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MARCH 2020

Traveling Toxins
By Jeff Stark

A downtown view There are new data and they are clear - our neighbors may be killing us. This is not fake news or a convoluted scheme to extract money from an uninformed public. Rather it is one of the main findings of a new study, entitled "Out-of-State Emissions Cause Half of Pollutions Deaths." recently published in the journal "Nature." According to the authors "More than half of all early deaths in the United States due to poor air quality are a result of emissions originating outside of the state in which those deaths occur."

Houseplants help clear the air

The mechanism for this phenomenon is fairly straightforward and simple. Airborne emissions are distributed by the wind. This means that if we are downwind of a particularly obnoxious emitter of airborne toxins we are more likely to die from the effects of breathing these toxins sooner rather than later.

Citizens campaigningThis toxic cloud cover comes from the usual suspects. Public enemy #1 is power plants that generate electricity by burning a variety of fossil fuels. But the underlying data are somewhat misleading. Apparently the amount of pollution that is drifting over state lines is decreasing. This is an indication of the progress we have made in switching to renewables and becoming more effective in cleaning up this source. However, at the same time, other sources - aviation, road transportation, commercial and residential buildings, are increasing their toxic outputs and may not be weighted correctly.

Finally, the creation of these powerful computational tools has enabled researchers to develop more detailed and nuanced conclusions. For example, the authors state that "It's not necessarily just the adjacent state but states over 1,000 miles away that can be affected," Barrett says. "Different kinds of emissions have a different kind of range."

All in all, this research is another example of the truth of the "good news/bad news phenomenon. The data and conclusions are valuable and represent an effective use of modern technologies. That's the good news. The bad news is clear and requires action from us all. Simply put we are all downwind and all at risk.


If you can't trust NASA...title=Very few environmental issues present their challenges to as clearly as the role of atmospheric toxins. However, the fact that we are more aware of this phenomenon does not necessarily mean that we are more effective in dealing with it. One of the main reasons is the global nature of atmospheric pollution. Because "we are all downwind" makes it harder to pinpoint the origin of the toxins that are causing problems. Unfortunately this inescapable fact tends to promote politicization. And, in turn, creating political controversies tends to make it harder for indivicuals and organizations to have an impact.

For these and other reasons the atmospheric toxins issure is ideally suited for those of us who are not inclined join with an activist organization. However, that does not mean that we are doomed to being inactivists. Joining and supporting, with others involved in this issue multiplies the energy devoted to making a difference. It takes very little time, accommodates budgets of all sizes, and enhances our lives in unexpected ways. It works.


For the complete text of the "Out-of-State Emissions Cause Half Air Pollution Deaths" article CLICK HERE This information on "Where Does Air Polllution Come From?" comes from the US Park Service helps inform and motivate activists and scientists alike.

If direct action, at all levels, is more appealing check out this Google search on How to prevent toxic chemicals from harming the environment.