Smog Begone Dramatic Decline in Los Angeles Air Pollution Legendary late-night TV host Johnny Carson made the thick, automobile-generated smog that covered Los Angeles the butt of jokes for decades, but times have changed. In the past 50 years, California’s Los Angeles Basin has shown a 98 percent decrease in levels of some vehicle-related air pollutants even as area denizens now burn three times as much gasoline and diesel fuel. Between 2002 and 2010 alone, the concentration of volatile organic compounds (VOC) dropped by half, according to a new study led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres. “The reason is simple. Cars are getting cleaner,” says Carsten Warneke, a NOAA-funded scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Primarily emitted from the vehicle tailpipes, VOCs are a key ingredient in formation of ground-level ozone, which at high levels can harm people’s lungs and damage crops and other plants. The magnitude of the drop in VOC levels was surprising, although it doesn’t mean that ozone levels have dropped as steeply, because the air chemistry is complex. Levels of ozone pollution in the basin are down, but don’t yet meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards. Warneke expects the decrease in VOC emissions by cars to continue, given that engine efficiency continues to improve and older, higher polluting vehicles will be taken off the roads. Source: American Geophysical Union (Tinyurl.com/SmogBegone) Coming Clean Environmental Hall of Shame From shampoo, deodorant and toothpaste to laundry detergent and window cleaners, hundreds of chemicals of unknown origin and effect can be found everywhere in our daily lives. Some are regulated by government agencies, but many are not; some cleaning products, for example, are not even required to list their ingredients on labels. The research team at the nonprofit consumer watchdog Environmental Working Group has released a new Cleaners Hall of Shame database (Tinyurl.com/CleanerHallOfShame) that ranks more than 2,000 household cleaners by how hazardous their ingredients are and how much information is on their labels. Many products contain ingredients known to cause asthma or are contaminated with carcinogens. Even so-called “green” products aren’t necessarily any better. Many of them boast of ingredients made from plants, rather than petroleum, but there is little or no safety data for some plant-based ingredients. A truly green product poses few risks to health or the environment and transparently informs users of its content. Bird Brains When the Warm Get Going Global climate change is a real, measurable phenomenon, according to a new study, based on the National Audubon Society’s North American Christmas Bird Count. It found that avian species have taken decades to adjust their ranges northward in response to warming winters. Frank La Sorte, a researcher at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, in Ithaca, New York, and lead author of a study supported by the National Science Foundation, says in the Journal of Animal Ecology that because birds are highly mobile and migrate north and south with the changing seasons, they are better able to shift their ranges than less mobile, non-migrating species, such as amphibians. “It makes sense that species move slower than the rate at which climate is changing,” says La Sorte. “Many of them need to follow a prey base and a type of vegetation, or they need certain kinds of habitat that will create corridors for movement. Species are responding under their own time frame.” The challenge for humans is daunting. “We have to give species the opportunity to respond by providing corridors for movement and longterm maintenance of those corridors,” says La Sorte. “That requires cooperation across political boundaries.” Source: ABC News
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