Friday Finds: Pushing Clean Air’s Buttons

Tired of breathing dirty air during your daily commute? Just turn on your car vent's recirculation button, 'advises researchers from the University of Southern California.

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Tired of breathing dirty air during your daily commute? Just turn on your car vent’s recirculation button, advises researchers from the University of Southern California. Their study found that pushing this little-used button—which typically shows an arrow with a car around it—can cut pollution levels by 80 percent as compared to pollution levels found out on the road.
The researchers came to this conclusion after driving around the streets of LA in dozens of different types of vehicles while testing out this handy little button. The study was the first to systematically look at how a vehicle’s age and speed, as well as current traffic levels, affect the amount of pollution that gets inside. No big surprise that older vehicles—like just about anything older—tend to be leakier than newer cars and therefore allow more pollutants to squeeze in. The study also found that speeding and heavy traffic ups the amount of pollution allowed in.
Of course, cutting air pollution is easiest if you just go straight to the source. (It also keeps your car from getting stuffy and filling up with bad breath smell!) In this case, the culprits are, obviously, motor vehicles, which also happen to be the largest source of hazardous air pollutants nationwide, according to the EPA. Benzene, formaldehyde and other toxic emissions from motor vehicles can cause a wide range of serious health impacts, including cancer, birth defects, neurological damage and respiratory effects. And, these pollutants substantially increase the risks of cancer and other serious adverse health effects for millions of Americans.
Despite the evidence, for years EPA dragged its heels on cleaning up motor vehicle pollution. No more. Earthjustice invested more than five years of litigation and advocacy in the problem and, in 2007, successfully forced the EPA to issue tighter limits on the toxic contaminants in gasoline. Earthjustice’s work on motor vehicles is part of a larger effort to clean up the air both off the road and on. Our lawyers tackle air pollution from a myriad of sources—like power plants, coal ash dumps, incinerators—by forcing EPA to issue the strong air pollution standards that federal law requires. After all, it’s not as if the world has a “recirculation button” that we can just turn on whenever we want to shield ourselves from dirty air. Controlling pollution before it’s in our air is the most effective course of action—no button required.
Source: LA Times, “For cleaner air, set car vents to ‘recirculate,’ study says

Jessica is a former award-winning journalist. She enjoys wild places and dispensing justice, so she considers her job here to be a pretty amazing fit.

Earthjustice’s Washington, D.C., office works at the federal level to prevent air and water pollution, combat climate change, and protect natural areas. We also work with communities in the Mid-Atlantic region and elsewhere to address severe local environmental health problems, including exposures to dangerous air contaminants in toxic hot spots, sewage backups and overflows, chemical disasters, and contamination of drinking water. The D.C. office has been in operation since 1978.