Something in the Air
Building on decades of expertise and on a collaborative approach, UC Davis leads the way in understanding air pollution’s impact on our health and climate.
By Sylvia Wright
Take a deep breath. Now entering your lungs, bloodstream and perhaps your brain—“air” bearing all the exhalations of modern life: tailpipe exhaust, fireplace smoke, flame-broiled animal fats, industrial chemicals and carpet fumes. If you are within 100 yards of a freeway, you also have inhaled tire shreds and partially burned diesel fuel. If downwind from a farm, then ammonia from animal wastes or soot from burning rice straw. At the coast, you’ll breathe in salt, of course, maybe trans-Pacific sand from eroding Chinese deserts and perhaps something unexpected: sulfuric acid from the smokestacks of unregulated cargo and cruise ships.
Every fifth-grader knows that we breathe carbon dioxide and oxygen. But no one knows exactly what else we breathe, how much, where it comes from or how it affects our health. Answering those questions now is particularly urgent: Some UC Davis researchers have found disturbing patterns that link air pollution with serious human health problems, including chronic asthma in children and early death in some adults, and others see novel roles for air pollution in climate change.
UC Davis has a tradition of expertise in many aspects of air pollution: shedding light on the contributions of agricultural activities, the origins of haze over national parks, the benefits of cleaner fuels and emission controls in automobiles. It’s a success strengthened by a delight in inventing new research tools when the need arises and a willingness to bridge the traditional divides between the biological and physical disciplines. Now, with 60 faculty and staff researchers focused on the issues and a record $50 million in directed funding, the campus has become a leader among the handful of institutions in the United States working intensively on problems related to air pollution.
A Toll on Human Health
From Labs to Law Books
A Winning Approach
Links to more information:
Stories and photos by Sylvia Wright, who writes about the environmental sciences for UC Davis.
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