Thursday, January 31, 2013

China's Smog, and Pennsylvania's

Here is a set of stunning pictures of the smog in China, from The Atlantic.

The NY Times also had an article, saying factories were being shut down and some government vehicles being being taken off the road.

The other day after lunch at a Chinese restaurant, I saw an elderly Chinese man leaving by putting a mask on his face. There was a slight temperature inversion here with some gray and freezing fog (smog?), but it didn't seem especially bad to me.

A few days ago I was reading about the smog in China, and came across the story of the Donora Smog. Since I grew up a few dozen miles from there, but had never heard of this incident, I was intrigued.

It happened in 1948 -- a smog episode in the town of Donora, PA in western Pennsylvania. The smog was so bad people could not leave the town because they couldn't see far enough ahead of them to make it out.

Read that again. People couldn't see far enough ahead of them to escape town.

In a town of 14,000, it killed 20 people and sickened 7,000. It was, of course, caused by pollution from the town's steel and zinc mills, which was trapped by a temperature inversion. Despite pleading, the factories at first refused to close their factories.
On October 27, 1948, thick, opaque smog began to cover the small, flat river town. "You couldn't see your hand in front of your face," said resident Bill Schempp in a 1998 Tribune-Review article by Lynne Glover. Schempp described the scene as something "out of this world." He would recall to David Templeton in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that "if you chewed [the air] hard enough, you could swallow it."
And this:
Those who tried to escape found their attempts futile. Devra Davis, author of When Smoke Ran Like Water and epidemiologist, toxicologist and air pollution expert, said that those who tried to escape could not because they could not see through the smog while driving. This occurred even when the town kept its streetlights on during the day in an effort to combat the problem. The dense fog had the residents trapped in the small town, and they had no choice but to ride it out.
This was the most serious episode of air pollution in US history, and it, with the London Smog of 1952 (4,000 dead; or was it 12,000?), lead to the movement for clean air.


RichDeal said...

What's happening in China is a textbook example of what happens when there is little or no private property ownership. Private property owners can be sued for damaging the property of others and have the option to sue others for the same thing. A seldom acknowledged fact of communist and socialist states is that pollution controls go right out the window when "no one" owns anything...

David Appell said...

Sure -- and who does someone sue for air pollution in countries that do have private property?

Air pollution is particularly bad in Salt Lake City this winter. So who is suing who? If anyone is the US has done the suing, it has been the government.

This is the tragedy of the commons, and it occurs in all countries regardless of their form of government, even in countries that have private property.

RichDeal said...

Sadly you are correct. The GOVERNMENT has co-opted that mechanism in our country in exactly the same way it is co-opted in China Russia,Cuba,Venezuela et al.
The EPA, a government monopoly in charge of the service of protecting the environment will no doubt do for the environment what the public school monopoly has done for education. What is happening in China Russia and elsewhere is in our future.

David Appell said...

Nonsense -- there is nothing stopping anyone from suing anyone over air pollution.

So the government hasn't co-opted anything. It is, though, the one sticking up for collective rights of people to breathe clean air.