Can't We Just Blow All this Smog Away?

Ever since smog became a noticeable problem in Southern California, Southlanders have suggested some "innovative" solutions to get rid of it. Some of the ideas have included:

  • Drilling tunnels or cutting passes through the mountains surrounding the Los Angeles Basin, and installing giant fans to blow smog into the desert;
  • Tearing a hole in the atmospheric inversion layer that traps smog -- thereby allowing it to escape -- by firing cannons through the inversion layer from Mt. Wilson, dropping hot water on it from balloons or burning a hole through it using giant mirrors focusing the sun's rays;
  • Installing spray towers off the coast to wash air at night as it flows offshore;
  • Building a massive "air sanitation system" to pipe all industrial emissions out of the Los Angeles Basin;
  • Seeding clouds to produce cleansing rains;
  • Moving everyone out of the Los Angeles Basin because it is not a suitable place for human habitation; and
  • Planting smog-absorbing vegetation on mountain sides surrounding the Los Angeles Basin.

Scientists who evaluated these ideas found them impractical. Arie J. Haagen-Smit, for instance, pointed out that the air mass above Los Angeles County alone, from the ground up to 1,000 feet -- a typical inversion height -- weighs 650 million tons. The electricity needed to run fans to blow that much polluted air away for one day would require the output of the Hoover Dam for eight years!

Lacking a quick fix for the nation's worst smog, air quality regulators have turned to more down-to-earth technology to develop progressive emission reductions, from the catalytic converter to the electric vehicle and fuel cells.