Sunday, February 25, 2007

The air that I breathe

How can a simple act of home maintenance inspire both disgust and memories of a Hollies song?

The maintenance: With the middle of a California winter here, the time had come to clear the air in our house by installing a fresh furnace filter. It's about a two-minute job, involving using a nearby kitchen chair as a stepladder, undoing two clips, and swapping out the old-and-dirty filter for a fresh one.

Not a big deal, really. With The Boy safely in his breakfast chair and with Mrs. Thorne having paid about $10 for a pristine, ivory-white filter, I performed these steps a couple of weeks ago without so much as even a minor incident. And yes, the air in the house was better.

For a couple of days, anyway.

Just for fun, about a week after installation I grabbed a flashlight to check out the condition of the new filter. And oh, my freakin' Gawd.

After a mere seven days installation, our pearly white filter had turned graphite gray. And what's worse, since the filter is in the center of the house and draws air only from inside, it's assured that the whoknowswhat deposits on that filter are entering our lungs with the greatest of ease.

Now, we'd heard the air quality here was bad. But for a white furnace filter to turn nearly coal black in one week, that's simply horrifying. And this is the clean air season, mind you; apparently the air quality gets much worse in summer.

Where does all of this come from? According to Google, those deposits are from a number of sources: local agriculture, auto emissions, power plants, and more. Local topography is also a factor, because the mountain ranges both east and west of town act like a big ol' trap for emissions from as far away as Los Angeles and San Francisco.

It's like living in California's own swirling toidy bowl. Except the flush lever is broken.

So I swapped the filter a second time, and headed to the local Home Depot for a six-month supply, thinking of The Hollies' Alan Clarke warbling about "all I need," wondering how a place like allegedly liberal and energy-conscious California can permit the air to be so disgusting.

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