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TIME Magazine, April 25, 1949, p. 72:|
SCIENCE: Airborne Dump
Each working day, Los Angeles oil refineries and other processing plants spew out a mixture of gaseous wastes containing about 800 tons of sulphur dioxide. As it rises into the air, the sulphur dioxide combines with water vapor and oxygen to form sulphuric acid. The miniscule droplets pick up more water and a variety of solid particles (e.g. soot, dust), until the City of Angels wears, instead of a halo, a hat of dirty grey smog.
To help make the cloud, a daily queue of 100 tons of metallic oxides goes up the flue. Factory smokestacks, city dumps, backyard trash fires, automobile exhausts and even coffee roasters unite in sending up an immense mess of aerial garbage, estimated altogether at 2,000 to 5,000 tons a day.
In most parts of North America the warm, smoggy air would continue to rise and the winds would disperse it. But Los Angeles' upper air, instead of getting progressively cooler at higher levels, has a peculiar temperature inversion. There is a warm layer, usually at 1,000 to 3,000 ft., which sits on the smog. Prevailing winds from the Pacific High cannot readily blow the heavy cloud away to the east because of the mountains which half ring the city.
Twice last week, wind & weather pushed the smog down so low that it cut visibility at street level. Moviemakers gave up plans for outdoor shooting and concentrated instead on interior scenes. Hundreds of citizens' eyes began to smart and water. Scientists could offer them no relief. There were scores of substances in smog: which of them caused eye irritation was still a mystery.
Preserved in Oil. A month ago the American Chemical Society (meeting in smog-free San Francisco) heard the results of investigations carried out by the Stanford Research Institute and financed by the Western Oil & Gas Association. Said S.R.I.'s Paul L. Magill: elemental sulphur (i.e., not in compounds) might be to blame for eye irritation. So might some aldehydes. Another theory offered to the chemists: organic peroxides might be the tear-jerking villians. Dr. Lucien Dautrebande, a Belgian smog expert, also working at S.R.I. with Oil & Gas funds, said that an eye irritant would be at least twice as irritating if suspended in oil droplets. And there was no doubt that Los Angeles' smog contained oil.
Born of War. Dr. Louis McCabe, director of the Los Angeles County Air Pollution Control District, was in no mood last week to wait for the scientists to develop elaborate new testing techniques, try them out and finally announce their findings. When McCabe's job (policing the air) was created 18 months ago, the crime of air pollution had been on the increase for seven years--ever since war orders made Los Angeles a small-parts arsenal. With near-dictatorial powers to shut down plants which disobey his smoke-curbing orders, McCabe has persuaded industry to appropriate $10 million for smog control.
McCabe believes that eye irritation is a direct result of smog, and that when he solves the smog problem, Angelenos will be able to stop dabbing their eyes. He has asked the county government to let him set an absolute limit on the total weight of waste products which factories can throw into Los Angeles' air each day.
Air Pollution News