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Clearing the Air – We’ve Made Progress in Fighting Pollution

Government regulation is so demonized today in part because it is a victim of its own success.  Who needs air pollution standards when skies are blue and the air smells sweet?  Aren’t federal government regulations just a drag on the economy?  As progress is made in cleaning up the air we breath, push back to dismantle the regulations that have been working becomes greater sometimes.  The same powers of industry that created unbearable air quality in the past are pressuring Congress today to ease up on clean air emissions standards.  We must hold the line and, in fact, move forward with improved standards.

Below are some picture that tell a story all by themselves, followed by a reminder that the relatively clean air and water we enjoy today was a hard fought bipartisan victory thanks, in part, to Richard Nixon.
This post began with the following note  from a friend:  My Urban Policy studies lead me to these websites.  My favorite is Planetizen.  If you are at all interested in how the commonwealth works, give these a look.
Anyway, here’s a look at Pittsburgh before government regulation of industrial pollution.  This is what unfettered capitalism will do.  The Republicans of today would have us believe that regulation is the devil.  Shall we go back to theEden that was America?

What Pittsburgh Looked Like When It Decided It Had a Pollution Problem

by Mark Barnes – June 5, 2012

In 1941, influenced by a similar policy introduced in St. Louis four years earlier, the city of Pittsburgh passed a law designed to reduce coal production in pursuit of cleaner air. Not willing to cripple such an important part of the local economy, it promised to clean the air by using treated local coal. The new policy ended up not being fully enacted until after World War II.

While the idea was a small step in the right direction, other factors ultimately helped improvePittsburgh’s notorious air quality. Natural gas was piped into the city. Regional railroad companies switched from coal to diesel locomotives. And, ultimately, the collapse of the iron and steel production industries in the 1980s led to rapidly improved air quality leading into the 21st century.  Control of coal smoke made it possible to clean soot-covered buildings and to re-plant hillsides, helping provide the city a look it could hardly envision in the depths of its industrial heyday.

Below, a look at downtown Pittsburgh between 1940 and 1945, courtesy of the University of Pittsburgh’s Smoke Control Lantern Slide Collection: [note: Only a small selection from website appear here.  Go to the website to see all the photographs.]


Remarks on Signing the Clean Air Amendments of 1970.
December 31, 1970


The year 1970 has been a year of great progress in this field. In February, you will recall that I submitted the most comprehensive message on the environment ever proposed by a President of the United States. During the year, there have been some administrative actions, some legislative actions.

Time, however, has been required for the Congress to consider the proposals of the administration and, finally, to agree on the legislation that will be sent to the President for signature.

This is the most important piece of legislation, in my opinion, dealing with the problem of clean air that we have this year and the most important in our history.
It provides, as you know, for provisions dealing with fuel emissions and also for air quality standards, and it provides for ‘the additional enforcement procedures which are absolutely important in this particular area.

How did this come about? It came about by the President proposing. It came about by a bipartisan effort represented by the Senators and Congressmen, who are here today, in acting. Senator Randolph, Senator Cooper, and Congressman Springer represent both parties and both Houses of the Congress. [snip]

And if, as we sign this bill in this room, we can look back and say, in the Roosevelt Room on the last day of 1970, we signed a historic piece of legislation that put us far down the road toward a goal that Theodore Roosevelt, 70 years ago, spoke eloquently about: a goal of clean air, clean water, and open spaces for the future generations of America.

Read more at the American Presidency Project:Richard Nixon: Remarks on Signing the Clean Air Amendments of 1970.

Some Tea Bags Contain Plastic? Who knew!

DATA DRIVEN VIEWPOINT:  Time to switch to loose tea?  I accidentally came across this snippet of an article in Wikipedia explaining how some tea bags use plastic in the their manufacture.  I have been trying to get away from plastics, especially in hot food and drink applications (anyone know where I can find an all steel automatic coffee maker?)  Below is the article and some information about PVC and PP, the two plastics mentioned in this Wikipedia entry.

From Wikipedia:


Main article: Filter paper

Three different teas in tea bags

Tea bag paper is related to paper found in milk and coffee filters and is a blend of wood and vegetable fibers. The vegetable fiber isbleached pulp abaca hemp, a small plantation tree grown for its fiber, mostly in the Philippines and Colombia. Heat-sealed tea bag paper usually has a heat-sealable thermoplastic such as PVC or polypropylene as a component fiber on the inner tea bag surface.


How can PVC affect my health?

Exposure to PVC often includes exposure to phthalates, which are used to soften PVC and may have adverse health effects.
Because of PVC’s heavy chlorine content, dioxins are released during the manufacturing, burning, or landfilling of PVC. Exposure to dioxins can cause reproductive, developmental, and other health problems, and at least one dioxin is classified as a carcinogen.
Dioxins, phthalates, and BPA are suspected to be endocrine disruptors, which are chemicals that may interfere with the production or activity of hormones in the human endocrine system.


Health Risks of PVC Plastic
PVC is dangerous to human health and the environment throughout it’s entire life cycle, during production, in our homes, and in the trash. At each stage it releases poisonous chemicals such as mercury, dioxins, and phthalates, which can cause cancer and harm the immune and reproductive systems. Workers at PVC plants may face life-long health risks from exposure to PVC and other hazardous chemicals used to make PVC. Babies and young children are especially vulnerable to these toxins and exposure greatly increases the following health risks:
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Reproductive and developmental problems
  • Allergies in children
  • Brain cancer
  • Leukemia or cancer of the blood.
  • Scleroderma or hardening of connective tissue throughout the body
  • Cholangiocarcinoma – a malignant tumor near the gall bladder and liver
  • Angiosarcoma – a malignant tumor arising from a blood vessel
  • Lymphomas or cancer of the lymph system
  • Liver cirrohosis
Disposing of PVC plastics is an environmental nightmare.

What is polypropylene (PP)?

Polypropylene (PP) is known for its high melting point, which makes it ideal for holding hot liquids that cool in the bottles (for example, ketchup and syrup). It can be manufactured to be flexible or rigid. PP is used to make containers for yogurt, margarine, takeout meals, and deli foods. It is also use for medicine bottles, bottle caps, and some household items. It is identified as number 5.

2.6 Observations in man

Skerfving et al. (19) briefly stated in their case report on polyethylene fume asthma that they have also seen a case of bronchospasm caused by polypropylene fumes; but the patient had a pre–existing bronchospasmic disease.  An asthma case in the production of polypropylene bags has been reported (16).

The exposure levels of the degradation products were not measured. The patient reacted in the challenge test where polypropylene was heated at 250ºC. No exposure data was given. When the patient was exposed to formaldehyde, no bronchospasmic reaction was elicited.  Epidemiological studies of polypropylene production workers and carpet manufacturing employees who used polypropylene showed a significant excess of colorectal cancer (1, 2, 20-22). These studies were based on clusters of colorectal cancer. In one study, 5 of the 7 cases were diagnosed within a 5–month period and in the other study 5 cases were diagnosed within an 18–month period. The exposure data were very poor in these studies, and it is not even possible to state if there had been any significant exposure to the thermal degradation products of polypropylene. Recent updates of these two original study populations have found no continuation of the excess of colorectal cancer, thereby indicating the chance nature of the clusters (9, 10, 14, 15). Other investigations of polypropylene production workers in Canada (18), Germany (12), Australia (3, 6) and the United Kingdom (4) found no link with colorectal cancer. Lagast et al. (13) pooled the results of the above studies and calculated an aggregate number of 20 observed cases and of 14.65 expected cases. The difference is not statistically significant.  As a whole, the combined weight of epidemiological evidence does not support an association between the work at polypropylene production and colorectal cancer.