Tuesday, April 13, 2010

the time has come...

for the inevitable and infamous first air quality alert day in knoxville. And KAT is running free all day.

so, you must be asking, what is this air quality alert day and why today? the most basic information that's available is that "sensitive groups" (e.g. elderly and children) should avoid prolonged exposure outside.

air quality is monitored and regulated by knox county, which leads me to ask, why don't we hear more about the condition of air quality on non-alert days? today's alert is elevated for low-level ozone, which isn't directly emitted from tailpipes, but is formed when those emissions (carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen oxides) react with sunlight. it seems that low-level ozone is created near the source of emissions, rather than blown in from elsewhere (like how acid rain has affected our area).

when i first moved here i noticed that knoxville was a "nonattainment area" according to the EPA for ozone and fine particulate matter. and, apparently, it still is.

here are a few questions to others who might know more about air pollution and how to reduce it in knoxville.

1) If cars are the problem, what is the solution? Can we significantly offset driving alone in knoxville? smart trips is a great program, and needs to expand. Employers could match the smart trips incentives, and priority can be given in parking spaces to those who carpool. Smart trips rewards are currently ~$40 in gift certificates to awesome retailers downtown, and anyone can participate.

2) Do we need emissions standards? i'll admit, my converter needs to be replaced on my car. if i lived in atlanta or nashville, i would have to replace it in order to renew my car registration, but, shamefully, i won't replace it because i don't have to. confession is good for the soul.

3) Do we need more public transportation options? this blog has talked alot about fixed rail trolleys, but are those kinds discussions happening with development and redevelopment projects?

4) Is TDOT's "drive slower" campaign working? i personally prefer a "drive less" campaign, because driving less reduces gas consumption, and could reduce gas prices. but then you could get into a whole bunch of other problems like gas consumption rebounding and stuff.

I once heard that air pollution was so bad in Chattanooga and Knoxville in the 1980s that business folks downtown had to change shirt collars at lunch because the black dust from coal fired factories was so bad. Fortunately, the days of black plumes of smoke downtown are behind us. But when we look ahead, it doesn't seem that the air quality problem is going away without trying, even when we aren't on alert.

what are your thoughts on knoxville's air quality? (for those of you suffering from the pollen, i can sympathize, but let's not cut down the trees and flowers just yet!)


Robert said...

great post, Lo.

Is the fact that air (pollution) gets stuck in Knoxville due to wind patterns moving to the East, hitting the mountains, and settling here?

The Modern Gal said...

Chattanooga was nonattainment for a very long time, and emissions checks helped lower their pollution levels dramatically (and get the city out of nonattainment status). Emissions checks help deal with the source of particulate matter by taking care of the cars that contribute. Unfortunately the people who make these kinds of decisions for the area refuse to implement emissions checks and instead settle for staying nonattainment.

Another huge source is farm and construction equipment. I've never heard of any regulation of those machines and vehicles, but I wish there would be for the same reason -- take care of the emissions at their sources.

I like the idea of 'drive less' (I don't think 'drive more slowly' is really working), but the problem as with everything is you have to provide people an incentive to drive less.

Anyway, I pledge to do what I can -- I ride my bike or walk when I can, carpool when I can, keep my car tuned up as best as possible. I'll go ahead and challenge myself to start taking the bus more on alert days. I hope others follow suit.

Anonymous said...

this is a great post, Lo. thanks for the information. i realized not too long ago that I run more miles per week than I drive, and that makes me feel pretty good.

Lo said...

robert- i bet that the valley has something to do with it. but i hope air circulates out of here faster than water out of the Mediterranean (its like 75 years, right?)

so apparently everyone here does more than i do to reduce air pollution. em, i won't even tell you how many miles i commute each week (all be it through carpooling). one blog-fession is all i've got in me for today. maybe next week!

kelley said...

Driving is the source of about half of our pollution. Yes, air patterns have a lot to do with it, but you can't blame it all on the mountains. The pollutants had to come from somewhere before they got stuck. = )

Everyone can do their part to help out--and May kicks off the Smart Trips Commuter Challenge. www.knoxsplat.com Lots of great prizes, and the Be Green Save Green card to get discounts at local businesses. Come see us at Earth Fest this coming Saturday. If you carpool, bike or walk, you could also win some prizes!

More transit would be great, but it has to be funded. And our land use patterns need to be more condensed (more center city, less sprawl) and ped and bike-friendly. (So that people can get to the bus stop without driving, because most emissions happen in the first few minutes of driving.)

ck said...

As a bicyclist on our roads, I can personally attest that the "Drive Slower" campaign isn't really taking hold. Maybe TDOT should start a "Build Less Mega Roads" campaign for itself.

Aria said...

I'm from Chattanooga - As an asthmatic, I'm more than familiar with days especially getting into July and August that I would have to stay in. I had NO idea that Knoxville had similar issues, probably because this is my first warm-weather season here.

Emissions testing is a huge part of cutting back on pollution in the Chattanooga area, but I know a lot of people that complain about it. I had an ex boyfriend that knew all the right tubes to unplug and whatnot in his run down Tempo so he could fool the emissions testing site into thinking his car was safe. I didn't ever object to it at the time, but now I see how sneakily avoiding these supposedly unreasonable vehicle requirements is directly responsible for pollution and bad air quality. Personal responsibility is a big part of it; Maybe if people realized the reason why emissions are so strict, maybe they would be less likely to try and find ways around it.

Unknown said...

I spent a few hours down in knoxville earlier this summer, and there was an air quality aleart while I was in town.

I'm from West Virginia, and I'd love to see more people walking and using public transit. Unfortunately people are moving farther from towns and commuting to work each day alone.