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Recycling Is Garbage
Hillary Johnson's fantastic business blog,, pointed me to this 1996 John Tierney story, debunking the recycling myths. I particularly liked this quote:

Yes, a lot of trees have been cut down to make today's newspaper. But even more trees will probably be planted in their place. America's supply of timber has been increasing for decades, and the nation's forests have three times more wood today than in 1920. "We're not running out of wood, so why do we worry so much about recycling paper?" asks Jerry Taylor, the director of natural resource studies at the Cato Institute. "Paper is an agricultural product, made from trees grown specifically for paper production. Acting to conserve trees by recycling paper is like acting to conserve cornstalks by cutting back on corn consumption."

I'll tell that to the next SUV driver who gets my card on his or her behemoth ("How many dead Marines did it take to gas up your SUV? Stylish, aren't you?"), and suggests I'm evil for "wasting trees." Last night, I went for a run. Beyond the gas shortage question, there's the question of pollution. When it's humid here, nasty auto fumes absolutely hang in the air. Thanks, if you drive some behemoth for no real reason, for contributing to the rest of us breathing a bunch of crap out of your tailpipe. No biggie, huh? Tell that to kids who have an increased risk of asthma thanks to living near the freeway:

Scientists studying air pollution levels in 10 Southern California cities found that the closer children live to a freeway, the greater their chance of having been diagnosed with asthma. They report their findings in the November issue of the journal Epidemiology.

Researchers also found that children who had higher levels of nitrogen dioxide, or NO2, in the air around their homes were more likely to have developed asthma. NO2 is a product of pollutants emitted from combustion engines, such as those in cars and trucks.

"These results suggest that tailpipe pollutants from freeway traffic are a significant risk factor for asthma," says lead author James Gauderman, Ph.D., associate professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School. "Considering the enormous costs associated with childhood asthma, today's public policy toward regulating pollutants may merit some re-evaluation."

"These results have both scientific and public health implications," says David A. Schwartz, M.D., director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the federal agency that funded the study. "They strengthen an emerging body of evidence that air pollution can cause asthma, and that exposure to outdoor levels of nitrogen dioxide and other traffic-related air pollutants may be a significant risk factor for this illness."

Researchers looked at the pollution-asthma link in 208 children who were part of the USC-led Children's Health Study, the longest investigation ever into air pollution and kids' health. The study has tracked the respiratory health of children in a group of Southern California cities since 1993.

The investigators placed air samplers outside the home of each student to measure NO2 levels. In addition, they determined the distance of each child's home from local freeways, as well as how many vehicles traveled within 150 meters (about 164 yards) of the child's home. Finally, they estimated traffic-related air pollution levels at each child's home using models that take weather conditions, vehicle counts and other important factors into account.

In all, 31 children (15 percent) had asthma. Scientists found a link between asthma prevalence in the children and NO2 levels at their homes. For each increase of 5.7 parts per billion in average NO2-which represents a typical range from low to high pollution levels among Southern California cities-the risk of asthma increased by 83 percent. Risk of wheezing and current asthma medication use also rose as NO2 levels increased.

They also found that the closer the students lived to a freeway, the higher the NO2 levels outside their homes. NO2 levels also corresponded with traffic-related pollution estimates from the group's statistical model.

It was not surprising, then, when they found that the closer the students lived to a freeway, the higher the students' asthma prevalence. For every 1.2 kilometers (about three-quarters of a mile) the students lived closer to the freeway, asthma risk increased by 89 percent. For example, students who lived 400 meters from the freeway had an 89 percent higher risk of asthma than students living 1,600 meters away from the freeway.

Now, in reading the article on this study, I thought there might be some connection as to whether large trucks are passing by frequently. Is the pollution that's hurting kids from them or also, substantially, from passenger cars and trucks? Well, in the absence of clear data on that, I asked my lungs, and they say emissions, when I'm running near the back end of a vehicle turning, etc., make them feel like crap.

Posted by aalkon at September 23, 2005 7:18 PM

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Regarding recycling paper, there's another rationale besides saving trees: reducing the amount of garbage going into landfills.

Posted by: deja pseu at September 23, 2005 10:26 AM

Amy - just got back from my first (but certainly not my last) trip to Europe.

Along with the sunscreen (which is even more amazing than you said), I fell in love with the cars, especially the german Smart cars. They are so small, quick, and classy. I went two weeks without seeing an SUV - why can't America catch up with that level of sanity?

Posted by: Arianne at September 25, 2005 2:04 PM

Concerning hybrids - I think they're great. Here in Houston, GW's home state, the pollution is so evident that Pasedena is nicknamed "Stinkadena" and my father says you can basically get all your mineral intake in one breath down there. At the moment, I drive a PT Cruiser but have been looking into getting a hybrid. Here's my one problem: I work with a no-kill animal shelter here in Houston (Friends For Life) and would like to look into trading my PT for a hybrid ... that can hold at least 3 large dog crates and a few cat carriers. Got any info anyone? The only one I've seen so far is a Lexus hybrid that costs an insane amount of money. Looking forward to any suggestions.

Posted by: Abby at September 26, 2005 1:38 PM

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