Smog-blessing Americums

Greg Harman

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He's sort of a co-traveler on my morning commute. That's as close as we get.

I'm heading into downtown on Broadway; he's moving away. I'm combusting exhaust into the spray; he's pushing pedals and working those pipes. It's been a bad week for it â?? for both my soot-exhaling Kia and his gasping aureoles. San Antonio is just coming out of a week of risky ground-level ozone, more familiarly known as smog. Which would certainly explain the respiratory mask my fellow traveler wears.

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's official smogman say: Keep your respirator handy through Friday. Come Saturday, all this nasty air that has been blowing down from the Middle West will reverse and that cleansing Gulf Breeze will reestablish dominance. But here's the bad news, this solid five days of high ozone (pictured here) have knocked much of the state out of compliance with running three-year federal mandates.

Warm days combined with the dusty farmland air formed this lung-constructing ground-level ozone (Love ya, High Pressure Ridge). Generous boosts of soot, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxides from area coal plants took this already-dirty air and bumped the read by about 20 parts per billion â?? says smogman Bryan Lambeth â?? putting San Antonio at and over the EPA's recently lowered threshold of 76 parts per billion at two locations, including (“God Save the Dream”) Camp Bullis.

So a question: Strip OUR highway dollars? Why should we suffer for bad Middle West air? Let Ohio be damned. Kansas rapped. Oklahoma dehorned. And when we ship out our smog-forming components with the turning wind direction? Well, we'll just blame Mexico.

Reminds me of that old book-pimping crank Thomas Friedman being interviewed on Living on Earth last night. He explains global population as based on the newly coined unit of measurement (which also happens to be both a human-engineered radioactive element and a killer mixed drink) the “Americum.” Each Americum represents 300 people “living like Americans.” You know, with the cable TV, two cars, and whatnot. He explained how the world had only 3 Americums (Americi?) last century, but has bloomed to 9-A with the wealth/population explosions occurring in China, India, and elsewhere.

The crush of bad air, climate disruption, toxic milk is an obvious signal. “The Good Lord did not create the earth for that many Americans,” quips Friedman. Could it be time for our civic pride and patriotic fervor to transcend state and federal boundaries as our lifestyles long have? Watch the ripple of unhealthy air split the nation (and San Antonio) and ask yourself, what part you play?

EPA's Dallas-based explainer say: They'll sort out the punishments/compliance issues after their quality control folks (“atmospheric scientists” and “meteorologists”) can manipulate the numbers in early '09. So don't you write off those federal highway funds just yet. (Though that could help... )

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