Chemical Engineering: Auto-Intoxication in Los Angeles

For many a sun-worshiping Southern Californian, the thick, eye-irritating blanket that often covers Los Angeles and has already pushed past the mountains into the San Fernando Valley is almost a way of life. The acrid murk is concocted in the area's own natural pressure cooker. A pair of the state's most abundant resources, sunshine and automobiles, cooperate on the job.

Daily, 10,000 tons of chemical compounds—hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides—pour from 3.5 million exhaust pipes. When there is no breeze, and the exhaust-laden air is trapped in the mountain-rimmed Los Angeles basin, the...

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