Thursday, March 13, 2008

Air Trouble!

Our local air deteriorated in a meaningful way last year.

Specifically, we had 120 "yellow-alert" days, 10 "orange-alert" days, and 1 "red-alert" day. A total of 131 bad-air days (36% of the total).

That compares with 77 in 2006, 58 in 2005, and 48 in 2004. Far as I know, that "red-alert" day, which occurred in July, is the first on record.

Air Pollution 101

People tend to over-complicate this.

There are two requirements for air pollution. (Correct me if I'm wrong.)
1) Source of air pollution,
2) Atmospheric conditions which cause that pollution to collect and stagnate, rather than dispersing.

If either is absent - air pollution is not a problem.

Boise is situated at the base of a mountain range, in a valley. Additionally, the prevailing winds tend to blow from the west - from the direction of Caldwell, Middleton, Nampa, Meridian. The winds blow up against the mountains (just northeast of town); the bad air collects in the valley.

Since we have little control over the atmosphere, all we can try to control are the sources of pollution.

Human activity - particularly our mechanized/industrial practices - are the source of most of it. (I'm guessing that when the Shoshone-Paiute Indians were the only residents of the area, there wasn't a pollution problem, even on the "inversion" days. Unless a range fire was raging, of course.)

The Heavyweight Champion of air polluters is - the motor vehicle. It competes with airborne dust, agricultural dust and burning, manufacturing byproducts, wood burning for heat - but there's no contest, according to the State Division of Environmental Quality.

There are a couple of recent developments that are worth paying attention to.

1) The Legislature is deliberating on a bill (HB586) that would authorize the State DEQ to require vehicle emission testing wherever there's a problem. (Sounds good on paper. But I explain HERE why it's nothing more than Window Dressing, at least as currently administered in Ada County.)

2) The Federal Environmental Protection Agency just lowered the ozone "standard" from 84 parts per billion, to 75 PPB. (I guess we can all feel pretty good if we're breathing 75PPB air, huh?) That puts Boise and many other areas out of compliance. (They, of course, are predictably complaining, while health-advocacy organizations are complaining that the new standard didn't go far enough.)

Non-compliance threatens federal funding for road projects and other "expansion" type stuff. Unless the non-compliant communities can prove that they're really trying. That's what the emissions "window dressing bill" is for. (See 1 above.)

Let me explain the problem, my friends. It's easy... but pay attention. THE PROBLEM, at least in Boise, isn't a few non-compliant vehicles, it's 250,000 COMPLIANT vehicles, all contributing to the total. Most occupied only by the driver.

I'm happy to NOT be part of that group, and I resent them for sullying the air that we're stuck sharing.

I'm hoping we don't get too many stagnant "inversion" days in 2008, because I have no confidence that the cause of air pollution will decrease in any meaningful way this year or in the future. (Maybe $6 gas will help, a year or so from now.)


Anonymous said...

Reminds me that I still need to make a t-shirt for cycling that simply reads, on the back in BIG letters: "YOU'RE WELCOME."

Anonymous said...

A few years ago on the day when the air quality was poor one of my co-workers told me that I was risking my health by walking to work rather than driving. She did not seem to realize that if I drove to work I would be contributing to the problem.

Anonymous said...
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Apertome said...

Wow, it's sad to hear about the air quality problems there. On bad days, is it noticeably harder to breathe, and/or smelly?

Anonymous said...

I'm not overly sensitive to air quality so all I usually notice is a haze in the distance.

Bikeboy said...

Neither am I overly sensitive, I'm glad to say. But I can't help but wonder if a lifetime of bike riding along next to pollution-spewing cars might have some kind of cumulative effect.

Apertome, on the "yellow" and "orange" days, they encourage people with pulmonary conditions - asthma, emphysema, the elderly, etc. - to limit their outdoor activity and the like. Theoretically, other than the ugly views, that level of pollution doesn't have any short-term health risks on otherwise-healthy individuals.