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The air we breathe January 23, 2007

Posted by dorigo in Blogroll, internet, italian blogs, news, science.
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Through Beppe Grillo’s blog (http://www.beppegrillo.it/) I got to see two horrific pictures today. Northern Italy is under siege of traffic pollution, and all attempts at reducing the amount of poisonous substances in the air we breathe are unable to get the situation back under control.

The pictures, which I stole from his site, show a filter exposed for 12 hours in Modena through a device that simulates the normal breathing of a human respiratory system. Grillo makes the point that what once had to be measured with special devices is now so blatantly evident that one does not need to measure anything: you can see that the exposed side (in the second picture, below) is totally blackened by the toxic substances. That is the daily amount of poison for citizens of Modena.

I would be glad to be able to make the selfish grinning comment that I am glad my family lives in Venice. Venice, however, is not alien to poisoning of its air, despite the lack of cars: in fact the glass factories in Murano are suspected to raise leukemia levels by four times in the city with respect to other nearby towns.

Comments

1. andy - January 23, 2007

Do Italian cars require catalytic converters? They are actually pretty good with removing a lot of the garbage in your exhaust, as long as they are warm.

2. icanplainlysee - January 23, 2007

“totally blackened by toxic substances”

What would those be? And toxic to whom?

And why aren’t these little discs being made available worldwide to create more panic and stress about even taking a damn breath?

3. Alexander W. Janssen - January 23, 2007

icanplainlysee: It’s smut, elementary carbon, particulate[1], generic dust, generally remains from combustion engines and from anything which releases unfiltered smoke to the air.
Catalytic converters don’t help against the smut which Diesel-engine produce; you’d need either new engine-designs or smut-filters[2].

That stuff is highly carcinogenic. EU legislation puts high standards on the cities how much of this dust is allowed to be in the air, and effectively the cities have to close roads for lorries and cars with Diesel-engines if the treshold is exceeded.

In Germany a new law becomes effective at the 1st of March, putting up new standards for cars. We’ll introduce four classes for cars and the cities will be divided in zones. You’re only allowed to drive in a certain zone if your car belongs to the appropriate class.

This topic is not even funny at all and no one’s creating panic or stress. It’s just a plain fact and we’re aware of it – closing our eyes doesn’t make it go away.
Inhaling dust is dangerous, especially if it’s a product from combusting organic fuel. Very fine dust just goes straight into your body for it can pass the tissue-barrier in your lounghs.

Cheers, Alex.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Particulate
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diesel_particulate_filter

4. andy - January 23, 2007

Yes catalytic converters remove unsaturated aliphatic components of exhaust by catalyzing their conversion to saturated hydrocarbons. This is more important than removal of particulate exhaust because particulates are composed of less reactive material.

5. andy - January 23, 2007

And yes in retrospect a catalytic converter would have no effect on the darkening of the filter that is pictured. Good point Alex.

6. dorigo - January 23, 2007

Thanks to Alex for explaining some details better than I would have – and saving me the trouble to do so. One quick point: italian cities also have a program of control of particulate, and when thresholds are exceeded, they stop the circulation. But it is a typical example of “too little, too late”. Also, we do place strong restrictions on non-catalytic cars, and there are several european standards in effect, Euro 3,4,5…
All of that is insufficient, unfortunately.

Cheers,
T.

7. Alexander W. Janssen - January 23, 2007

T: We’ll see if it’s sufficient or not… Consider how much our environmental laws evolved in the last decades! First it were SO2-catalysts which became mandatory for coal power-plants. That was that effective, that we haven’t had a real Smog-alert in Germany for years.

Then the Euro-standards for cars came into effect. Nowadays energy-producers have to deal with every ton of CO2 they’re producing. Now it’s the particulate-laws which will force the car-manufacturs to install dust-filters by default without surcharge.

Eventually it’ll sort out; the countries of the EU have to ratify the EU-proposals and wel’ll have a better place for the future. Not everything will be fine, definetively not – but better, for our own good. And the env.-laws will improve, too. We don’t live in the 80s any more where no one gave a damn about earth.

The real problem for the furture remains CO2 and global warming. This is the real challenge we have to sort out. Without solving that problem, we’re all pretty much f*cked.

Cheers, Alex.

8. Alexander W. Janssen - January 23, 2007

Hm, considering everthing I’ve said so far today I summarise for myself: Burning fossil fuels is evil.
Alex.

9. dorigo - January 24, 2007

Alex, thank you for your optimistic view, which ultimately I largely share. With so many catastrophists around (not that they have no reason of speaking up!) it is a good thing to hear someone talk with confidence about the future!

Of course you are right, the problem of air pollution is being addressed in the EU. Not enough yet in northern italy, but things are changing for better as far as laws and citizen awareness are concerned.

About global warming, I concur… But see Lubos Motl’s view for a different pitch: http://motls.blogspot.com/ – he often writes about it, and he has a recent post out on the Kyoto protocol.

Cheers,
T.

10. Guess Who - January 24, 2007

Is this a recent problem? I was under the impression that motor vehicles have become both more fuel efficient and cleaner over the past couple of decades. Has traffic volume in northern Italy increased enough to offset this progress, or were things as bad or even worse in, say, 1977?

11. dorigo - January 24, 2007

Well, the problem has increased with the multiplication of city traffic, which totally offsets the technological advances of the last 30 years. And many old vehicles are still in circulation despite recent laws are about to outlaw them.
Besides, 30 years ago nobody was too concerned with monitoring PM10 and other substances, since there was no proof of a connection with the diffusion of cancer.
Cheers,
T.

12. bob - January 30, 2007

well i do h8 it when people go on about global warming but it is a problem and i have just founhd out that my m8 fancies my other m8 lol

13. dr med I cine - January 30, 2007

hi every1 what up dude i did a 360 nose grind dude

14. Truckdriverfromiraq - January 30, 2007

Global warming is a very serious issue, if we dont do anything soon,im afraid you WILL BE VERY DISSAPOINTED GLOBAL WARMING IS A SCAM!!! THE GOVERMENT JUST WANTS TO TAX US MORE!!! I DARE YOU TO PALLUTE AS MUCH AS YOU CAN! NOTHING WILL HAPPEN!!!!
the way i see it somtihng must be done soon LIKE MAKING SURE PEOPLE LIKE YOU ARE KEPT OFF THE INTERNET,THERE ARE CHILDREN HERE!!!

15. dorigo - January 30, 2007

Kids, please bring your colorful discussion out of here.

Thank you
T.


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