Sneak Peak at Air Pollution Today

Pollution and I have a long-standing grudge match. Pollution is a form of chemical assault. Anyone and everyone should be angry about pollution. So what if it helps the economy? You know what else helps the economy? Innovation.

Many studies have connected sickness and hospitalization for respiratory problems with air pollution.  For example, COVID and other viral respiratory diseases are harder to fight when the air around those affected contains particulates and chemical pollutants. Particulates are a pervasive form of air pollution here in Iowa.  The most hazardous of particles are the very fine ones known as PM2.5.  These tiny particles can clog your lungs and accumulate.  You can never cough them out.  Once your lungs are coated with them, you either need a lung transplant, or you will die. They come from combustion.  Gas and diesel engines, home heating,  power plants, fires, and cigarettes all contribute to these damaging particles.  Chemical reactions such as those associated with farming and industry are other contributors. 

Coarse particles known as PM10 will cause respiratory illness.  They come from such things as grinding and crushing rocks along with dust from unpaved roads.  Course particles can aggravate existing conditions, cause shortness of breath that could result in a hospital visit, create susceptibility to respiratory infections like pneumonia and bronchitis, and cause excess strain on heart muscles. 

Particulates, both large and small, can change the weather by “invigorating clouds” and causing more rain to fall. Smoke and other tiny particles can affect the upper atmosphere and cause more and stronger tornados far from the source of the smoke.

            Recently, I got an air particle monitor as a gift. It uses a laser to count the small PM 2.5 particles. I connected it to a sensor network and you can follow the Monitor here.

Here’s what it looks like when displayed:

An air pollution station in Pella Iowa tells all.

You can see that currently, Pella’s air pollution isn’t too bad. It was pleasantly low during Thanksgiving week-end. You can see a spike on the left -hand side of the top graph when someone smoked a cigarette near the monitor. Smoking puts out a small, dangerous cloud of particulates—enough to register as hazardous. There are ebbs during quiet times and after the rain shower, followed by rises corresponding to traffic, when neighbors were using leaf blowers, and when smoke from a wood stove or bon fire drifted on the breeze. The thing about pollution, especially air pollution, is that it doesn’t stay put. No doubt you remember from chemistry class that gases have a lot of kinetic energy. They move.

Iowa’s own aged Senator, Charles Grassley, has been blowing the anti-environmental dog whistle for decades, and I’ve written about it. There is no excuse for him to pretend he doesn’t know about the harmful effects of air pollution. He simply doesn’t want to do anything about it because agriculture is one of the largest contributors to air pollution. This is worse when farms are combined with other industrial processes (such as manufacturing).

For now, we are in an air pollution lull. It’s early in the week and industries haven’t gotten into full swing. The fields are dormant after harvest. What can we expect in the future? No doubt air pollution will rise this spring.

Fertilizer itself is a pollutant, resulting in significant air pollution and particulate emission. Because of its demand for fertilizer, corn is one of the dirtiest, most polluting of crops. Fertilizer manufacturing is in itself polluting.(Note the higher air pollution levels near the Mississippi which is the site of numerous fertilizer plants.) You might be grumbling about the coming winter but for today, go out and enjoy the air.

2 thoughts on “Sneak Peak at Air Pollution Today

  1. That air particle monitor looks really interesting. My husband does a lot of water testing, which is interesting too, but I’ve never looked into air testing. Now I’m curious to know what the air quality is like where I live, and how it changes from season to season.

    Like

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