [discussed later], available land, etc., with contributing factors such as the ever-increasing population, particularly among developing countries realized by proponents in such groups as Zero Population Growth [ZPG] (5). Ehrlich believes that when the population grows their consumption of resources as well as their polluting grows because of what B. Commoner describes as faulty technological practices like the use of high-compression internal combustion engines, which produce excessive amounts of nitrogen oxides that induce photochemical smog among many others (11). We see examples of this manifestation here in the valley as smog/particulate pollution. Scientists have begun to see a link between overpopulation and elevated pollution levels but, specifically, air pollution created by the combustion engines of those large populations.
         History is laden with example after example of how air pollution effected the health of populations of people. One in particular was discussed in the writings of the English author John Evelyn cited in Norman Trieff's collection of studies on environmental health (Trieff 4). Some of the effects of the coal burning air pollution noted by Evelyn are the same ones that have been observed by 20th-century scientists of particulate air pollution: reduction in sunshine, morbidity and mortality from respiratory disease, increased soot and dust, and corrosion of materials (4). In the case of this example, the air pollution was a result of industry. Today, coal is less of a problem today [though there are still reports of coal related respiratory failure]. Sulfur from metal processing plants like the copper smelting facility here in Arizona is a present day example of how industry contributes to air pollution. This facility is continuously under EPA surveillance for elevated sulfur emissions due to reports of respiratory irritation of asthmatics (Shull 1). Other harmful emissions causing air pollution are the burning of materials such as waste, even barbecuing because of the emissions produced by lighter fluid, and wood in fire-places. These particles produced from burning emitted from industrial plants are known to adversely affect human health because some are toxic and, therefore, carcinogenic (USEPA--Office of Air and Radiation--1995 National 1). For these reasons, no burn laws have been put into effect as well as laws prohibiting the inclusion of wood-burning fireplaces into newly constructed homes (Maricopa County 3).
         As mentioned previously and briefly, vehicle emissions are a big source of air pollution because of the nitrogen oxides they discharge into the atmosphere. Most harmful of the vehicular emissions is that of diesel fuel. They are carbon and sulfur based particulates (Lipkea 1). The breathable soot produce by the combustion of hydrocarbons are a part of the composition of liquid diesel fuel (21). Keeping in mind that the smaller the breathable particle, the more easily it lodges into the lung reducing lung capacity and leading to lung disease. Diesel particles are small and therefore a health hazard and another dangerous cause of particulate air pollution (51).
         Now that we have discussed air pollution in general, we can look at some local causes for air pollution. We have already seen how the copper smelting facility emits high levels of sulfur into the air causing asthmatics to suffer. We have also briefly mentioned how Phoenix is still a nonattainment area. Being among the 10 nonattainment areas, Phoenix did not meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standard established by the EPA (USEPA-National Air 3). This means that Phoenix did not meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ground-level ozone, a primary constituent of smog (1). As stated on the EPA's nonattainment report, they designate as nonattainment areas those areas that do not meet the National Ambient Air Quality standard for ground-level ozone [a primary constituent of smog] (1). These standards are classified as Marginal, Moderate, Serious, Severe, and Extreme for nonattainment areas based on air quality monitoring data (1). These ozone standards are met when the average estimated exceedances of the ozone standard is greater than or equal to 1.0 average samples per sample period. Nonattainment areas which exceed these standards are classified according to their level of exceedance above standard. In otherwords, the higher the particle level in the air the more of a risk the air is to public health.
         Hence, regions who have met the standards should be commended for they have had, and still have, a tremendous undertaking. One such undertaking is the exposure assessment which can be done by residents of each region. It involves following a list of steps in order to determine if you live in a high air pollution risk area (EPA-Evaluating Exposures 1,2). Then they go on to describe each step in more detail. Once one has made these assessments, they can decide to take action. The causes of air pollution can, therefore, be assessed in the preceding ways, among other more scientific ways, to be overpopulation, vehicular emissions -- specifically, diesel fumes are dangerous -- and industrial emissions from burning of products. Though other natural causes for air pollution also exist, man-made chemicals are the most dangerous to human health.
         So, for those who have at one point in their lives experienced a breath of truly fresh air, living in a metropolis like Phoenix with air pollution levels above the national standard may produce feelings of gloom and anxiety. The morning rush hour on the west bound Interstate 10 is a demoralizing, perhaps even desperate, experience. The layman motorist can observe a distinctly brown blanket of this air pollution asphyxiating the valley from the Tempe-Scottsdale area all the way into Phoenix proper -- and one heads straight into it every weekday. Though the immediate effects of breathing that air can be relatively unnoticeable, your common sense deafeningly insists that you are slowly dying as result of that poisoned air. Air pollution is a serious health hazard because it is destroying peoples' physical health, but most importantly, contributing to the deaths of many. A robust link between air-borne particulate pollution and cardiovascular and pulmonary disease as well as lung cancer and asthma attacks has now been established. Quite a few studies have been and are currently being looked into regarding the validity of such a claim. However, a very important collaborative study done by two researchers -- one at Brigham Young University and the other at Harvard University -- recently established the absolute relationship between air pollution particulates and mortality rates. As a result, many public interest groups are vigorously advocating more stringent Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] particulate standards.
         The first as well as possibly the loudest of the public interest groups, the National Resources Defense Council, diligently set up a web site with a wealth of information on the diseases particulate pollution cause, which particulates are the riskiest to public health and what measures the EPA should take to help reduce the levels. According to the article Danger in the Air published on the NRDC Pro Web web site, in addition to smoke and soot, aerosol particles formed from gaseous emissions of sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds are some of what make up particulate air pollution (National Resources Defense Council -- Danger in the Air 1). These particles are classified, by size, PM2.5 to PM10; PM2.5 being 2.5 microns in diameter and PM10 being 10 microns in diameter (1). The primary sources of this matter are older, coal-fired power plants, industrial boilers, and gas- and diesel-powered vehicles (1). Basically, what all this means is that the finer PM2.5 particles are actually considered to be more dangerous than coarser material -- PM10 -- because they are small enough to evade the body's respiratory defense mechanisms and lodge deep inside lung tissue (1). The result is pulmonary disease and/or lung cancer (Bogen 1). To sustain their support of this claim, the National Resources Defense Council with help from the EPA published on the world wide web particulate related mortality statistics for every EPA particulate monitoring station around the country. Maricopa County ranks number 10 out of 239 attainment areas in cardiopulmonary attributable death rates (National Resources Defense Council -- Breath- taking 22). In 1989, 7,420 people out of a total population of 1,508,000 suffered cardiopulmonary related deaths (22).
         Pulmonary disease is not the only effect or cause of death from particulate pollution. Lung cancer is yet another. The primary objective of a study done in England on the population of England and Wales was to investigate the possible role of general air pollution from motor vehicles in determining mortality from lung cancer; measures of lung cancer mortality rate were obtained for 403 districts of England and Wales for the years 1981 and 1991 (Smith 1). The study concluded that vehicle pollution did show a significant relationship with lung cancer mortality rates (1).
         However, if this is not enough evidence of the harm and death air pollution causes, people with asthma who already have a pulmonary deficiency also dramatically suffer. One of the particulate pollution family members, sulfur dioxide, does the most harm to asthmatics according to an abstract assessing the potential impacts of sulfur dioxide on exercising asthmatics (Shull 1). Sulfur dioxide is emitted by such facilities as copper smelting plants like the one near Globe-Miami here in Arizona. However, the previously mentioned factory took a survey of the community due to concerns about the EPA's proposed rulemaking regarding sulfur dioxide emissions to determine how many residents were asthmatic, what their exercise habits were, and when during the day their symptoms were worse (1). This was to refute the claims that there was a proven relationship between sulfur dioxide and cardiorespiratory problems. The results of the copper smelting factory's study indicated that there was an inverse relationship between the time of day when symptoms were worse and sulfur dioxide concentrations (1). The basis for the EPA revision to the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for sulfur dioxide, however, was to protect mild to moderate asthmatics who exercise outside because dose-response data clearly shows that asthmatics who are exercising and are exposed to sulfur dioxide are at an increased risk of having an asthma attack (1). Also, a study done at the Institute of Environmental Health at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Houston in 1980 plainly states that those who are cardiorespiratory cripples, such as asthmatics, suffer increased morbidity and mortality during exposures to high concentrations of sulfur dioxide (Severs 130). How, then, could one study done by the copper smelting company disprove what institutional researchers have meticulously shown to be true?
         If one is not effected by any of the above particulates then they will definitely be effected by carbon monoxide. This compound is produced by vehicular emissions and effects cardiovascular function. According to Dr. Richard Severs at the University of Texas, Houston, the major effect of exposure to environmental carbon monoxide is an increase in the carboxyhemoglobin concentrations and, therefore, a decrease in the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood (142). Essentially, this means that one's blood stream is deprived of the necessary amount of oxygen. This is a well known result of cigarette smoking which leads to emphysema and eventual untimely death. Those already sensitive to a decrease in oxygen supply are most susceptible to the adverse effects associated with atmospheric carbon monoxide (143). However, atmospheric carbon monoxide was also effective in eliciting changes for the worst in the respiratory patterns of healthy young men as well as the high risk groups (146). In the short term, the results are increased lethargy and an overall depreciation of lifestyle. In the long term, healthy adults will suffer the well known ill effects suffered by chronic cigarette smokers; emphysema and eventual untimely death. The high risk groups are those already sensitive to a decreased oxygen supply and they are most susceptible to the adverse effects associated with atmospheric carbon monoxide; individuals with a type of anemia, cardiovascular disease, abnormal metabolic states, chronic pulmonary disease and the developing fetus (143).
         Hence, there is proof enough that air pollution is destroying our health as well as contributing to the untimely death of many others. Some more adverse effects of air pollution not detailed are to fetal and juvenile well being. If, as mentioned previously, carbon monoxide adversely effects the fetus, one might conclude that birth defects occur because of decreased blood flow to the fetus. This can mean brain damage putting the newborn at a disadvantage in life. In recent years, juvenile asthma attributed to particulate pollution has also become a dominating news item. Children are becoming bed ridden because of increasing particulate pollution related asthma attacks (Studies and Statistics 1). It seems that as we, the human race, dominate so does the pollution we create. However, now the pollution we are emitting is dominating us. We are dying by our own hand.
         Now that we have established what causes air pollution and what it's effects are on human health, lets consider some possible solutions. A break down of pollution sources is as follows: transportation, 60%; industry, 18%; electricity generating, 13%; heating, 16%; waste disposal, 3% (Philp 92). Essentially, vehicle emissions, industry emissions, and waste disposal by burning are the main culprits of air pollution. Solutions need to be proposed in order to reduce this runaway air pollution rate. I propose we support new technologies which make vehicular emissions cleaner, give commercial fleet owners credits for using newer and cleaner vehicles, give credits to personal car owner when they trade in their older less maintained cars for newer ones, and finally, we must all obey no burn days. Though some may oppose turning in their cars I am convinced that this is a good idea.
         Cleaner emissions means clean air. As we all know [thanks to car company marketing], the newer model cars are continually improving there combustion process with catalytic converters to the point where harmful combustion by-products are almost non-existent. This is extremely commendable and a very good marketing ploy. However, a culprit rarely considered as a pollutant, locomotive engines, have not been so quick to improve emissions but are catching up. An announcement on the Argonne National Laboratory web page states that manufacturers of locomotive engines need low-cost, low- emission engine technologies (Argonne 1). They suggest the advanced engine technologies developed by their engineers which meet the need by supplying oxygen- enriched air to the diesel engine through a filter (1). This method increases the engine's power output by 50% and reduces the engine's emissions of smoke and particulates to levels far below Clean Air Act requirements while decreasing carbon monoxide emissions dramatically (1). Diesel engine manufacturers should be very quick to implement such emissions reducing technologies because it would not only improve the air but it would be a good marketing strategy a circumstance which benefits all parties concerned.
         Yet another strategy which would help with air pollution in the valley is voluntary adoption of the Emission Reduction Credit Generation plan outlined by a document released by the EPA. These Emission Reduction Credits are redeemable purchase credits awarded to companies who own fleets of vehicles for buying new fleet vehicles with greatly reduced emissions levels (Passavant 4). This kind of program gives monetary incentive to the businesses looking for the bottom line while benefiting the society which breathes the cleaner air. However, these programs are only legally enforced for ozone nonattainment areas classified as Serious, Severe or Extreme (2). Areas which are classified as Marginal to Moderate are not required to participate (2). A program like this should be enforced across the board but monitored more closely in the Serious, Severe and Extreme areas.
         Another program established by the Clean Air Act are Mobile Source Emission Reduction Credits [MERC's]. These credits can be generated from surplus emission reductions over and above the Federal mobile source program requirements (1). An example implementation of the Mobile Source Emission Reduction Credits program would be a vehicle retirement program designed to retire a specified number of a specific category of vehicles by offering some necessary price to acquire that set number of vehicles (Reilly 11). Again, a monetary solution which benefits everyone.
         However, there would most likely be some descent. If the program were to offer a fixed price (11). People will rank the price of their cars as higher than the set fixed price and the trade in program will not be as affective. The solution to this kind of descent would be for the retirement program to give the Blue Book price for the car so that the vehicle owner will have an assessed value for the car. This would cost the government quite a bit more than the fixed price implementation but the benefits in reduced air pollution would be enormous.
         Last but not least, all citizens must obey no burn laws. This means that citizens should keep abreast of the pollution reports and the no burn announcements. It also means that when announcement is made there should be no burning of any kind no barbecuing or wood-burning. This is one of small but significant things we can do as individuals to help in the reduction of air pollution.
         Essentially, we are killing ourselves will our air pollution. On an individual level, we might want to take notice of the increase in the number of people who are coughing or ill with flu symptoms just to get an idea of the urgency of air pollution reduction (Philp 95). The time to act is now. If we do not address this issue soon, generations of innocent people along with all living things will needlessly suffer chronic heart and lung disease making for a most miserable existence. The solutions outlined above support of new emissions clean-up technology, fleet owners credits, vehicle retirement plans implemented as a mobile source emission reduction credit plan and complying with no burn days are just a few ideas put forth to allow discussion and thought regarding this ominous topic. Hopefully, not only will this promote discussion but also action.


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