Southern California environment news and trends

Breathe easier: Check air quality with new smartphone app

Take a deep breath — unless your phone tells you otherwise. This week, the American Lung Association announced a free smartphone application designed to help users breathe a little easier. Called “State of the Air,” the new app delivers updated air quality information in the immediate environment.

Utilizing ZIP code and geo-location technology, the app can check levels of ozone and particle pollution, which are the two most common air pollutants, according to the Lung Association’s 2012 State of the Air report, released in April. The report also showed that over 127.2 million people live in U.S. counties with dangerous levels of both.

"More than 40 percent of people in the United States live in areas where air pollution continues to threaten their health," said Dr. Norman H. Edelman, Chief Medical Officer for the American Lung Association in a statement. "The State of the Air app is especially valuable warmer weather, when ozone pollution peaks in many cities with long hot sunny days."

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IMAGE: NASA reveals the new hole in the Arctic ozone

This week, we reported that the Arctic now has a hole on its ozone cover, making it a twin to the infamous Antarctic hole. Ozone is the protective layer that deflects damaging radiation from the sun back into space. Without ozone, it would be extremely difficult for anything to survive on earth.” For the first time, sufficient loss occurred to reasonably be described as an Arctic ozone hole,” researchers wrote in the journal Nature as reported by Msnbc.com.

Here we can see the new Arctic ozone in detail courtesy of NASA. The Earth’s stratosphere is imaged by the Microwave Limb Sounder instrument on NASA's Aura spacecraft.

As NASA writes: “In mid-March 2011 MLS measured very low ozone amounts (purple and grey colors over the north polar region) at an altitude of approximately 12 miles (20 kilometers). Large amounts of chlorine monoxide - the primary agent of chemical ozone destruction in the cold polar lower stratosphere - were observed for the same day and same altitude (dark blue colors). The white line marks the area within which the chemical ozone destruction took place.”

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Song of the Week: "Ridin'," by Chamillionaire, for Air Pollution

Chamillionaire cares about ozone.

Okay, maybe not. In fact, probably not, but here at Pacific Swell we use a special algorithm to pick songs we like to listen to and match them with the news of the week. And this week it's all about air.

Start with last Friday, when President Barack Obama rolled back EPA's efforts to tighten up a long-contentious smog rule in order to match scientific research about ozone and its health impacts with regulatory action. Then today in Riverside, California Attorney General Kamala Harris is announcing that the state is stepping into a dispute about diesel based air pollution around Mira Loma Village. This week, the EPA announced it proposes to approve the 8-hour ozone air quality plans for the San Joaquin Valley and South Coast (they're called SIPs - state implementation plans). Even though Senator Barbara Boxer is agitating for environmental groups to sue over the separate-but-related national ground-level ozone standard. 

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Obama shelves tighter smog standards, what does this mean for Southern California?

When President Obama ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to halt a proposal to tighten smog standards, his decision sent shockwaves through Southern California. Obama said in a statement, "I have continued to underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover.” Southern California already has much experience in finding a path toward cleaner air and a growing economy.

So what does keeping the current smog rules mean for greater Los Angeles? Air quality levels are already the worst in the nation; certainly, they will not improve. Ozone, aka smog, is caused when emissions from vehicles, power plants and more mix with sunlight. It causes wheezing, asthma attacks, soughing, and sometimes death. Southern California has these ingredients in abundance.

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What 'The American President' can say to environmentalists about ozone, politics

Two plot points in the 1995 movie "The American President" are similar to points driving a sticky dispute in American environmental politics. The first is that fossil fuels contribute mightily to a warming climate. The other is that environmentalists now seem to face a choice between a rock and a hard place as they assess Obama's green bona fides. 

My mom was vulnerable to Aaron Sorkin's warmly reassuring charms when she was having chemo, so I rewatched "The American President" a lot a few years ago. In which: a lobbyist named Sydney Ellen Wade of Virginia, working for the NRDC-knockoff GDC, lobbies President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) to back a bill that would require 20 percent reduction in fossil fuel emissions. three years in to his first term, the president's not looking for nasty fights as he eyes an election year. His chief of staff, Martin Sheen-playing-a-guy-named-A.J., tells the GDC, "The environment has known no greater ally in the White House than Andrew Shepherd." To which Sydney Ellen Wade says, "Hardly an impressive distinction, A.J." Bad for the GDC is that the president doesn't take seriously Sydney Ellen Wade's threat to shop for a new candidate come re-election.

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