Friday, March 13, 2009

Study Proves Ozone Lethal

How refreshing that we can now point to an 18-year-long study (a study that's come of age, iow) and say we have measured the impact of ozone exposure. Sounds so much more scientifical that just blurting out that of course, smog is bad for you.

The study is reported in the Los Angeles Times and many other places; the source is the New England Journal of Medicine.

Bottom line: Angelenos are 40% to 50% more at risk for respiratory ailments because of ozone.

Ozone is not smog. According to the Times ozone is colorless. But it is a component of the pollution that fills our skies, thanks to our famed inversion layer (cool air from the sea sneaking under the warm air, which should rise but can't because of high pressure. Therefore it traps the pollutants and keeps them from dissipating). I think ozone is included in the term smog. Here's a quote from the Times piece:

"Ozone is what is known as a secondary pollutant. It is not formed directly by the burning of fossil fuels. Rather, nitrogen oxides produced by such combustion react in the presence of sunlight to form ozone. It is thus the biggest problem in areas that are sunny and hot, Jerrett said.

"As an oxidizing agent, ozone reacts with virtually anything it comes into contact with. In particular, it reacts with cells in the lungs, causing inflammation and a variety of other effects that lead to premature aging."

Oh, yum. The word smog comes from London where it meant the haze created by fog and coal smoke. Here it means photochemical air pollution.

The lovely picture at left of Wilshire Blvd. was taken in 1986 by Chris Gulker. It's part of the Los Angeles Public Library's online photo collection. Type in "Smog" as a search term and you get eight pages, some of them going back to the 1940s.

In the 1940s, of course, thanks to wartime production, Southern California really emerged as a manufacturing hot spot for chemicals, aircraft, rubber, and all the rest. We already had an oil industry. And all our workers drove cars. Smog became a real hazard.

The Times itself was on the bandwagon, and thanks to its efforts, backyard incinerators were banned and an Air Pollution Control District was set up.

Who discovered the components of OUR smog? Dr. A. Haagen-Smit of CalTech, in 1950. He recreated smog in a lab from the gasoline vapor and chemicals produced by cars, identified ozone as a byproduct, and figured out a way to test the air quality by measuring said ozone.

He was the head of the first Air Resources Board in 1968, an organization that led to our current CA Environmental Protection Agency. Ironically (or maybe not), he died of lung cancer in the 1970s.

This photo is from 1968. As you can see, we didn't exactly jump on the bandwagon once Dr. Haagen-Smit id'd auto exhaust as 80% of the smog in our air.

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