Posts Tagged ‘USC’

The People’s Republic of Chemicals … the antecedents

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

PRC Prelim Cover

* From Bill’s second of three articles in advance of the book for Inside Climate News.

China’s plans to build remote industrial coal complexes to power its economy are putting the country on a   trajectory to wipe out global gains in tackling climate change, scientists fear. But other nations share responsibility for China’s fossil fuel binge and the toxic air people breathe as a result—especially the United States. China’s pollution scourge has its roots in trade agreements set in motion by President Bill Clinton in the early 1990s that allowed U.S. companies to take advantage of cheap labor and lax environmental standards in the world’s most populous nation—where coal energy reigns supreme. Many times the United States helped China finance dirty sources of energy. As much as one-third of China’s carbon load on the atmosphere can be traced to exports of cheap clothes, electronics, machinery and other goods consumed by Americans and Europeans, experts say. And while free trade to the West has made China’s economy boom, Chinese people have paid dearly due to the resulting smog from factories and coal-fired power plants. “We made a big mistake” by not including environmental safeguards in trade policies with China, said Mickey Kantor, Clinton’s chief trade negotiator and later Secretary of Commerce. Now a practicing attorney in Los Angeles with expertise in international relations, Kantor has been shuttling back and forth between the United States and China in one capacity or another for 20 years. He calls China’s air “a disaster” and says that each time he visits “it’s worse.” …

* Bill’s first piece for ICC about China’s greenhouse-gas-busting plans to erect otherworldly-sized coal bases in the hinterlands was a blockbuster that we greatly expand on in The People’s Republic of Chemicals. Here’s a snippet.

The biggest coal base is Shenhua’s Ningdong Energy and Chemical Industry Base in Ningxia, about 700 miles west of Beijing. Conceived in 2003, Shenhua said it broke ground in 2008 on the 386-square-mile coal base. That’s an area about three-quarters the size of Los Angeles that’s being covered bit by bit over a period of some 17 years with coal mines, power plants, power lines, pipelines, roads, rail tracks and all manner of chemical processing plants with their towers, smokestacks and tanks.

* Other environmental headlines worth noting.

-  ”Air Pollution May Double Risk of Autism, USC Study Concludes,” KPCC

… Researchers reviewed the records of more than 500 children — about half of whom were considered to be normally developing and half of whom were diagnosed with autism, a complex set of brain disorders characterized by problems with social interactions and communications. “In particular for traffic pollution we found children exposed to [the] highest amount of pollution relative to the lowest were at a two-to-threefold increased risk for autism,” says Heather Volk, a researcher for the Keck School of Medicine of USC and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, who led the study …

 -  ”Algae Converted to Crude Oil in Less Than An Hour, Energy Department Says,” NBC News

The day when planes, trucks and cars are commonly revved up on pond scum may be on the near horizon thanks to a technological advance that continuously turns a stream of concentrated algae into bio-crude oil. From green goo to crude takes less than an hour. The goo contains about 10 percent to 20 percent algae by weight. The rest is water. This mixture is piped into a high-tech pressure cooker where temperatures hover around 660 degrees Fahrenheit and pressures of 3,000 pounds per square inch in order to keep the mixture in a liquid phase. Inside the cooker are “some technology tricks that other people don’t have” that help separate the plant oils and other minerals such as phosphorous from the water, Douglas Elliott, a fellow at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., explained to NBC News. An hour after being poured into the cooker, gravity separates the crude oil from the water as it flows out the other end. “We can clean up that bio-crude and make it into liquid hydrocarbons that could well serve to displace the gas, diesel, and jet (fuel) that we make from petroleum now,” he added …

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For a global warming world, get ready for a burst of news about old-fashioned, ever-mutating smog

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

 

Let’s get to it, folks. Clean skies are a wastin’.

* Terrific commentary in KCET  about how California dug its way out of a toxic, car industry/lifestyle fanned pollution epidemic through passage of landmark federal legislation opposed by a lot of big industrial states — the carmaking kind. (Cue “I’m shocked” smirk here from “Casa Blanca.”)

“Perhaps the key single factor is the 1970 federal Clean Air Act. “It was such a huge change in the law,”  Larry Pryor says, nominating the Act as a Law That Shaped L.A, “because local controls were erratic and sensitive to industry costs rather than health costs.”Pryor is an associate professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism** and a prize-winning former editor and environmental reporter for the Los Angeles Times. During a recent interview, Pryor recounted the back story that led to the passage of the federal Clean Air Act, as well as the related creation of the California Air Resources Board to administer the Act at the state level. Signed into law by President Richard Nixon on December 31, 1970, eight months after the first Earth Day, the Clean Air Act set comprehensive emissions limits and allowed the newly established EPA to regulate seven harmful chemicals. The Act and its federal bully pulpit led to the expanded influence – or in some cases the creation of – local agencies such as the California Air Resources Board to administer the Clean Air Act. The Act was updated in 1977 and dramatically in 1990. “There were so many pressures around the country to clean up air, not just in Los Angeles,” Pryor says. “But I think the major impact was on Los Angeles because we were so far behind. We had by far the worst air in the nation and we also had all of the circumstance that were perfect for smog creation.”

* New research connects neurological damage with smog. From California Watch:

“It’s well established that dirty, sooty air is no good for your lungs and probably not great for your skin. But new research indicates it can damage your brain, too. A study in the journal of the Archives of Internal Medicine shows that air pollution accelerates cognitive decline in women …” Not surpisingly, here’s the bigger pitcture. Hint to link slackards: it’s the same old story. “Southern Californians are among those at highest risk of death due to air pollution, according to recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency research published in the journal Risk Analysis … The study examined air pollution exposure based on 2005 air quality levels and projected there could be between 130,000 and 360,000 premature deaths among adults in coming years. The 2005 data was the best available for analyzing fine particulates and ozone, the EPA said. Among vulnerable populations like children, the EPA also estimates that fine particulate matter and ozone results in millions of cases of respiratory symptoms, asthma and school absences, as well as hundreds of thousands of cases of acute bronchitis and emergency room visits …”

* Not convinced that photochemical junk attacks pretty much every part of the body in some way? Consider this little nugget from MSBNC‘s health page:

” Short-term exposure to air pollution — just a day or a week in some cases — may kick off a heart attack or stroke, scientists now say. Two new studies reveal that the risk of heart attack or stroke can jump after high-pollution days, especially for people who already have predisposing health problems. Up to a week of exposure to most major types of air pollution may be enough to trigger a heart attack, a new analysis published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association finds. Heart attack risk went up by almost 5 percent with high carbon monoxide levels and almost 3 percent with higher levels of air particles for up to seven days …”

* Beware Hong Kong. Angelenos — especially air pollution “downwinders” — feel your respiratory pain. From Reuters:

“Air pollution levels in Hong Kong were the worst ever last year, the South China Morning Post reported on Monday, a finding that may further undermine the city’s role as an Asian financial centre as business executives relocate because of health concerns. Worsening air quality in Hong Kong caused by vehicle emissions and industrial pollution from the neighboring Pearl River Delta is already forcing many in the financial community to move to Singapore … This was 10 times worse than in 2005, when very high readings were recorded only 2 percent of the time, it said …”

* London calling … for smog weather reports? With the Olympics coming. Nothing us Southern Californians don’t remember. But does the average Angelno know that England suffered the world’s deadliest smog attack back when we were just grappling with our self-made poisons? You better read our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles if you’re scratching your head now. From the writing of a Green Party member in the Telegraph:

” … Those visitors will spend the day in one of the most beautiful, but most polluted cities in Europe. The weather will be great for sunbathing, but bad for anyone with a pre-existing respiratory or heart condition who spends time in central London … In the meantime, the Mayor must make people aware of what they are breathing in and the subsequent risks to their health, by publicising the details of the Airtext service which enables vulnerable people to get the information straight to their phone. Even better, why don’t we make it part of the weather forecast? That would soon wak the government from its appalling complacency.”

* On the less smudgy-air side, there are some remedies. Most are very recognizable. It’s usually the lack of political will and citizenry commitment that makes them seem pie-in-the-sky unrealistic in places like L.A. Again, read Smogtown for evidence. National Geographic gets into it:

” … While Los Angeles has improved a great deal since the 1970s when smog alerts would often recommend that people stay completely indoors, it’s still no Mount Shasta. The City of Angels was the most polluted city in the middle of the 20th century, but it was also the first one to initiate the country’s first air pollution control program in 1947. This was monumental in addressing decades of air pollution, which was only getting worse, but what can be done now? Cars, people, and factories aren’t disappearing any time soon, so in an increasingly industrialized world, is smog just becoming a regular part of life or can the detriments of air pollution be tempered? Here are some ways that the authorities can continue to innovate and mediate the problem of air pollution. Note that complacency or adopting the status quo is not on the list …”

Reappearing mountains and good news for glaciers

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

* A little stroll down hydrocarbon lane by one of our favorite historians, D.J. Waldie. If you haven’t read him, you should, because he brings, with a buttery, meditative touch, searing insights of surburbia and things lost and found. And that includes the San Gabriels. Meet D.J. and his pal, Randy, in his KCET post.

” … Because of smog, Randy and I grew up not seeing the mountains that ring the basin except on exceptional days when, after rain and strong winds, for a day (or only a few hours) you could stand at the end of the Belmont Pier in Long Beach and see Catalina to the southwest, Saddleback Mountain in the Santa Ana range to the east, San Gorgonio to the northeast, the San Gabriels to the north, and the headlands of Palos Verdes to the west. And now and with increasing frequency and on the least exceptional days, some or most of this gigantic panorama can be seen from the streets that I walk each morning. Something has changed. It isn’t enough – not even very much much, really. Still, you can see the mountains, purple, moss green, and lunar gray. And I suppose that means something …”

* As Chip prepares to release his next book, as un-environmental as they come, he reminisces with this photo about the wonderful event the L.A Public Library’s Aloud program threw for the book. Warm nostalgia aside, he is still un-worthy of running a competent Power Point. Photo from Flicker.

* Is there a more powerful way to capture warming CO2 gases? USC researchers think so. Sand and plastic are looking possibly heroic, here. From the L.A. Times environmental blog (run by the smart and friend Dean Kuipers)

” … The new process, detailed in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, claims to have the highest carbon dioxide removal capacity for real-world conditions, where humidity and other factors often hinder common capture methods. This has huge implications for carbon removal, as well as for new carbon products. “Right now, the short term is that we’re making CO2-free air from this technology. For our applications in fuel cells and batteries and things like that,” says G.K. Surya Prakash, a professor at USC and director of the Lokar Hydrocarbon Research Institute there who is part of the study. “Ultimately, I think that these kinds of materials, if they are developed on a massive scale, it can extract CO2 from point sources like coal-burning power plants, cement plants, breweries and stuff like that” …”

Update on air pollution health effects while driving. L.A. has been a cancer petri dish on this front since World War II.

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

But the Wall Street Journal chimes in with a pithy update.

” …  As roadways choke on traffic, researchers suspect that the tailpipe exhaust from cars and trucks—especially tiny carbon particles already implicated in heart disease, cancer and respiratory ailments—may also injure brain cells and synapses key to learning and memory.  

Columbia University’s Frederica Perera discusses the link between exposure to pollutants in the womb and mental impacts in children. Plus, how New York City – one of the most congested cities in the U.S. – is improving traffic flow.

New public-health studies and laboratory experiments suggest that, at every stage of life, traffic fumes exact a measurable toll on mental capacity, intelligence and emotional stability. “There are more and more scientists trying to find whether and why exposure to traffic exhaust can damage the human brain,” says medical epidemiologist Jiu-Chiuan Chen at the University of Southern California who is analyzing the effects of traffic pollution on the brain health of 7,500 women in 22 states. “The human data are very new …”

Lots of local scientists are working on this subject. Angelenos, in fact, are the oldtimers in this field. At one point, the raw threat from chronic, toxic smog was considered to be more of a cancer progenitor than cigarette smoking. Now we are learning more, especially about the effects of carbon molecules on neuro-biologoy. For a look waaaaay back, to 1940′s California when university doctors and researchers put their mind on the subject, read our critically acclaimed book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles.

Drivers beware. That tailpipe in front of you may have a say on your life-span.

From lungs to the head: the inexorable path of smog through the body

Monday, April 11th, 2011

* Researchers at USC made news recently with their announcement that they discovered a correlation between microscopic air pollution particles and neurological conditions including Alzheimers. From the L.A. Times (and I encourage you to read the comments, too) blog:

“It is well known that air pollution from cars and trucks on Southern California freeways — a combination of soot, pavement dust and other toxic substances — can cause respiratory disease, heart attacks, cancer and premature death. Now, exposure to pollution particles roughly one-thousandth the width of a human hair has been linked to brain damage in mice, including signs associated with memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease, according to a USC study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. In a statement, senior author Caleb Finch, an expert on the effects of inflammation and holder of USC’s ARCO/William F. Kieschnick Chair in the Neurobiology of Aging, said “You can’t see them, but they are inhaled and have an effect on brain neurons that raises the possibility of long-term brain health consequences of freeway air.”

Of course, us Angelenos have been on the front lines of the smog-public health trenches since the mid-1940s. We detail the entire progression in our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles.

The first evidence that smog was unhealthy and not just a temporary misery came from mothers who noticed their children were afflicted with headaches, hacking coughs, distracted minds and a sort of spiritual torpor after exposure to the brown murk. Those doctors, though lacking today’s sophisticated equipment, soon developed a consensus that L.A. air pollution was a real threat to people’s pulmonary systems, especially among the aged and infirmed. Many doctors urged ill patients to flee the area.

One USC researcher said the region was “living in a giant cancer experiment.” Besides fears of massive cases of lung cancer (some believed it’d trigger more of it than cigarette smoking), physicians also noticed the hazy, ozone-laden air did a number of people’s tickers, causing tissue damage or igniting an irregular or elevated heart rates. Slowly, as the science improved in the 1950s and 1960s, researchers began noticing that smog was messing with people’s heads. Some Angelenos grew agitated and belligerent in smog, others became surly and even suicidal. Decades back, a top California medical official said Southern California’s noxious atmosphere was driving up admission into state mental hospitals. In a freakish aside, a small number of people suffered a smog-ignited syndrome called “globus hyperius,” an imaginary lump in the throat that can induce spasmadoic swallowing. 

It wasn’t until the 1990s that researchers drew connections between today’s mutated smog — one heavy on ultra-fine particulate pollution, much of it from diesel engines and proximity to freeways – neurological conditions like dementia and even autoimmune diseases like diabetes. Today’s mice are just confirming the episodic understanding that air pollution is far more harmful to certain people at more nuanced levels than we ever imagined.

This is a terribly important find for a tenacious urban condition of our own making.

Now, this is a big deal – California cementing its commitment to green energy

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

 

– From the L.A. Times story: “A mandate that California utilities increase their use of renewable energy sailed through the state Assembly on Tuesday and is headed for the governor’s desk. Environmental groups say the legislation is the most ambitious of its kind in the country. It would require the state’s electricity companies to provide 33% of power from renewable resources by the year 2020. State law now sets a 20% goal. Supporters made their case by invoking the nuclear plant problems in Japan and conflict in the oil-rich Middle East, as well as the struggling California economy: Environmentalists have said the mandate could create 100,000 jobs. The bill aims to lessen dependence on coal and natural gas in favor of wind, solar and geothermal energy. It would also protect ratepayers from large new costs, and “provides flexibility to utilities,” argued Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata).”

Very heartening news. Too bad it didn’t come a generation earlier.

– More on California and energy.

* It looks like California’s under-reported and provocative bid to run a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade will go forward after all once officials conduct further studies about alternative plans. Color us skeptical about market-based approaches after covering the Anne Sholtz case involving the AQMD, EPA, DOJ, and, yes, even the CIA, and hearing about Europe’s rampant cap-and-trade scandals. We’ll see.

* From the L.A. Times: “California’s effort to curb global warming, which was put on hold by a court decision, will be able to proceed on schedule once officials conduct a new environmental review, according to attorneys analyzing the case. A San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled that the California Air Resources Board failed to properly evaluate alternatives to the so-called cap-and-trade program, which would allow industries to purchase pollution allowances rather than cut their own carbon emissions. The court said that measures such as a carbon tax or direct regulation of greenhouse gases were not given enough consideration. Air board officials said Tuesday that they would meet with environmentalists who filed the lawsuit in an effort to narrow the scope of the court injunction, which is expected to be issued in about a week …”

* Wave energy and the future: a truly untapped source to meet our insatiable needs or a quick path to disrupt the marine ecosystem we need to live? Read it here. :”The waves off San Onofre have for generations beckoned surfers and sport fishermen to a wild stretch of coastline in the shadow of domed nuclear reactors. Now, an Orange County entrepreneur wants to tap the power of that legendary surf in a novel but highly controversial plan to build one of the nation’s first hydrokinetic wave farms …”

– For those convinced it’s no big deal to shave provisions of the Clean Air Act to shore up the wobbly recovery, take a read through these EPA-generated public health statistics from the Environment News Service. “Last year, the reductions in fine particle and ozone pollution from the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments prevented more than 160,000 cases of premature death, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates released Tuesday … By 2020, the benefits of reducing fine particle and ground level ozone pollution under the amendments will reach approximately $2 trillion while saving 230,000 people from early death in that year alone, the report concludes.”

In the year 2010, the reductions in fine particle and ozone pollution from the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments prevented more than:

  • 160,000 cases of premature mortality
  • 130,000 heart attacks
  • 13 million lost work days
  • 1.7 million asthma attacks

For more about the landlmark Clean Air Act, click here.

– Will the prolonged and alarming Japanese nuclear-plant crisis mean fresh opportunities for more exotic alternative energy ideas? Geothermal: get ready for your close up. LA Times Greenspace Link. Here’s my L.A. Times’ story on this general subject. And here’s my New York Times online Op-Ed that underscores how few Californians in supposedly America’s greenest state have largely eschewed solar power and our governmental hypocrisy.

– More about those Robert F. Kennedy photographs that my older brother took not long before RFK was assassinated in the kitchen of the old Ambassador Hotel nearly 43 years ago. L.A. Times Daily Mirror blog (note to self: type slower when commenting) and L.A. Observed, which produced a hysterical headline.

* For the record, my brother a couple of years ago emailed me these photographs and told me I could do with them what I pleased, as long as nobody stole the images. They sat idly on my hard-drive until I did a little file organizing recently and decided to post them. Both of us had completely forgotten about them, and so the idea we were seeking our 15 minutes — or 15 seconds in the blogosphere — of fame out of such a gruesome tragedy makes me want to laugh for about 15 hours. These were just a couple of poignant and significant photos taken by a then-21-year-old USC undergrad who stumbled upon one of his heroes. In broken record cadence, I believe the timing of the images pales next to the fact that Paul could get so close to a presidential candidate whose brother was assassinated in Dallas less than five years earlier!

The RFK photo mystery lives on

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Democratic Presidential Candidate Robert K. Kennedy in downtown L.A. shortly before he was killed. This picture is owned and copywritten by Paul Jacobs, and any use of it without express written permission is forbidden.

Why this matters.

Since posting my big brother’s heretofore-unseen photographs of Robert F. Kennedy in the “hours” before he was tragically assassinated in the kitchen of the old Ambassador Hotel last week, I’ve learned some facets about the half-life of history.

1. Even mildly dipping one’s toe into the Kennedy world can bring a cold splash of notoriety and controversy that proves we never quite got over losing two of our best and brightest, to coin a phrase from their era.

2. Presenting photographs of incredibly public people can evoke and re-ignite enormously intense emotions and private opinions about events that took place a generation ago, when the Internet was somebody’s fantasy and the Kremlin was our Al Queda. Memory is a prism.

3. Comprehension that the world has a pretty absymal learning curve when it comes to safeguarding leaders from mad-men who aim to derail the world. You’d have thought after the events of Dallas we would’ve learned that. But we didn’t. By the early 1980s, then-President Reagan had taken an assassin’s bullet and nearly died. The Pope was shot. John Lennon was killed in cold blood outside the Dakota. And so forth and so on.

A former RFK adviser, ex-union leader Paul Schrade, contacted me and Kevin Roderick at LA Observed last week, disputing my brother’s contention that the photographs were taken the afternoon preceding Kennedy’s murder. Schrade, who was one of numerous people shot and injured by Sirhan Sirhan, noted that Kennedy spent most of the day of the California primary (June 4, 1968) relaxing at the Malibu home of a Hollywood producer (one of the people behind the “Manchurian Candidate,” if you can believe it) before heading off to Los Angeles for his speech. It’d been a grueling campaign and John Kennedy’s little brother needed to catch his breath as the odds-on favorite to take on Republican Richard Nixon in the November general election. Schrade attached this clip to corroborate his point. It’s worth viewing.

Here’s a description from a book about the assassination that jibes with Schrade’s account.

“Kennedy spent the day swimming, sitting in the sun, talking to friends, playing with his children, and sleeping.  He became so relaxed that he considered not attending his own election night party, suggesting that he and his family and friends watch the primary results on television.  He wanted to invite the media to join them at (director John) Frankenheimer’s home.  Because the television networks refused to haul their equipment out to Malibu, Kennedy reluctantly decided to go into Los Angeles to await the election returns. At 7:15 PM, Senator Kennedy, accompanied by Frankenheimer and other members of the campaign staff, left Malibu and sped downtown in Frankenheimer’s Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III to the Ambassador Hotel for the election night party. At the hotel, Kennedy and several key staffers had reserved suites on the fifth floor. With the election still in doubt and Kennedy running behind, he went to his suite and remained there, hoping for the tide to turn.”

Again, Schrade was vehement that RFK was not at the Bilmore the day of his speech at the Ambassador. “This has been confirmed by the Frankenheimers and campaign manager Fred Dutton,” Schrade emailed. “There was no election rally at the Biltmore or any other location. The car in the photo is not Frankenheimer’s car.”

I’ve asked Mr. Schrade if he could elaborate and so far he hasn’t responded back. He did not volunteer before when and where he thought the candid shots were taken, and others have come up blank as well about the details. Nobody knows whose car RFK was in or the identities of those with them. Speculation it might’ve been a young John Kerry or future Colorado Gov. Timothy Wirth, who evidently both worked on the Kennedy campaign, have been generally debunked by surviving confidantes and former journalists. (I was 6 at the time.)

But I have questions and lots of them in the battle of the memories of the two Pauls.

My brother, a USC undergrad then, is sure he took those photographs of RFK just outside the Biltmore Hotel, probably looking north on Grand Avenue, VERY shortly before Sirhan Sirhan’s  reprehensible bullets flew. Paul had just wrapped up work at his part-time job at the L.A. County Dept. of Probation when he ran smack into the car-bound presidential candidate as he fist-pumped supporters, dealt with some media and conversed with aides (or in one shot, appear to fix something on a staffer’s jacket.) I re-intereviewed him after Schrade contacted me, and my brother was certain that if the photograph wasn’t snapped on the afternoon of June 4, it was the day before (and thus about 31 hours before the killing) and no later than that. Paul said in his heart that he still believes he clicked the shutter button on June 4 because he remembered being so emotionally obliterated the next morning learning about RFK’s death so close to when he captured him through his lens. It hadn’t been days, that’s for sure, no matter what the chatter today claims.

For those who believe my brother, over the passage and vicous haze of time, conflated June 1968 with April 1968, when RFK gave a well-known speech at the Bitlmore (here’s a Q&A with him following that speech.) Paul, a RFK supporter and a photo-bug, was 100 percent positive he took his picture in June!

So who was in the car? What time of day was it? Where was RFK going? Why were the media around him? Why hasn’t this cleared up? Are there secrets still out there? What is to say that after leaving Malibu, but before going to the Ambassador, RFK swung by the Biltmore? Was he there the day before? It’s not that long a distance from the Biltmore downtown to the Ambassador on Mid-Wilshire.

History changed dramatically after the events at the Ambassador far beyond the political ramifications of Nixon taking the White House. The Secret Service began providing protection to presidential candidates after this murder of a second Kennedy. Mind-boggling, preposterous and dangerous as it was not to give them security before, no one questioned it later. To read up about this after-the-fact policy, click for this NPR story. Excerpt:

“… Kennedy had several bodyguards with him, including football star Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier, as he addressed a crowd gathered to support his bid for the White House. But there were no Secret Service agents present because before 1968, their services weren’t afforded to presidential candidates … ’We only had 547 agents at that time,” (Special Agent Edwin) Donovan says. “We already had the president and the vice president and their families to protect, so that made it even a smaller number of agents to draw from.’”

So who is right here, Paul Jacobs or Paul Schrade? I’m putting my faith with my brother, but neither of us are being doctrinaire on whether it was June 3 or June 4 when the pictures were taken. Paul Jacobs just thinks it was June 4, closer to the killing, that he captured the face of the man that might’ve helped us build an America without horrid ties to Laos, Cambodia, Watergate plumbers and perpetual partisanship.

If anybody has thoughts or can answer my questions or might be able to interpret the photos better than amateur me, please contact me at chip@chipjacobs.com

Way off the enviro trail: Robert Kennedy on the campaign hustings in downtown L.A. in a heretofore unpublished photograph taken hours before he was murdered.

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

You never know in this life when you’re about to become a witness to tragic history before it occurs.

Such was the circumstance for my older brother, Paul Jacobs, who found himself face to face with American political royalty– a man who might’ve spared us from the last phase of Vietnam and the enduring cynicism of Watergate — had he not been in the kitchen of the old Ambassador Hotel roughly seven hours later on June 5, 1968 by Palestinian immigrant Sirhan Sirhan.

Senator Robert Kennedy (D-New York) was running for president of the United States and in L.A. on a campaign stop at the time. We all know how that election turned out after RFK was killed. Nixon trounced Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey 301 electoral votes to 191.

My big brother was a twenty-one-year-old USC undergrad and Robert Kennedy supporter when this picture of the fist-pumping senator and former U.S. Attorney General was taken on election day. I was six, less concerned with White House occupants and sixties culture wars than playing “Army” with my plastic soldiers whose heads my dog liked to gnaw.

Paul was working part-time then as a statistician for the Los Angeles County Probation Dept. A photo bug, he had his trusty Nikkormat 35 mm SLR with him when he went outside just west of the Biltmore Hotel around 5 P.M. and saw Robert Kennedy’s motorcade idling after Kennedy emerged from the Bilmore. Paul got close enough, maybe 15 feet away, for this poignant picture, which in a sense is disturbing considering the way his older brother, President John F. Kennedy, was shot in Dallas and the events awaiting RFK less than half a day away on Wilshire Boulevard.

At any rate, the world — which has thousands of thousands, if not millions of Kennedy photographs circulating — has never seen this candid picture nor its companion one that will run soon. Just by chance, Paul had a front row seat to history before yet another assassination, another flash of a bullet, destroyed what might’ve been.

In studying every detail of this magnificent and depressing picture, which may have been taken on sloping Grand Avenue, I still marvel at Robert Kennedy’s determined expression that seemed to say to believers, “I got your back.” I can only wonder what the man who appears to be a Secret Service agent in front of the car is hollering.

<strong>This picture is owned and copy-written by Paul G. Jacobs and any use of it in any way without express written permission is prohibited! </strong>

It’s now only seeing the light of day 42 years later.

* L.A Observed post on this photograph.

The case of the curious engineer and the inexplicably functioning lungs of smog-bessoted mice

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Note to readers: one of the unexpected treats of running a blog derived from a book about a whopper of a subject is learning how the work provokes in-depth curiosity and contemplation among experts who know the subject far better than the authors do. Sometimes as a book-writer you can only broach and present an issue and have to move on without a complete examination of it, lest you drown in cascading details. But the scientific minded don’t think that way, thank goodness. They never rest until they get their answer.

Ross Caballero is one of those people who read Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles and sunk his teeth into an important medical study deserving fuller attention than the book or newspapers at the time afforded it. Tapping his intellectual curiosity, he sought out to learn the results of a well-publicized study examining how lab animals reacted to L.A. air pollution – a topic that first provoked his interest decades earlier driving on the Hollywood Freeway — and discovered a counterintuitive, head-scratching conclusion just like the old researchers once did. The health consequences of air pollution fluctuate widely from organism to organism. Don’t underestimate the effects of genetics and biological defenses. And never assume anything.

So, it’s with pride and excitement that we present our first guest blogger, who not only made his patient pursuit informative. He made it entertaining and compelling. You can contact Ross at rosscaballero@cs.com

I recently read the book, Smogtown, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  The book discusses animal exposure studies done in the 1960s, which were conducted to assess adverse health effects of exposure to smog, and provides a footnote citing a Los Angeles Times article describing the then-underway tests.

That piqued my interest and set me off on a journey to learn more about the testing.  What I discovered is very interesting, and I want to share it with you.

But first, who am I, and why would I have any interest in this subject?  My name is Ross Caballero.  I am a retired engineer having worked in a variety of engineering fields: aerospace, civil, environmental, and chemical.  I spent the last approximate 20 years of my 40 year career working on issues dealing with air pollution, and I grew up in the Los Angeles area when smog was really, really bad.  One of the test sites mentioned in your book where animal exposure studies were conducted was in buildings located in the median of the Hollywood Freeway near Vermont Ave.  I drove by that facility many times in the 1960s and knew that some kind of animal studies were underway but never knew the details.  I was always intrigued as to “What’s going on in there?”  And yet I can never remember any newspaper article about what the test results were.  After reading your book, I decided to answer my question.

After spending a lot of time looking through the Los Angeles Times historical archives I was able to locate an additional seven articles that described the animal exposure tests.  All of the articles discuss the studies as either as-proposed or now-underway.  No article discusses any results.  Some of the articles mention names of researchers involved in one way or another with the study, most of whom were faculty members or researchers associated with the USC School of Medicine.  Searching the Los Angeles Times archives for other articles containing those names came up empty.  Looking at the USC School of Medicine’s Norris Library on-line data bases, I was unable to find any reference to any of the subject faculty/researchers concerning this study.

I was flummoxed.  This was a really big study.  It involved testing thousand of animals.  It had to have cost a huge amount of money.  It got a lot of publicity as it was planned and as it was being initially implemented.  Then, nothing after May 1964.  This story disappeared off the radar.  Why?

(more…)

EPA to the rescue, right, and alarming news about particulate matter

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

montana-vermiculite-ore-that-made-dangerous-asbestos

From the MSNBC story about the asbestos situation in Montana, where the government declared, for the first time, a public health emergency. If you read our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, you’ll see how close Southern California was for asking for that same designation, even if the EPA was decades from being created.

“… Asbestos contamination from a now-closed vermiculite operations near Libby has been cited in the deaths of more than 200 people and illnesses of thousands more. Vermiculite is used to make insulation material but the ore found in Libby was eventually found to be contaminated with a toxic form of naturally-occurring asbestos …

Miners carried vermiculite dust home on their clothes, vermiculite once covered school running tracks in Libby and some residents used vermiculite as mulch in their home gardens …”

Here’s another recap of what’s happening with a renewed federal effort in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, where the mining of uranium ore on Najavo lands “left a legacy of disease and death.”

“The federal government plans to spend up to $3 million a year to demolish and rebuild uranium-contaminated structures across the Navajo Nation, where Cold War-era mining of the radioactive substance left a legacy of disease and death.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its Navajo counterpart are focusing on homes, sheds and other buildings within a half-mile to a mile from a significant mine or waste pile. They plan to assess 500 structures over five years and rebuild those that are too badly contaminated …”

Finally, in our last item of environmental news catchup, comes this health study by USC, UCLA and the California Air Resources Board that shows particulate matter drifts signifcantly and dangerously farther than once assumed.

“Environmental health researchers from UCLA, the University of Southern California and the California Air Resources Board have found that during the hours before sunrise, freeway air pollution extends much further than previously thought.

Air pollutants from Interstate 10 in Santa Monica extend as far as 2,500 meters — more than 1.5 miles — downwind, based on recent measurements from a research team headed by Dr. Arthur Winer, a professor of environmental health sciences at the UCLA School of Public Health. This distance is 10 times greater than previously measured daytime pollutant impacts from roadways and has significant exposure implications, since most people are in their homes during the hours before sunrise and outdoor pollutants penetrate into indoor environments …”