Archive for the ‘smog’ Category

Get while it’s hot. Chip’s latest book is a collection of his top narrative and investigative articles. May we present “The Vicodin Thieves: Biopsying L.A.’s Grifters, Gloryhounds and Goliaths” More new projects on the way.

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

http://www.rarebirdbooks.com/image/31404679046

In this stories collection 23-years-in-the-making, you’ll find 29 articles on a sumptuous basket of subjects originally published in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Los Angeles Daily News, L.A. Weekly and other publications. Hold on for the unexpected and the maddening, the heartbreaking and the mystifying. The feature, investigative and opinion pieces here by Chip Jacobs range from Tommy Koulax’s litigious, chili-cheese hamburger empire, Lockheed’s super-secret Skunk Works defense plant and the deadly, 1913-accident during construction of Pasadena’s famous Colorado Street Bridge, to the hazy, first casualty of Operation Desert Storm, chromium-6 pollution outrages, violent bus drivers and profiles of Southern California political heavyweights Richard Riordan, Danny Bakewell and Richard Alatorre, among others. Vicodon Thieves, which draws its name from a Los Angeles Times feature about pharmaceutical burglars who prey on medicine cabinets at real estate open houses, also includes expanded articles about a high-flying, smog-emissions broker who fell in with shadowy, ex-CIA and military-intelligence operatives bent to “repatriate” forgotten U.S. government aid from around the globe, and the unsolved, execution-style murder of one of suburbia’s most electrifying young mayors blocks from his childhood home. Two new stories grace this compendium, as well. One explores the prodigal life of an early, Universal Pictures director (the author’s great uncle, Nat Ross) gunned down in 1941 by a sociopathic drifter, who’d die in the San Quentin Gas Chamber for his crime. A pair of photographs of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., likely captured hours before he was assassinated in the kitchen of Los Angeles’ old Ambassador Hotel, inspires another original narrative. Few outside of the most ardent of Kennedyphiles probably realize how close RFK came to not being there the night America’s trajectory changed forever, or the cursed, Hollywood enmeshment to his final days. Published by Rare Bird Books  / Amazon.com  /  Barnes & Noble

San Joaquin Valley’s chemical pall not going anywhere, except inside peoples’ bodies

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Google at work on alternative energy

* Curious this issue doesn’t grab more mainstream media attention. It pits the demands of big Agriculture against the socioeconomics of migrant and poor workers subjected to a pretty ravaging environment – pesticides, old-fashioned smog, diesel particulates, infected water, etc. And we used to think Burbank, epicenter of water pollution, freeway fumebanks and toxic ground, was dispiriting. From California Watch:

If New Year’s resolutions could apply to places, perhaps no place is as worthy of concerted change as the San Joaquin Valley. Home to nearly 4 million people, the nation’s breadbasket is described as “a patchwork pattern of separate and unequal places” in a report by the UC Davis Center for Regional Change. Titled “Land of Risk/Land of Opportunity,” the report confirms what community members and advocates have long suspected – that environmental hazards tend to be clustered around low-income populations with low levels of education and English literacy. These include urban neighborhoods like West Fresno, which has borne the brunt of slaughterhouses, waste dumps and other undesirable land uses, as well as unincorporated rural communities like Earlimart, where pesticide drift prompted years of citizen activism and ultimately new legislation. The report, linked here, is well worth reading. It’s chief finding may be that “one-third of the nearly 4 million people in the region face both high degrees of environmental risks and high degrees of social vulnerability.”

* Other news of note:

- The last word on the Solyndra controversy from the Washington Post.

- Wind-power as alternative energy is no longer just about tilting. It’s about practicality. Got a roof? Read about it here in Slate via MSNBC.

- Not everything that web juggernaut Google embarks on turns to gold … or even energy. Talking Points Memo nails it well with this piece.

- Finally, from the Department of We Already Knew That (Hereon referred to as the DWAKT) , this about America’s most gridlocked byways being in Los Angeles. Have you been on the Harbor Freeway lately, or noticed a hovering orange-brown film still clinging to the lower atmosphere? If you have, DWAKT is going to sound superfluous and gang-piling. Good old car culture. It begat smog, and smog begat environmentalism. If you doubt it, check out our acclaimed Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution of Los Angeles. We leave the obvious in the chemical dust to tell the full story.

Autumn green — a terrific (and lung-scarring) video, Central Valley particulates, the mile-high cough and the White House smog fandango

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

 

* Why Central California — yup, the San Joaquin Valley — is such a smog breeding ground. From the Atlantic:

“… One of the big things we’re dealing with is that we have a 1 to 2 ratio of people to vehicle miles traveled,” says Jaime Holt at the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. These mobile sources of emissions add to the Valley’s problems, but Holt argues they’re not the main cause. The region’s agriculture is responsible for much of the region’s pollution. Up until a few years ago, farmers in the region would regularly burn brush and cuttings at the end of the season, creating huge sources of particulate matter in the air. A new state law, enforced since 2004, regulates the emissions of the agriculture industry in the state, and Holt says the Valley’s pollution problems have already started to decline. In 2002, more than 4,600 tons of 2.5-microgram particulate matter was recorded. In 2008, that figure was down to 1,600 tons. The problem is getting better, but it’s by no means solved. As agricultural burn-offs continue to decrease, the Valley can expect to see its air quality improve. But regardless of the value of those improvements, its geography and meteorology distinctly disadvantage it to suffer below average air quality …”

* Ever wonder about the quality of the air you breathe on airlines in that closed environment? Yep, we did, , too, and so have others. Here’s a story about potential domino lawsuits and a focus on what is either a dirty secret or an environmental mole-hill. MSBNC has the goods:

“A former flight attendant is believed to be the first person in the U.S. to settle a lawsuit against the Boeing Co. over what she claims is faulty aircraft design that allowed toxic fumes to reach the cabin, triggering tremors, memory loss and severe headaches. The amount and other details of the settlement Wednesday between former American Airlines worker Terry Williams, a 42-year-old mother of two, and Boeing were not made public as a condition of the agreement. But 250,000 pages of company documents turned over to the plaintiff’s legal team by Boeing seem certain to fuel the long-running battle over the safety of cabin air in commercial jetliners. “The issue is really heating up now,” Judith Murawski, a Seattle-area based industrial hygienist for the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, told msnbc.com, adding that she typically handles at least three new cases a week involving crew members exposed to fumes. Many calls come from crew members on their way to emergency rooms or urgent care clinics, she said …”

* You know your president is in trouble when his once bedrock convictions begin crumbling like a cracker dropped into a glass of water. Once more, we are showing ourselves to be the land of the short-sighted. Haven’t we already decided the environment matters and that sweeping, wholesale deregulation is not only recklessly unhealthy but economically dangerous? Who pays for all those pollution-sickened folks? Hint: you and me! The Washington Post, of course, has the lowdown.

“President Obama’s controversial decision last week to suspend new anti-smog standards offered hints — but not the full road map — of how the White House will navigate politically explosive battles with congressional Republicans over which industry regulations to sacrifice and which ones to fight for this fall. The Friday decision, which angered many environmental activists and won praise from business groups, represented the most high-profile case in a debate that carries deep implications for Obama’s reelection campaign as he tries to spur job creation, woo business donors and fire up his voting base. It came as the president prepares for a major address Thursday night to lay out a new employment strategy … The ozone decision signaled a new phase in Washington warfare. For their first two years, Obama and his team pushed through ambitious legislative initiatives such as the economic stimulus, the health-care overhaul and a rewrite of the financial regulatory system. Now, newly empowered congressional Republicans are driving an agenda of smaller government, deficit reduction and regulatory rollbacks that GOP lawmakers say will help spur job growth. And Obama, his presidency on the line amid fading hopes of a near-term economic recovery, is eager to show that he, too, recognizes the need to curb government overreach. At the same time, he needs to reassure anxious advocates on the left, many of whom have complained since last month’s debt-ceiling deal that the president has become too easily cowed by Republican arguments. It is a delicate balancing act for a president still searching for the right formula to spark the economy to life at the same time that he hopes to win back crucial independent voters.

Smogtown set for e-book for Kindle and other mobile devices August 23. It’s a helluva, brown story for a warming age.

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Click here at amazon.com and let the journey begin

Some reasons to download it:

* Named one of 2008′s best environmental books by Booklist magazine

* Awarded silver medals at The Green Book Festival and Independent Book Publishers (IPPY) Awards. Winner of the Green Prize for Sustainable Literature from Santa Monica.

* Reviews

“[A] remarkably entertaining and informative chronicle of the birth and—so far—inexorable evolution of smog… This book is just amazing, a gripping story well told, with the requisite plucky scientists (including Arie Haagen-Smit, a Dutch biochemist who was “the Elvis of his field”), hapless politicians, and a nebulous biochemical villain who just will not be stopped.” –Booklist (Starred review)

“The history of smog has never been so sexy” — Los Angeles Times

“Smog in all its hazy-and sometimes humorous-permutations … a zany and provocative cultural history.” — Kirkus

“Finished with a particularly powerful, forward-looking epilogue, this friendly, accessible history should appeal to any American environmentalist.”– Publishers Weekly

“… a meticulous chronicle of the city’s signature airborne grime and of the civic and social forces that emerged to stop it … … The story of Smogtown is that of a city vying against time to reconcile incommensurables … ” — Bookforum

“The narrative that emerges is more than a tale of a region and a populace besieged by smog; it is also a parable for a nation beset by environmental and social problems … (a) well-researched cultural history” — Slate

“Writing in a hip, lively style, …[An] intriguing social history of an environmental problem that won’t go away. Recommended.” – Library Journal

“A well-documented, highly engaging, and widely relevant account of southern California’s battle with “the beast,” as the authors lovingly refer to smog. … Smogtown is not your typical “green’s” diatribe against big business and weak government. No, Jacobs and Kelly are much smarter-and fairer-than that” — Sustainablog

* From the dust jacket description:

“The smog beast wafted into downtown Los Angeles on July 26, 1943. Nobody knew what it was. Secretaries rubbed their eyes. Traffic cops seemed to disappear in the mysterious haze. Were Japanese saboteurs responsible? A reckless factory? The truth was much worse–it came from within, from Southern California’s burgeoning car-addicted, suburban lifestyle. Smogtown is the story of pollution, progress, and how an optimistic people confronted the epic struggle against airborne poisons barraging their hometowns. With wit, verve, and a fresh look at history, California based journalists Chip Jacobs and William J. Kelly highlight the bold personalities involved, the corporate- tainted science, the terrifying health costs, the attempts at cleanup, and how the smog battle helped mold the modern-day culture of Los Angeles. There are scofflaws aplenty and dirty deals, plus murders, suicides, spiritual despair, and an ever-present paranoia about mass disaster. Brimming with historic photographs, forgotten anecdotes, and new revelations about our environmentally precarious present, Smogtown is a journalistic classic for the modern age.”

Nobody said clean air was free in the short term. They said just it was worth it in spades for future generations.

Friday, June 10th, 2011

By 2020, ozone-limiting regulations in the federal Clean Air Act enacted will have saved the country — wait for it — 230,000 lives and $2 trillion. Can we really afford to water down regulations when we net those types of gains? We don’t believe we can. Big Business disagrees in the continuation of a fight that’s been going on since L.A. first smog attack.

* From the Bloomberg story about lungs and politics.

“Cutting ozone pollution using the Clean Air Act will have saved $2 trillion by 2020 and prevented at least 230,000 deaths annually, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a report. Tougher emission restrictions adopted in 1990 helped avoid more than 160,000 premature deaths, 130,000 heart attacks, 13 million lost work days and 1.7 million asthma attacks last year, according to today’s report, which measured only the impact of amendments from 1990. By 2020, complying with the amendments would prevent 200,000 heart attacks, 17 million lost work days and 2.4 million asthma attacks, according to the report …”

* Speaking of the dangers of ozone emissions, Latinos are pressing the Obama Administration to keep the pressure on polluters as an environmental justice issue. From the L.A. Times:

“… EPA announced proposed ozone standards of 60-70 ppb in January 2010, but delayed implementing them and in December, said it would submit the issue to a scientific advisory panel. That panel since has endorsed the lower limits. The agency is slated to establish new standards in July. The George W. Bush administration had lowered the limit from 85 to 75 ppb. No urban area of California meets even the 1997 federal standard of 80 ppb. If states fail to meet federal standards, the government can withhold highway funding.
The Latino groups that signed the letter, from California, Texas and other states, are part of a growing environmental movement centered around some of the nation’s most polluted urban areas. Signatories included the Comite del Valle from Brawley, in California’s Central Valley, and the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California. Groups such as East Yard Communities in Los Angeles have been pushing for help with unhealthful air in their working-class neighborhoods, surrounded by freeways and large rail yards. In San Bernardino, air pollution authorities on Wednesday announced a major study of communities around large rail facilities that serve as a main inland hub of goods shipped across the U.S. The study will examine rates of cancer and asthma in those low-income communities …”

* An important Harvard study about traffic emissions has come out. Last year, America’s top 83 top urban areas saw 2,300 premature deaths and $18 billion in public health costs from motorists stuck in congestion. Particulate matter so fine it can penetrate the lung’s natural defenses and enter the bloodstream was a particular danger.

From the USA Today article

” …What the study says is when you are designing and evaluating (transportation) policies, you should take into account the pollution impacts, because they do matter,” says Katherine von Stackelberg of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, a co-author of the study. She says people at risk are those sitting in traffic and others exposed to the polluted air. Researchers evaluated premature deaths resulting from people breathing particulate matter. Previous studies have shown that motor vehicle emissions contribute up to one-third of particulate matter in urban areas. Researchers evaluated premature deaths resulting from people breathing particulate matter. Previous studies have shown that motor vehicle emissions contribute up to one-third of particulate matter in urban areas. “The report highlights the complete failure of elected leaders to adquately invest in new capacity for all modes of transportation,” says Matt Jeanneret, spokesman for the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, one of 29 groups that commissioned the study. “Sadly, traffic congestion in America can be summed up this way: Time lost, fuel lost — and now, lives lost …”

April news-bite showers

Monday, April 18th, 2011

Unused Ferris wheel near the abandoned Chernboyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine

* It’s official! California must generate one third of its power from alternative sources by 2020. Notice, in this L.A. Times post, that our acceleration into green power may help California reclaim its lofty perch as environmental lodestar. Wait, there’s truth in them there words.

“… The new law, known as a renewable portfolio standard, is the most aggressive of any state. Several attempts to introduce a federal version have stalled in a divided and preoccupied Congress. California had previously required investor-owned utilities such as Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric to generate 20% of their electricity from clean sources by 2010, with a three-year grace period. The law signed Tuesday will also apply to municipal utilities such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which manage about a quarter of the state’s electricity load. Energy activists hope the mandate will lead to even more ambitious requirements. “California can power itself entirely on clean energy resources,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, clean energy advocate with Environment California. “Mandating that the state generate a third of its electricity from renewable energy is a big down payment toward that ultimate goal …”

* And, yet, you want to qualify exuberance for wind energy retaking other alternatives before the Ice Cap re-freezes. Turbines are not having the best year, and you can wager whether it’s cost skepticism, declining subsidies or something to do with oil prices and/or NIMBYism.

Also from the L.A. Times:  “The 5,116 megawatts of wind power installed in the U.S. in 2010 was just half the amount put in during the record year before, but the industry still grew 15%, according to an annual report from the American Wind Energy Assn. To some, the trade group’s data illustrate a young industry’s resiliency amid hostile economics and inconsistent government regulations and incentives. But to others, it’s a worrisome harbinger that wind, which has boomed at an average of 35% each year for the last five, might be headed for a slowdown. The 35,600 wind turbines in the ground nationwide can now produce 40,181 megawatts – enough to supply electricity to 10 million homes, according to the report. That’s 2.3% of all the electricity generated around the country, compared to roughly 2% from solar, geothermal and biomass sources …”

* In what may be the most under-played local enviro news, California’s landmark greenhouse gas cap and trade is expanding into the Great North. Good grief, I say.

“California officials announced Tuesday that the state will expand its newly adopted carbon-trading program to three Canadian provinces, creating the largest regional cap-and-trade system in North America. California will be joined by British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario in a cap-and-trade program aimed at limiting planet-heating greenhouse gases from industrial plants and transportation fuel, and that allows companies to buy and sell emissions allowances among themselves to cut their costs. The Western Climate Initiative, launched by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, was originally designed in 2008 to engage seven Western states and four Canadian provinces in a trading program. That program, it was hoped, would eventually fold into a broader federal cap-and-trade system to be enacted by Congress. But since then, support for curbing global-warming emissions has ebbed, and the economic downturn has cut into business profits. Federal cap-and-trade legislation was passed by the House in 2009 but stalled in the Senate. Arizona, New Mexico Washington, Oregon, Utah and Montana had signed on to join the initiative but have pulled out of the trading plan …”

Now, the things people do without considering their consequences.

* Does the word carcinogenic matter to energy engineers? It should, but it didn’t as much as it should. Link.

“Millions of gallons of potentially hazardous chemicals and known carcinogens were injected into wells by leading oil and gas service companies from 2005 to 2009, a report by three House Democrats said Saturday. The report said 29 of the chemicals injected were known or suspected human carcinogens. They either were regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act as risks to human health or listed as hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act … The chemicals are injected during hydraulic fracturing, a process used in combination with horizontal drilling to allow access to natural gas reserves previously considered uneconomical. The growing use of hydraulic fracturing has allowed natural gas production in the United States to reach levels not achieved since the early 1970s. However, the process requires large quantities of water and fluids, injected underground at high volumes and pressure. The composition of these fluids ranges from a simple mixture of water and sand to more complex mixtures with chemical additives … The report said that from 2005 to 2009, the following states had at least 100,000 gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluids containing a carcinogen injected underground: Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Wyoming, North Dakota, New Mexico, Montana and Utah. States with 100,000 gallons or more of fluids containing a regulated chemical under the Safe Drinking Water Act were: Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Mississippi and North Dakota …”

* Japanese nuclear situation got you down? Well, you can only sign up for a tour of Chernboyl if you’re headed toward the Ukraine and have an appetite for tragedy and history, and are confident about your health. Story.

“For the visitor, Chernobyl makes heavy demands on the imagination — much of what’s important can be seen only in the mind’s eye. From the outside, the building where a reactor blew up April 26, 1986, in the world’s worst nuclear disaster mostly looks like an ordinary, dull industrial building. Only an odd addition supported by buttresses — the sarcophagus covering the reactor — hints that anything unusual happened here. The imagination struggles, too, to repopulate nearby Pripyat with the 50,000 people who lived there. Once a busy town built especially for the plant’s workers, it’s now a silent husk of abandoned apartment towers and scrubby brush slowly overtaking the main square. And inevitably, the visitor tries to picture the radioactive contamination that’s everywhere in the 19-mile area around the plant. The dosimeter clipped to a visitor’s clothes and occasional meters around the site are the only visual clues, flashing numbers that are mostly meaningless to the layman …”

The smog-nuclear connection: thicker than you might think

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

As the world waits eagerly for Japan’s quake-ravaged, tsunami-swamped nuclear-power plant to come back under control, it’s worthwhile to take a step back in time to an age when Cold War apprehensions about radioactive fallout intertwined with everyday aggravations about Southern California’s air pollution epidemic.

We detail and highlight some of the many facets about the intersection of cell-mutating isotopes and lung-scarring aerosols in our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles.

Among other interesting morsels from the chronicle:

* In the paranoid 1950s, the Eisenhower Administration buffaloed officials at the forerunner of today’s South Coast Air Quality Management District, Los Angeles County’s Air Pollution Control District (APCD), to perform airborne monitoring not just of tailpipe emissions but of radioactive particles drifting from above-ground nuclear weapon tests in the Nevada desert. Ike’s White House was so serious about this new role for West Coast smog police that APCD staffers were required to undergo mandatory training at the U.S. Navy’s “Radiological Defense School” in San Fransisco. Few enjoyed it.

* The sampling ignited a provocative question: how more dangerous would the air be in the event of an ICBM attack on Los Angeles during a particularly smoggy day? Some Navy scientists hypothesized that our hydrocarbon-drenched air might, counterintuitively, be a blessing in atomic war, suggesting that the smog-component ozone might block up to 86 percent of the radiat heat that would otherwise blast the area.

* APCD suits were dragged again into America’s fledgling nuclear debate when Los Angeles City Hall, eying power demand spikes as the city population bulged, proposed construction of a 500,000-kilowatt nuclear power plant near Los Angeles County’s northern boundary. Asked for an analysis of possible dangers, air quality officials said the site was too dangerous. A substantial release of radioactive materials, they concluded, would, as we paraphrase in Smogtown, “burp a stagnant atomic thunderhead lashing Saugus, Newhall and surrounding population centers as far as forty-five miles away from ground zero. No matter the elaborate safety precautions against a runaway reactor or coolant leak, it was just too much of a chance.” Los Angeles, in the end, opted to search for other power sources.

There’s much more in the book about how the Cold War/national security culture and the dawning of ”peaceful” nuclear power coexisted, separated and then reconnected with ever-changing smog in our understanding of aerborne toxics.

Your authors will be appearing on a terrific new radio series airing on KPFK titled, “Air Check: Petroleum and Pollution from a Community Perspective”

Monday, March 14th, 2011

It’s being produced by Hear in the City in conjuction with Newdesk.org’s Toxic Tour project.” Our segement airs today (March 14) at 2 P.M. PST. Sara Harris is the lead journalist here. You can listen live at this link for KPFK (90.7-FM)

Here’s the show’s teaser:

“This series brings people affected by some of the most persistent point-source air pollution in the city to the forefront of a conversation about air quality and environmental justice. From the oilfields of the solidly middle-class, Black, Baldwin Hills neighborhood, to the working-class Latino families who live along the 710 Freeway corridor, in LAUSD schools sited dangerously close to freeways and using outdated diesel buses, and with community groups working with industry to demand tougher air regulations at the Ports of Los Angeles, Air Check would actively engage disproportionately impacted communities instead of using their stories to pepper news copy or spark one-off outrage that quickly fades away. We’ve chosen these communities to report with because scant media attention is paid to the air pollution they deal with daily. Rarely, if ever, do we hear who is working to change the situation and how.”

We’re flattered and proud to assist in this series, and hope our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, shed a little light where there was once just noxious, brown atmospheric chaff.

In case you never saw us Googled, Santa Monica style, or made it the 2008 L.A. Times Festival of Books

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Like Al Gore, we’re just dudes with a Power Point and a story to share. Enjoy. This is from May, 2009, when we did an appearance at Google’s sun-splashed Santa Monica headquarters.

Chip also appeared at a panel on unknown/forgotten L.A. History at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books in spring 2008. Here’s the link.

This Bookforum review of Smogtown remains one of our favorites, even with its little jab. L.A. – a city of “irreconciliables”

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

 

 

Historians of Los Angeles have tended, even when critical of the city, to re-inforce its long-standing reputation as a place of fantasy. Among the first to examine LA as an object of serious scholarship was Reyner Banham, who, in Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (1971), imagined La La Land as a series of discrete laboratories for democratic life, an exciting but highly romanticized LA of sun, fun, and motoring. A generation later, that book found its dark opposite in Mike Davis’s City of Quartz (1990), which turned LA’s penchant for unreality against it, revealing a bloated science-fictional dystopia. Both books boast compelling urban histories and continuing relevance, but even as each attempted to explore the form and fundamental logic of the city, they glamorized its past, and LA remained under a haze of myth.

Some of it gets burned off in Smogtown, a meticulous chronicle of the city’s signature airborne grime and of the civic and social forces that emerged to stop it. The authors, Los Angeles–based journalists Chip Jacobs and William J. Kelly, bring LA back to its unglitzy basics in a story of greed, pollution, and molasses-slow political change. Their history describes a decidedly dreary Los Angeles: Patio furniture fades, flowers die, and a man’s coral-colored tie turns bluish-purple over the course of an afternoon—all due to the smog that rolled into the city quite unannounced one morning in 1943. “The blocked skies,” write Jacobs and Kelly, “were tantamount to acne on a beauty queen.”

While Angelenos choked on the black stuff, variously described as an “aerosol barrage” and a “hanging bouillabaisse,” the government floundered. The Bureau of Air Pollution Control (BAPC) was the first local agency to tackle the crisis, starting in 1945. It failed to identify the smog’s source, as its engineers focused chiefly on sulfurous factory smoke and ignored gasoline-related fumes. The BAPC was replaced in 1947 by the Air Pollution Control District (APCD), under whose aegis Dutch-born biochemist Arie Haagen-Smit isolated automobile exhaust as the culprit. The APCD, however, couldn’t get much traction on the problem; neither could its successor agency, the South Coast Air Quality Management District; nor could the California Air Resources Board, the superagency created to coordinate statewide efforts. As Jacobs and Kelly demonstrate, the reason so little got done for so long was simple: Haagen-Smit (known fondly as Haagy) had solved the mystery, but in “linking smog with the tailpipe,” he put the antipollution bureaucracy in a bind for decades—caught between California’s burgeoning car culture and the smog-bedeviled people of Los Angeles.

It’s enough to make you feel bad for bureaucrats. Speaking of APCD chief Louis McCabe, one observer recalls, “The poor chap was being harassed from all sides.” Haagy’s credibility was called into question by “scientists” funded by the automobile and oil industries while rumors spread in the general population about a plot by big-business polluters to indict the “little man’s automobile.” The smogmen were charged with the daunting task of mediating between the public and private sectors and one another, all while dealing with angry citizens who threatened to “[come] down there after you with a hatchet.”

(more…)