Thursday, December 17, 2020

Leaf blowers, street sweeping, car tires, fish and you

I heard arguments for easing up on street sweeping parking tickets during a possible second covid-19 shut-down from both the left and the right.  I'm going to explain why that is a very, very bad idea.

Cities don't spend money to sweep the streets as an excuse to issue parking tickets.  They really do need to clean the streets, especially in coastal communities like Los Angeles.  If we don't clean up our streets, storm drains and waterways, toxins get dumped into coastal waters and we get fined by the EPA.  The fines have enough teeth to prod cities to clean up our street runoff.

Car tire dust is a big, big problem.  

Chemicals in tires break down into a very dangerous toxin that is decimating salmon populations.  This solves the mystery of why, when fish habitat and water flow are restored, salmon continue to die.

Zinc in car tires is a leading source of heavy metal toxins in coastal waters (along with copper from brake dust).

Tire particles are the largest source of microplastics in coastal waters.

I read the microplastics paper and blogged about the painstaking methodology and their results in Heavy Metal in LA.


The tire industry acknowledges that car tire particles make up 60% of PM2.5 and 73% of PM10 particulate air pollution.  This has been confirmed by both microscopic manual separation and identification studies like the one above and by elemental analysis of road dust.

Tire Technology International devoted an entire special issue to the problem of tire dust. It's nice to see industry discuss issues ahead of regulation.  This gives us one more reason to keep our tires inflated.  It will reduce tire dust, improve fuel economy and lower our CO2 emissions.

While regulators are still fixated on fighting the last battle, tailpipe emissions, tire emissions are largely unregulated.  But, the EPA does indirectly regulate tire particles through water quality regulations.

I've written about my loathing for leaf blowers and the health hazards that they pose. Leaf blowers churn up pollen, dust and particulate pollutants. Cars create particulates (road surface wear, tailpipe, tire and brake dust) and churn up road dust as well.  Cars also grind down larger, less dangerous particles into finer, more dangerous ones that can lodge deep in the lungs.

We are in the midst of a raging pandemic. Studies around the world have shown that covid-19 is deadlier as PM2.5 particulate pollution rises. An increase of just 1 microgram per cubic meter of PM2.5 exposure leads to a roughly 10% rise in covid-19 mortality. The Harvard study of the US covid-19 mortality and PM2.5 also studies race and concludes that PM2.5 alone (holding race constant) increases risk by 8% for each microgram/cubic meter.

I bought a home air quality sensor and moved it around the house.  When I put it near a window facing the street, I could see the PM2.5 spike whenever a car drove past.  The road dust got really bad while our city was not able to sweep the streets all the way to the curb due to parked cars.  

When parking enforcement for street sweeping resumed, I saw a decrease in road dust when I opened my windows.  It hasn't rained, so the reduction in road dust is most likely due to more thorough street sweeping.

In the middle of a pandemic, when we are urged to open our windows and ventilate our homes, isn't it important to keep the street air as clean as possible?

Isn't it our self-interest to move our cars and let the street sweeping machines do the most thorough job possible?

Also, why are we storing private property (cars) on the public right of way (street)? What is the point of mandating so much off-street parking in zoning regulations if we're all going to dump our cars on the streets?  

Parking on the street is privatizing public property. Then that leads people to get mad about getting parking tickets when they don't move their cars for the 2 hours a week that the street is swept.  Moving a car off the street is the minimum that people need to do to keep our cities and water clean.

The real outrage is that people privatizing public space is keeping our kids from being biking safely down the street.  The kids are penned between twin rows of parked vehicles with no space for cars to pass them safely--even if they could be seen through the visual clutter of all the parked cars.

Addendum:

The number one thing we can do to reduce tire particulate pollution (in terms of biggest reduction) is to drive lighter cars.  Drive the smallest, lightest car you need for everyday activities. Rent a larger car for occasions where you really need a larger vehicle.

Number two is to drive them less.

Number three is to keep your tires properly inflated.

With climate change, our rain season is going to get shorter.  This means we will have to rely more on street sweeping instead of rain to clean up our tire particle pollution.  The best way is to create less in the first place.

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