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Lynne Plambeck: Global warming, air pollution and children’s lungs

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: July 1, 2009 10:24 p.m.
Updated: July 2, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Our nation's efforts to stop global warming were in the news this week with the passage of historical legislation.

Efforts to reduce greenhouse gases will focus on carbon reduction. But all this hard work and effort to save our planet from a disastrous rise in temperature will have a side benefit.

Even those that claim in the face of all the scientific evidence, that our activities are not causing this warming, cannot deny the benefits we all will derive from the cleaner air these actions will produce throughout our nation.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency's "Air Now" interactive Web site, Santa Clarita once again had some of the worst ozone air pollution in the nation this last week. Could you feel it over the weekend? It reached 171 on the Air Quality Index, with 150 being very unhealthful.

Air pollution affects our health. A flood of recent medical studies have shown that children living close to busy roads are more likely to get asthma, that the proximity to major roads is linked to hospital admissions for asthma, that exposure to benzene is higher for children living next to high traffic areas. For this reason, SCOPE has commented many times to public agencies that schools and housing should not be placed next to freeways or major highways.

Ozone is an extremely reactive gas composed of three oxygen molecules and is the primary ingredient in smog. It is formed by chemical reactions in the atmosphere from two gases that come out of tailpipes and smokestacks among other sources. These are also some of the major sources of greenhouse gases.

The raw ingredients for ozone are nitrogen oxides (NOx) and hydrocarbons, also called volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

They are produced primarily when fossil fuels like gasoline, oil or coal are burned. When these two gasses come into contact with both heat and sunlight, they combine to form ozone smog.

You can see why our valley is the perfect producer of this deadly pollution.

We certainly have plenty of heat, sunlight and tailpipe pollution here from two freeways and surface traffic.

But the good news is that everything that we do to reduce greenhouse gases, will also reduce air pollution and improve air quality for our families and children.

So as our government takes responsibility and works to phase out the old polluting power plants and to substitute clean fuel alternatives for coal and oil, we as individuals need to take responsibility and make changes too.

There are lots of easy things we can do to help reduce global warming and clean up our dirty air. We can buy the highest efficiency vehicle available or buy an alternative fuel vehicle. We can avoid buying an SUV (this will help our budgets, too, in light of the increasing gas prices!) We can scrupulously monitor and try to reduce our car trips. We can car pool. We can use public transportation. We can buy housing close to our work. We can walk or bicycle to the grocery store and walk our children to school.

Turn off lights when we leave the room, don't forget to recycle, bring our own grocery bag to the store so that air pollution from the manufacture of all the plastic bags is reduced or eliminated and the garbage trucks don't have to drive all those bags to the landfill when we are done with them. The same goes for buying water in plastic bottles. Eliminate the air pollution from making the bottles and having to get rid of them by just re-filling our own "canteen".

Did you realize how much energy is used to pump water? Whether your drinking water is pumped from the ground or is pumped hundreds of miles from Northern California, a lot of energy was used to get that water to your home. So when you conserve water, you conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gases. You are doing your bit to stop global warming and improve our air quality.

I bet you can think of thousands of other small ways you can reduce your use of energy or use that energy more efficiently.
Whatever you choose to do, it is important to do something.

Individual choices may seem small when compared to a huge coal plant replaced by solar energy, but just imagine your efforts multiplied by 300 million people.

Now that our government is finally making big changes on the national level, lets each of us join in and do our part too. There's nothing like improving our health, our air quality, and saving the world all at the same time.

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) and a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Environmentally Speaking" appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentalists.


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