Despite Green Reputation, California Dominates List of Dirtiest Air in America

While Californians may think of their state as a green leader, the American Lung Association would beg to differ. The Lung Association has released its annual “State of the Air” list of American cities with the best and worst air quality. Eight of the ten cities with the worst smog or ozone pollution are located in California and six of the worst ten cities for particle pollution are also in the Golden State.
The Lung Association uses data from the Environmental Protection Agency in determining the rankings.
The State of the Air list concluded that one in five Americans breathe dangerous levels of particle air pollution. “Particle pollution kills,” said Norman H. Edelman, M.D., American Lung Association Chief Medical Officer. “When you breathe these microscopic particles, you are inhaling a noxious mix of chemicals, metals, acid aerosols, ash and soot that is emitted from smokestacks, tailpipes, and other sources. It is as toxic as it sounds and can lead to early death, asthma exacerbations, heart attacks, strokes and emergency room visits in substantial numbers. Science clearly has proven that we need to protect the health of the public from the dangers of particle pollution.”
The list also concludes that nearly one half of Americans live in areas that have dangerous levels of ozone pollution (smog).
These troublesome conclusions comes at a time when members of Congress are threatening to roll back parts of the Clean Air Act, despite polling data that indicates bipartisan support for tougher clean air regulations. “Some in Congress are working to weaken the Clean Air Act and care more about protecting the interests of industry polluters than the health of Americans,” said Charles D. Connor, American Lung Association President and CEO.

Nation’s Most Polluted Cities:

10 Most Ozone-Polluted Cities

1. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.

2. Bakersfield-Delano, Calif.

3. Visalia-Porterville, Calif.

4. Fresno-Madera, Calif.

5. Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Yuba City, Calif.-Nev.

6. Hanford-Corcoran, Calif.

7. San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, Calif.

8. Houston-Baytown-Huntsville, Texas

9. Merced, Calif.

10. Charlotte-Gastonia-Salisbury, N.C.-S.C.

10 Cities Most Polluted by Short-term Particle Pollution

1. Bakersfield-Delano, Calif.

2. Fresno-Madera, Calif.

3. Pittsburgh-New Castle, Pa.

4. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.

5. Salt Lake City-Ogden-Clearfield, Utah

6. Provo-Orem, Utah

7. Visalia-Porterville, Calif.

8. Birmingham-Hoover-Cullman, Ala.

9. Hanford-Corcoran, Calif.

9. Logan, Utah-Idaho

9. Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Yuba City, Calif.-Nev.

10 Cities Most Polluted by Year-Round Particle Pollution

1. Bakersfield-Delano, Calif.

2. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.

2. Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, Ariz.

2. Visalia-Porterville, Calif.

5. Hanford-Corcoran, Calif.

6. Fresno-Madera, Calif.

7.Pittsburgh-New Castle, Pa.

8. Birmingham-Hoover-Cullman, Ala.

9. Cincinnati-Middletown-Wilmington, Ohio-Ky.-Ind.

10.Louisville-Jefferson County-Elizabethtown-Scottsburg, Ky.-Ind.

10.Modesto, Calif.

Photo credit: arb.ca.gov/consprod/geninfo/cpsmog.htm

Oil Company Profits Shoot Up, Obama Calls for End to Subsidies

Oil companies are poised to record their biggest quarterly profits since 2008 amid sharply higher gasoline prices. According to analysts, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Chevron are expected to report $18.2 billion in combined earnings for the first quarter of 2011. 
These earnings are a 40 percent increase from this time last year, and just short of the record $20.2 billion they earned in the first quarter of 2008.
The oil companies are set to release their earnings figures at the same time President Obama has ratcheted up calls to eliminate tax subsidies for the oil companies. Initially, it looked like House Speaker Boehner was going to support Obama’s efforts to reduce the subsidies. However, the Speaker has recently backed off from that support and has opted for a more traditional Republican stance that tax subsidies are necessary to encourage domestic oil exploration.

Photo credit: fueleconomy.gov/feg/gasprices/

Smokeless E-Cigarettes To Be More Lightly Regulated By FDA

Smokeless electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigarettes,” will not be regulated as a drug-delivery device, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
If the FDA had opted to classify e-cigarettes as a “drug-delivery device,” it would have placed the new product under a much stricter regulatory regime. Instead, by classifying e-cigarettes as a tobacco product, they will be much more loosely regulated.
The announcement comes as a major victory for companies involved in the production and sale of c-cigarettes, which are rapidly growing in popularity. 
First introduced in 2002, e-cigarettes already have millions of users worldwide and is continuing a rapid pace of growth.
Proponents of e-cigarettes argue they are much less dangerous than traditional cigarettes, in that they have fewer chemicals and do not have as big of a second hand smoke risk.
E-cigarettes work by heating a liquid nicotine solution in a plastic or metal device shaped like a cigarette. A vapor is then created that the user inhales, thereby depositing nicotine into the bloodstream.

Photo credit: kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/tobacco/facts/ecigs.aspx

Severe Storms Threaten to Flood Missouri Towns

Flooding in Missouri increased today as water from the Black River continued to spill over a levee guarding the town of Poplar Bluff. Although the levee is still intact, town officials are concerned it might break and inundate Poplar Bluff with flood waters. In preparation for the potential of a levee break and full on flood, the town has evacuated over 1,000 homes in the area.
With water already spilling over the levee and into the town, rescue crews have had their hands full. Yesterday, 59 people had to be rescued from flooded sections of the town. Fortunately, no deaths or injuries have been reported.
Unfortunately, weather forecasters are calling for more heavy rainstorms to hit the already-water logged region. Towns throughout the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys are being threatened by the rising floodwaters.
The storms which have been raging since last week have so far affected a giant region of the nation, including Tennessee, Texas, Kentucky, Arkansas and Missouri. Storms are expected to move into Illinois and Wisconsin today.

John James Audubon’s Study of Birds Honored by Today’s ‘Google Doodle’

Today’s Google Doodle is in honor of French-American ornithologist John James Audubon. As is commonly the practice with the Google Doodle, the subject of the artwork (Audubon’s study of birds) has been arranged to look like the word “Google.” Today is Audubon’s 226th birthday.
The Google Doodle artwork includes a series of songbirds, birds of prey and an owl, all homage to Audubon’s life-long dedication to birds and nature. Audubon’s name is most commonly recognized now as the inspiration for the National Audubon Society, whose mission is “to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.”
However, during his life, Audubon was most widely known as the author of “The Birds of America,” first published in 1827. This book by Audubon contained a broad series of illustrations of birds in the United States. The book, which consisted of hand-colored, life-size prints, was a tremendous success in Great Britain, and the impact on science is still felt today.
Audubon changed the history of ornithology, and had wide ranging impacts on the natural science. Charles Darwin, in “On the Origin of Species” and his other works, quoted Audubon three times.

The Most Expensive Gas Station in the Nation

A gas station in Orlando, Florida has the most expensive gas in the nation, at $5.69 per gallon of regular unleaded gasoline. Suncoast Energys, which is located near the rental car drop-off point at Orlando International Airport, has recently earned this ignominious honor.
The average price of a gallon of gas in Orlando is $3.78, which is actually slightly below the national average.
With the continuing energy crisis and gasoline price spike, attention is once again being focused on the oil situation in the United States. Whether this born-again awareness will result in material changes, or just temporary promises, remains to be seen.

Texas Wildfires Burn, Fueled by Continuing Drought

Continued drought in Texas has fueled the flames of a series of deadly fires across the state. In response to the continued dry conditions, Texas Governor Rick Perry issued a resolution urging all Texans to pray for “an end to this ongoing drought and these devastating wildfires.” 
Perry has also called on another power recently, the federal government– which he asked to provide help in fighting the out-of-control blazes.
The ongoing drought in Texas has turned the grass and wildlands of the state into a tinderbox. Some parts of Texas which average 15 inches of rain per year have seen only one-tenth of an inch of rain.
The Texas wildfires have so far burned over 1.4 million acres. Although higher humidity is forecast in the coming days, so are thunderstorms and high winds, which can often spark new fires– especially when they do not drop substantial rain, as these storms are not predicted to do.
Perry noted, “It is fitting that Texans should join together in prayer to humbly seek an end to this ongoing drought and these devastating wildfires.”

A Round-Up of Earth Day Freebies

Today (Friday April 22) is Earth Day and in celebration, a series of companies, and even your government, is giving things away for free. Here are a few examples of what you can get for free today:
Starbucks: If you bring a reusable cup into any Starbucks today, you can get a free cup of coffee. Yup, that’s right, a free cup of coffee, up to 31 ounces.
Disney Stores: Bring five plastic bags into your nearest Disney Store today and receive a free Disney reusable bag.
Lowe’s: Get a free tree. That’s right, Lowe’s is giving away one million free trees in honor of Earth Day. But take note that this give-away is scheduled for the day-after Earth Day– on Saturday.
Now some might argue that these giveaways are in opposition to the ideal of Earth Day. Commercialism and consumerism are enemies of the environment, and therefore celebrating Earth Day by consuming more products is to miss the point. If you fall into this category, here is a free offer that is perfect for you:
National Parks: For the entirety of National Park Week (April 16-24), visitors to all 394 National Parks in the United States can enter any park for free!

Clouds of Black Carbon Accelerating the Rate of Climate Change in the Arctic

Although carbon dioxide gets most of the attention, a major contributor to climate change is soot, or “black carbon.” A recent study looked at soot particles in the Arctic region, and the effects those particles might be having on the climate.
The Arctic region in particular is of special concern to scientists, as the rate of warming in that region has been substantially faster than global averages. In the past 100 years, the surface air temperature in the Arctic has risen about twice as quickly as the global average.
Unfortunately, a warming Arctic could speed up the effects of climate change. This is because the Arctic acts as the “air conditioner” of the planet, noted study participant Patricia Quinn of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Heat from other parts of the Earth moves to the Arctic in the circulating air and ocean water, and at least some of that warmth can radiate into space.” Furthermore, the snow and ice present in the Arctic acts as a giant reflector, sending much of the sun’s heat bouncing back out into space.
The presence of soot in the atmosphere above the Arctic, as well as deposited on the top of the snow and ice, is increasing the heating process. The black soot allows the region to absorb more heat, thereby increasing the amount of ice melt, which thereby decreases the region’s cooling capacity. It is a vicious warming cycle.
Fortunately, unlike carbon dioxide, which remains in the atmosphere for many years, airborne soot has a short atmospheric lifespan. Researchers note that by decreasing soot emissions, this major cause of warming could quickly be removed. Soot is most commonly produced by gas burning engines such as cars, planes and cargo ships, in addition to fossil fuel based electricity generation, the burning of forests and the use of wood or coal burning stoves.

Photo credit: princeton.edu/~mkopacz/research.html

National Park Week and Earth Day Coincide for a Natural Celebration

America is currently in the middle of National Park Week. Running from April 16 through the 24th, National Park Week is a national celebration of one of our country’s greatest treasures– our National Park system. During National Park Week, admission to all National Parks is completely free. The theme for this year’s National Park Week is “Healthy Parks, Healthy People.”
The National Park system is comprised of 394 individual National Parks in the United States, covering over 80 million acres of land. Throughout National Park Week, there will be a series of celebrations at National Parks throughout the country. From special Earth Day events on April 22, to Junior Ranger Day, the activities are educational and exciting. To access a list of specific events at different National Parks this week, check out this online resource
President Obama, in celebrating the start of National Park Week, declared: 
Every day, America’s national parks — from the smallest historic sites to the largest natural spaces — contribute to our Nation’s collective health and spirit.  These places preserve our unique history and iconic symbols.  They protect ecosystems and serve as reservoirs of biodiversity.  They are sources of natural sounds, clean water, and fresh air.  Our parks provide accessible, safe, and affordable places to appreciate the bounty of our land.  They offer opportunities for wholesome outdoor recreation, which can improve the health and vitality of all Americans.
During National Park Week, we reaffirm our need to maintain connections to the natural world.  Whether on the open range or in the heart of a bustling city, each of us can work to conserve our lands and reinforce the importance of setting aside beautiful places for inspiration, relaxation, and recreation for all people.

Photo credit: rst.gsfc.nasa.gov/Sect6/Sect6_7.html