Posted by: Green Knight | April 9, 2012

Is CO2 an Air Pollutant?

Yes. Is it a health hazard? Yes and no. Remember I said once that everything is toxic in the right dose, paraphrasing Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, (1493-1541) better known as Paracelsus, the father of toxicology. Back to thinking in parts per million for a bit: CO2 was at about 280 ppm in preindustrial times, and is now about 390. The OSHA and NIOSH permissible or recommended exposure limits for an 8-hour workshift are 5000 ppm. Obviously, it’s not that bad for ya; the problem at those levels is that you’re not getting enough oxygen. The 8-hour PEL for acetone, the stuff in fingernail-polish remover, is 1000 ppm, still not bad, and the EPA only regulates acetone as hazardous waste due to its ignitability, not its toxicity. On the other hand, the PEL for carbon monoxide, which kills or injures people every winter due to faulty heating systems, stoves, and the like, is only 50 ppm, the REL is 35, and the allowable level in supplied-air tanks for firefighters, emergency responders, or divers is just 10. The lower the number, the nastier the substance.

So why is EPA wanting to regulate CO2 as an air pollutant under the Clean Air Act? Well, consider this: CFCs, or chlorofluorocarbons, are extremely nonreactive chemically at ground level. 1,1,2-trichloro-1,2,2-trifluoroethane, one of the more common forms of Freon®, has a PEL and REL of 1000 ppm. So, not too toxic, eh? Right. However, EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment, and since CFCs destroy ozone (which is a major component of smog at ground level but shields us from ultraviolet at about 10 miles up), they’re considered hazardous waste when improperly disposed of, because their release could compromise human health and the environment in terms of increased skin cancer rates, the effect on fish and amphibian eggs, phytoplankton, etc.

This is the same rationale for regulating CO2, because of its contribution to global warming, and the disastrous results that are already becoming evident because of it. As I’ve said repeatedly, it doesn’t have to be “toxic” to be hazardous.











photo courtesy of Noritz


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