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Sustainable Tucson Main page.

Sustainable Tucson Index Index of pages for Sustainable Tucson.

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Priority I - Air: Essential for survival much beyond 3 minutes. If you can't breathe, you are not going to be concerned about much else. Each minute we breathe about 2 gallons of air, which is close to 3,000 gallons per day. Air is made up of 78% nitrogen 21% oxygen, under 1% carbon dioxide, and trace amounts of other gases.

Air quality is an aspect of sustainability planning that essentially can never be ignored. Air quality in Tucson is monitored by the Pima County Department of Environmental Quality Air (DEQ). Based on EPA standards, the air quality is generally considered good. The county maintains an air quality information web site with information on pollutants, health effects, and brief interactive educational programs.

Tucson, Arizona is a unique western urban area with a strong public appreciation for and commitment to the surrounding natural environment. Tucsonans have shown increasing concern over air pollution, both in terms of individual health and environmental impacts that may be occurring in the mountains and high desert lands that are locally, nationally, and internationally valued for their pristine condition.

Air quality is obviously an area where what neighbors or neighboring cities do, affects everyone else. Avoiding second-hand air pollution coming from off your property or outside the community is going to take a grass roots awakening and concern everywhere, or legislative intervention. But while you may not be able to stop your neighbor, you can take steps to stop your own pollution.

Choose not to pollute, or minimize the emissions you are responsible for. Any burning or volatization of fossil fuels contaminates the air with emissions that would not naturally be there, and some uses create a worst problem than others. The change that would have the largest positive impact is the one most obvious, and per the peak oil commentators coming whether we want it or not, which is to cease use of fossil fuels.

A voluntary reduction or cessation of oil use may not be a simple thing to achieve though. Daily the city of Tucson consumes in oil:

760,000 gallons - About 23,000,000 miles are driven every day in Tucson. (Pima Association of Governments) At an average of 30 mpg for vehicles that would be over 760,000 gallons of gasoline per day.

550,000 gallons - If you eat commercially produced food growing your daily meals requires the consumption of fuel and production of pollution equal to 10 times the calorie value of the food, or a 30 mpg vehicle driving 16 miles. For a city such as Tucson with a population of a million, producing food represents the external daily use of 550,000 gallons of fuel. (Processing & shipping fuel not included)

One gallon of gas weighs about 6.25 pounds. When burned the hydrocarbons combine with oxygen from the air. The result per gallon is exhaust with a CO2 aspect of 19.3 pounds and around 8 pounds (1 gallon in liquid form) of water vapor. (Both greenhouse gases, that would not naturally have been in the atmosphere.) You also get carbon monoxide and other nasty stuff.

Maintaining Air Quality: Imagine no wind, and an inversion layer over Tucson's mountain rimmed bowl is preventing circulation upward. Given local isolation of a pocket of air, perhaps we can help to clarify how various actions of our daily lives forces others to bear the costs and consequences of our actions.

Overt Pollution Example: 2 Stroke Engines - Do you own or operate any two-stroke gasoline engine? The issue of noise and pollution produced by a typical two-stroke gasoline engine (i.e. lawnmower) vs four-stroke (i.e. car engine) is potentially significant. The two-stroke gasoline engine generally puts out 10 times (more of some) as many pollutants per amount of fuel burned. The operation of these engines, in general, initiates and forcefully imposes upon others the operator's fouled air and excess noise.

The two-stoke system is used because it provides the lightest fuel burning engine for the power produced, but paradoxically the two-stroke is significantly LESS fuel efficient than a four-stroke engine. The fuel in-efficiency of these engines leads to the pollution problem. But the pollution from these engines is not limited to transportation.

These engines are extensively used on lawnmowers, weed whackers, portable blowers, etc. The California Air Resources Board has calculated that 2% of the smog generated by all engines originates from lawn mowers.

I don't have a gas mower, so I'm guessing, say a mower runs an hour per gallon of gas? (Corrections anyone?) This would mean that in one hour of mowing you pollute at least equal to burning 10 gallons of gasoline in your car. A further discussion of fuel and engine types is in the transportation presentation.

What is there that uses a 2 cycle engine that cannot be done with a less polluting and more efficient engine, done manually, or is so essential that the pollution is justified?

Overt Pollution Example: Vehicles on the roads. Over 60% of Tucson's air pollution is caused from motor vehicle usage (cars, trucks, planes, trains, and construction equipment). Even though newer vehicles create less air pollution, Tucson's air isn't getting cleaner. About 23,000,000 miles are driven every day in Tucson. (Pima Association of Governments)

At an average of 30 mpg for vehicles that would be over 760,000 gallons of gasoline per day. An expanding population quickly overcomes increases in efficiency or pollution control, and short sighted planning that requires ever more and longer vehicle trips for basics such as work, school, and shopping continues.

An idling car emits 12 times the pollution of one traveling at 30 mph, with a cold engine emitting more pollution and reducing efficiency by 50%. (Federal Highway Administration) This would potentially argue for hybrid vehicles as an intermediate step to reduce pollution while enroute to a city that uses no fossil fuels. Don't "top off" your gas tank - by stopping at the click, you will reduce fumes that contribute to ground-level ozone pollution.

While you are still situated such that you must drive, maintain your car; it'll last longer, and pollute less. Call the PDEQ Smoking Vehicle Hotline at (520) 622-5700 to report the Arizona license plate number of excessively polluting vehicles. Alter your lifestyle and living conditions so you need to drive less.

Embedded Pollution Example: Food - In peak oil discussions, it is frequently presented that food production in the industrial world consumes 10 calories of oil for every calorie of food produced. (Transportation or cooking of the food NOT included in this estimate.) In general, a human needs 2000 calories of energy per day. Although they are normally spelled the same, a food calorie is in fact 1,000 "heat" calories.

A gallon of gasoline contains energy equal to around 36,000 food calories. If a person needs 2,000 calories per day, then to produce those 2,000 calories of food 20,000 calories of oil were used. (55% of a gallon) If you eat commercially produced food, your daily meals require the consumption of fuel and production of pollution equal to a 30 mpg vehicle driving 16 miles.

Food Item Calories times ten divided by 36,000 equals the fuel consumption embedded in producing the food. (Processing & shipping fuel not included)

For a city such as Tucson with a population of a million, producing food represents the external daily use of 550,000 gallons of fuel.

Things to consider:

If you barbecue use an electric or chimney-type charcoal starter instead of lighter fluid. While your charcoal contaminates the air, it was at least relatively recently a live tree, which removed from the air (somewhere else) the CO2 you are putting back. Realize though your one barbecue in context if every other household in Tucson decided to barbecue at the same time.

If you use a fireplace, such as winter use for in home warmth, or entertainment value such wood and trash burned in patio “chimineras” in the evening, be cautious as to what you burn. Painted or treated wood may contain compounds which contaminate the air with far more than CO2. Realize also one fire in context if every other household in Tucson decided to burn at the same time.

Let elected officials know how you feel about air pollution.

Electrical generation is a source of air pollution.

Shade reduces air-conditioning needs up to 50%. Reduced energy use means reduced energy production and associated pollution.

Pollutants Discussed:

CO2 Buildup: Monitor your family energy consumption, calculate the amount of CO2 produced, and discover how changes in consumption can change the amount of pollution released.

We inhale, use some of the oxygen from air, and exhale increased CO2 levels. Starting from less than 1% in "fresh" air, the upper "safe" CO2 level is around 3%. When the concentration exceeds 3%, even though there is still oxygen in the air, humans are adversely affected. An average person produces around .67 cubic ft. (5 gallon volume) per hour of CO2.

In a sealed container, starting with good outside air, a person can survive for about an hour for every 22.5 cubic feet of air (about 1 cubic yard, around 168 gallon).

Ozone (O3) pollution can impair lung function and irritate the mucous membranes in the nose and throat causing coughing and choking. It also aggravates chronic respiratory diseases like asthma and bronchitis, and can irritate the eyes, reduce lung capacity over time and increase sensitivity to allergens.

Ozone (O3) is a highly reactive form of oxygen. At normal concentrations it is colorless and odorless. At high concentrations (often associated with thunderstorms or arching electric motors) it is an unstable bluish gas with a pungent odor. Ground level ozone in high concentrations is considered an air pollutant, while stratospheric ozone in the upper atmosphere (12 - 30 miles above the ground) is critical for absorbing cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation.

Ozone is a secondary pollutant formed when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOC) react in the presence of sunlight. Volatile organic compounds come from automobile exhaust, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents (and also some vegetation). Nitrogen oxides come from burning fuel.

The reactivity of ozone causes health problems because it damages lung tissue, reduces lung function, and increases the sensitivity of the lungs to other irritants. Symptoms of decreased lung function include chest pain, coughing, sneezing and pulmonary congestion. Ozone can also act as an irritant to the mucous membranes of the eyes and throat and can reduce immune system capacity. In high concentrations, ozone causes damage to plants and deteriorates materials such as rubber and nylon.

Hydrocarbons (also known as volatile organic compounds (VOC)) are compounds made of hydrogen and carbon. They are released from gasoline engines and the evaporation of paint and solvents and are also produced naturally from the decomposition of organic matter and by certain types of plants.

Carbon monoxide (CO) replaces oxygen in the red blood cells thus reducing the amount of oxygen that can reach the brain, heart and other tissues. CO can cause dizziness, slowed reaction times, headaches, an increased risk of heart disease and may promote the development of arteriosclerosis. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas produced by the incomplete combustion of fuels. The major source of CO in our community is motor vehicles, which release over 85 percent of the CO emissions in Pima County. Stagnant weather conditions coupled with reduced engine efficiency associated with cold temperatures cause increased levels of CO in the winter months in

Particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) may cause breathing difficulties and respiratory pain, irritations to the nose, throat and ear canal which are often mistaken for allergic reactions. PM can also weaken the immune system, diminish lung function and increase the incidence and severity of acute bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma and emphysema.

Particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) is comprised of solid particles or liquid droplets tiny enough to remain suspended or floating in the air for up to weeks at a time. Of greatest concern to the public health are the particles small enough to be inhaled into the deepest parts of the lung. These particles are less than 10 microns in diameter--about 1/7th the thickness of a human hair--and are known as PM10.

This includes fine particulate matter known as PM2.5. PM2.5 has a specific range of particles 2.5 micrometers or less. PM10 is a major component of air pollution that threatens both our health and our environment. General PM composition can include everything from fine dust to carbon (soot), and can be microscopic or visible to the naked eye.

Particulate matter is generated from a variety of sources including traffic on paved and unpaved roads, combustion, and earth-moving activity such as mining, farming and construction. Fine particles present in the air even though it might seem invisible. Their size alone makes them a danger, as they easily reach deep into our lungs. But what they are made of can make the situation worse.

Outdoor Remediation

Vegetation purifies the air by removing gaseous pollutants by absorbing them through pores in the leaf surface. For outdoor vegetation, particulate pollution is trapped and filtered by leaves, stems and twigs, and is washed to the ground by rainfall. Trees absorb carbon dioxide - the main greenhouse gas.

If one acre of trees can absorb as much as 4 tons of carbon dioxide a year, the same amount as a car driven 26,000 miles, then to offset the 23,000,000 miles driven by Tucsonans EACH DAY we would have to plant over 800 acres of new trees.

If trees store carbon dioxide and produce enough oxygen from one acre for 18 people every day, then this city of a million would need to have approximately 56,000 acres of trees (around 87 square miles).

NOTE: To balance the auto emissions, the wood and leaves could never be burned or composted, as this would again return the CO2 to the air. Similarly, to balance the human breathing the tree could only be eaten by humans, never burned or composted.

Indoor Remediation

Indoor air quality in a relatively well sealed home can be affected significantly, by relatively simple actions. First and foremost, avoid contamination in the first place. Many of the adhesives and artificial materials used in present contractor construction of homes outgas dangerous substances, often continuously, and especially when they burn. Items such as particle board, plywood, many household chemicals, etc. release hazardous gases, avoid these inside your home.

Radon seepage from the ground may be a significant indoor threat readily abated during construction by proper sealing and venting.

Appropriate selection of indoor plants can significantly improve air quality. (See Dr. Bill Wolverton's "How to Grow Fresh Air") Examples include Boston Fern, Janet Craig (fern), Rhododendron, as well as Dracaena marginata, English Ivy, Warneckel, Peace lily, Chrysanthemum, Gerber daisy, dwarf date palm, bamboo palm, Warneckel, areca palm, Chrysalidocarpus, Lutescens, and Phoenix roebelenii.

Short of specific plant selection, the microbes in soil perform a great deal of the "work" transforming waste materials into productive life. The Biosphere II project used a “soil reactor” to clean the inside air, as does the author of the book "Soliva". The basic concept is simply forcing air to the interior thru several feet of healthy soil.

With sufficient plants growing in a closed greenhouse, a breathable interior atmosphere can be maintained with essentially no active air exchange with the outside. Note, if the plants are only producing oxygen during photosynthesis, there must be a large enough volume of air and plants for 24+ hours of clean air to be produced during the shortest available sunlight period, and some allowance for overcast days. If the plants are not however human food, then they only move the CO2 to wherever they are burned, composted, or eaten by some other creature.

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