By Louise Lerner

When the 1893 World’s Fair opened in Chicago, fairgoers aboard the world’s first Ferris wheel soared high enough to compare two cities: the White City—gleaming whitewashed architecture built for the massive fair—and its dark twin, the blackened, soot-stained buildings of the Loop just a few miles to the north.

Chicago, like many industrialized cities in the 19th century, lay under a thick layer of soot of its own making. Dirt from trains and factories soiled linen shirts and blew into homes past tightly shut windows. Across the Atlantic in London, residents lit lamps at midday to wade through pea-soup fogs, yellow with sulfur, that lingered over the city for days…

…In the 20th century, scientists began to learn exactly how bad soot is for human health—it accelerates heart failure and burrows into lung tissue, aggravating asthma and respiratory conditions. More recently, scientists have started to realize that carbon particulates play a second unwelcome role: the second largest contributor to climate change.

Environmental regulations have helped to clear the skies over many cities. Yet the U.S., along with other countries around the world, still releases particles of carbon from trucks and generators, and we still don’t really understand what happens to it once it leaves the exhaust pipe.

But there is one bright spot in the study of soot. Unlike carbon dioxide, which will remain for hundreds of years, it can cycle out of the atmosphere within weeks. Whatever harm carbon particulates do to the atmosphere is temporary, at least theoretically. That is, if we could only stop.

“Changing habits is perhaps the most difficult challenge of all,” said Argonne scientist Rao Kotamarthi…

Continue reading at Argonne National Laboratory…

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Areas of Focus: Climate Change
Climate Change
Climate change is an urgent global challenge. EPIC research is helping to assess its impacts, quantify its costs, and identify an efficient set of policies to reduce emissions and adapt...
Climate Science
Climate Science
EPIC’s interdisciplinary team of researchers is contributing to a cross-cutting body of knowledge on the scientific causes of climate change and its social consequences.