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Toxic Air: Our Other Import from China

RF Cafe University"Factoids," "Kirt's Cogitations," and "Tech Topics Smorgasbord" are all manifestations of my ranting on various subjects relevant (usually) to the overall RF Cafe theme. All may be accessed on these pages:

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Yay for us. Our pollution production levels are way down compared to what they were in the middle of the last century. Seriously, things were getting really bad. Pittsburgh was considered such a hopeless mess that famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, whose landmark Fallingwater home sat nearby, when asked what to do about Pittsburg's terrible pollution responded, "Abandon it." Lake Erie had been declared officially dead. Love Canal dominated headlines. Los Angeles air was (and still is, BTW) unbreathable. After huge public awareness campaigns, cleanup efforts, and stricter enforcement of pollution laws, the trend halted and has reversed. That is unquestionably good news.

Air pollution Los Angeles 1948 (NOAA image) - RF Cafe

Air pollution Los Angeles 1948 (NOAA image)

Air pollution Beijing 2013 (NOAA image) - RF Cafe

Air pollution Beijing 2013 (NOAA image)

See "Urbanization and Air Pollution: Then and Now"

The bad news is that as pollution control got better, companies found continuing manufacturing operations in the U.S. was unprofitable based on what people were willing to pay for their products. Steel, the literal and figurative backbone of industry, could not be mined, smelted, and processed into finished goods at a price that would encourage innovation and growth. Timber harvesting operations found that controlling runoff, erosion, and the environmental impact of heavy machines and trucks could not be accomplished economically. Chemical processing plants groaned under the regulatory clamps that forced either compliance or shut-down. Electronics manufacturing has suffered. The list goes on and on. In spite of all that, we still manage to get our needed material and products, just not from domestic sources. Sure, a lot of Americans are out of work because of it, but our environment is cleaner than it otherwise might be, and other people worldwide now have good jobs. Everybody wins, right?

Not so much. If you ignore the conditions under which a large majority of those new workers exist, and ignore the fact that the other countries are now the ones creating all that harmful pollution, there is still one problem. Oddly enough, it was only discovered and confirmed relatively recently. According to an article in Discover titled, "Made in China: Our Toxic, Imported Air Pollution," a huge amount of airborne particulate matter that is being released into the air from Chinese manufacturing operations is making its way to the U.S. shore via transpacific air currents. Using sophisticated methods of data collection and analysis (described in the article), forensics have shown large quantities of black carbon, mercury, sulfur dioxide, organic compounds, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, aerosols, etc., landing on American soil, foliage, and water bodies. For some of the pollutants, accumulation rates from China and a few other "developing nation" regions are greater than what is being caused by our own industry. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) imposes ever-increasing limits on what domestic operations can introduce into the environment. According to the article's author, it is possible that even with our companies reducing their contributions, the amounts deposited from offshore air currents could make compliance impossible.

That means no matter how hard we work at reducing pollutants, it will be for naught and will cause even more companies to close their U.S. operations. Now, if you allow for the fact that EPA and environmental whacko types are not stupid and know this to be so, you have to ask why the current laws persist. If you were the conspiratorial type, you might look at some of the statements made recently by top-tier departmental bureaucrats and politicians about their vision for America and conclude that they are intentionally destroying this country's dominance in the world. Google the quotes if you are interested enough to learn who uttered the words. There are many more where these came from.

"Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe."

"Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket. So, if somebody wants to build a coal plant, they can - it's just that it will bankrupt them, because they are going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that's being emitted."

"I can't give you a specific number today, in large part because the analysis upon which we would make that determination has not been completed... I think it is fair to say there may be additional costs associated with a farming operation, but it is very difficult to quantify."

"I believe we must pass Cap and Trade because we see it as a source of revenue."

The same people who loudly lecture us about our history of planetary destruction turn a blind eye toward the evils being perpetrated upon other souls across the world. Those same hypocrites lavish themselves in the products of nearly slave labor and tell us we alone are bad. They continually remind us that Americans comprise 5% of the world's population while consuming 20% of the world's energy. Um, OK, so we don't do anything productive with that energy? Bad us, we don't contribute much of anything to the world. No wonder nobody wants to come to live here.

I think it is long past time that America rebuilds her manufacturing base while operating within a reasonable balance of profitability and ecological and environmental responsibility. If we are going to suffer the ills of pollution from one source or another, it should be from our gainfully employed citizens. In fact, it is long past time for many countries suffering the same dilemma to reclaim their heritage invention and production.



Posted December 31, 2020
(updated from original post on 12, 2011)

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