Thursday, April 24, 2008

Highway to Hell: How Smog Kills

Polluted cities kills hundreds of thousands. Under-reported plague from vehicle emissions. 2 interviews.

We are honored to Dr. Joel Schwartz, Harvard's top expert on air pollution. I discuss Dr. Schwartz' testimony to Congress in late 2007. His presentation is still available on the Net, as a .pdf file. It is on Carbon Soot and Global Warming.

Schwartz presents one of the two most scary maps I have ever seen. (Number one was the map showing the new world regime under climate change, attached to a presentation to the Royal Society late in 2007, by Sir James Lovelock....)

The Schwartz map is simple: is just shows where particulate soot, dangerous to human health, is congregating. Gray means very unhealthy amounts of particulates, black means lethal levels.

In the United States, the whole of New England is gray, with black blotches. There is more heavy pollution over the Louisiana/Texas refinery area, and of course gray and black over Southern California.

But all of Europe is one gray area, with huge blobs of black. In our interview, I ask Dr. Schwartz whether the new diesel cars being sold in Europe have filters to preserve the air. Not nearly enough, was the reply. Apparently, about 70% of all new private cars sold in Europe are diesel, not gas. That means a lot of particulates. There are new stricter rules for emissions from these new cars, but it won't stop the rash of heart attacks, pneumonia, and prenatal damage from diesel particulates.

Worse, the Europeans have been buying diesels for a long time - and the engines can last up to 30 years. That means decades more diesel smoke from all the old engines still in use. Dr. Schwartz says anyone could tell, even blindfolded, whether they were breathing European or American air.

We cover a new study from England, by Professor George Knox, finding that pneumonia deaths, thousands of them, caused directly by transport emissions, have been missed by medical authorities. The situation now is killing more people than the famous killer smog of 1952, but the reporting system just doesn't pick it up.

The Joel Schwartz interview is a must - if you live in a city. We talk about smog canyons, how people die, and what could be done about it.

The program starts, though, almost at the other end of the world, in Alaska, with Dr. Riki Ott. Why would we call a marine expert on oil spills, to find out about city smog? Because after the Exxon Valdez spill, the American government spent hundreds of millions of dollars in research into the toxicity of oil. It was the first time such research was ever done. They found that even small amounts of oil was toxic not just to fish, but to mammals - including mammals like ourselves.

After the research, in 1999, the EPA quietly added one oil component, the PAH's, to the most deadly list of bio-accumulative toxic materials - along with things like DDT. The Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons are in your blood stream and mine. They persist, build up, and lead to cancer, birth abnormalities, and other ugly things.

Dr. Riki Ott has the expertise to explain how toxic oil is infiltrating our cities and our lives - and the bravery to speak out against a well-oiled system.

As you know, all the major TV newscasts now depend upon car advertising. So do the newspapers, which run full page ads, classified ads, and whole sections about cars they want you to want. This mainstream media is never going to tell you what this single Ecoshock program reveals.

Nanoparticles in your bloodstream - and carbon soot makes more global warming.

There are two basic kinds of air particles that impact climate. The sulphates, which come mainly from coal burning, can actually cool the planet a bit, by reflecting sunlight back into space. But these particles don't stay air-borne for more than a few weeks. It is a temporary effect.

Black soot, from coal plants and from vehicle emissions, absorbs the sun's energy, heating up the planet. It is the second largest cause of global warming. These particles also land on the snow regions, especially in the Arctic. White snow reflects a lot of solar heat back into space - but when it becomes darker, grayish, the energy is absorbed. The snow may melt earlier, or ice may not form as thickly.

I found it interesting that Dr. Schwartz, in his testimony to Congress, said that cleaning up coal emissions in North America, and car emissions, is a double win. We can save as many as 200,000 lives a year - and cut out the second largest emitter in the world. Why kid ourselves, and send money to China, or some forest project in Indonesia, when we can save lives, and reduce climate change, with action right at home. I agree.

Finally, we talk to both our guests about what we need - to breath better, live longer.

Radio Ecoshock Show 080425 1 hour CD quality 56 MB or Lo-Fi 14 MB

Production Notes: end song "Highway to Hell" by Midnight Oil (cut in if you need more time for Station ID's); opens with Gino Vannelli clip "Wild Horses". No copyright on interviews. Major media, loaded with car ads, will never report this story. Please help get it out there.

Alex Smith
Radio Ecoshock

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