Beijing smog as seen from the China World Hotel, March 2003.
While top Chinese government officials have many advantages in terms of wealth, education, and status compared to most of their countrymen, the consolation remained that the rich had to breathe the same polluted air as the poor in smog-ridden cities like Beijing. But as a story in the New York Times points out, that may not be entirely accurate:
Are we finally going to clean the skies of smog-causing nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide? The Environmental Protection Agency proposes new rules this week that would force power plants in 31 states, mostly in the East, to cut emissions of both to more than half of their 2005 levels by 2014.
The new rules take advantage of the “good neighbor” provision of the Clear Air Act to cut interstate transport—not cars and trucks, but the drift of air pollutants across state borders. (Air pollution, not unlike oil spills, does not respect the lines of the map) [TIME].
The Bush Administration tried to adopt a similar rule, but two years ago a U.S. Court of Appeals said the EPA had overstepped its bounds and nixed the regulations.
As a result, many power companies scaled back their investments in pollution controls. Now those companies will have to decide whether it is more cost-effective to retrofit their dirtiest power plants or shut them down [Los Angeles Times].
Kudzu: It’s worse than you thought. The invasive plant now covers more than 7 million acres in the United States, mostly in the Southeast but not limited to there. Besides overrunning trees as it spreads like wildfire, the vine also brings another danger: In a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Jonathan Hickman sounds the alarm that kudzu could cause a spike in ozone, polluting the air.
Ozone, of course, is a good thing when it’s high in our atmosphere, blocking some of the sun’s harmful radiation. But down on the surface of the planet, ozone isn’t such a good thing. It can cause respiratory problems in people and harm plants’ ability to absorb carbon dioxide; it also is a major constituent of smog.
Kudzu’s contribution to ozone levels works like this: Like other members of the pea family, or legumes, Kudzu grabs nitrogen from the air and puts it into the soil. There microbes convert nitrogen into nitrous nitric oxide, one of the pollutants that also comes from automobile exhaust. That gas escapes from the soil and into the air, and undergoes reactions that lead to the creation of ozone [Discovery News].
America seems to be more and more linked to Asia–not just by complicated financial ties, but also by currents of air pollution that are boosting smog levels in American skies. For years scientists wondered why some rural areas in the western United States had high levels of ozone, when the areas had very little industry or automobile traffic. The answer, apparently, was blowing in the wind.
A new study, published in Nature reveals that springtime ozone levels in western North America are on the rise, because of air pollution coming in from south and east Asia.