Saturday, February 21, 2015   by: Bill Walton

Aitchtoo sounds like a good sneeze, something that is not that uncommon with all the cold weather lately. A sneeze though is more often brought on by particulate in the air we breathe: smoke, perfumes or pollen for example. Ground black pepper is almost guaranteed to make me sneeze. I don’t ‘say’ Aitchoo when I sneeze but try to say ‘Russia, Russia, Russia’ - why do we sneeze in threes?

 Anyway, I was just trying to get your attention with aitchtoo - what I wanted to say was H2O, or as any grade one student knows: water. Two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen. Or so we used to think. Technically that is still the chemical compound we drink but it is much more than that when it pours from our taps. Oh, the workers at the pump house screen and filter some of the larger particles from the water in the lake and then they add chemicals to attach the smaller unspeakable things in the water into a glob that the filters catch and if that is not enough they subject the H2O to light rays and more chemicals to kill any remaining biological things that we really do not want to know about.           

  One of the fears lately in the news is the possibility of crude oil getting into our water supply. Perhaps the larger globs can be caught and new chemicals might make the oil droplets easier to catch. But is there any means to really make that polluted water potable again? Is there any way to keep oil and its many man-made products out of our water or air?          

  We were vacationing in Florida, not far from the Interstate highway, when I noticed an unusual phenomena: the roofs of the houses nearby were blackened on the windward west side, but the shingles on the east side were their normal colour. There is a coal-fired power plant about fifteen kilometers away and I blamed the pollution from the plant for this black residue. However, an engineer friend disabused me of that idea. No, he said, it is the pollution from the highway.           

  We all know that internal combustion engines produce pollution. Having hundreds of thousands of vehicles on this Interstate each day would produce enough pollution to colour the roofs and no doubt, our lungs. I guess I looked slightly dubious so Peter explained it was not the air pollution from the engines, as that dissipated into the air very quickly and although some did fall as particulate on the nearby houses, it was not the cause for the discolouration. It was the miniscule pieces of tire rubber and the asphalt roadway that were landing on and sticking to the roof tops.           

  Synthetic rubber which is used in automobile and transport tires has a large component of oil-based products (polymers). We often see pieces of truck tires along the roadway (I call them dead Firestones) but we never see the minute pieces of our own car tires as they slowly disappear from the tread on our tires. Obviously these little pieces of rubber only stick to the pavement when some yahoo makes donuts on the roadway as some sign of bravado or ignorance, but those little pieces of tire are going somewhere. Along with the similarly small pieces of the asphalt roadway itself, they fly into the air to land on roofs and plants or are inhaled by people and animals. Aitchtoo.           

  Or they land on our water. Our drinking water. Oil-based products are everywhere and as these products erode, dissolve, or are consumed, the fossils return to the earth, albeit in a totally different form than they started out in some pipeline to a chemical plant. Or perhaps, through the water,  they return to the trees and grasses from whence they once came.           

  We are correct to worry about the pollution of our water by spilled crude oil but the darned stuff, in one form or another, is everywhere. And like it or not, we cannot live without it.           

Aitchtoo. Gesundheit.

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