smog aluminum titanium dioxide flood

Flooding in the Treasury for rebuilding & ...
engineers subsidies twain

Buildings of metal that dissolve pollution

A new paneling for the outside of buildings not only cleans itself but also the air around it, while a DC group lobbies for an end to subsidizing the loss of wetlands. We trim, blend, and append two 2011 articles from (1) USA Today, May 12, on aluminum by Wendy Koch, and (2) Weekly Wastebasket, May 13, on flood subsidies by Taxpayers for Common Sense.

by Wendy Koch and by Taxpayers for Common Sense

Buildings that eat smog? Alcoa, a maker of aluminum products, introduced an architectural panel that it says not only cleans itself but also the air around it.

The aluminum panel has a titanium dioxide coating that, when combined with sunlight, acts as a catalyst to break down pollutants such as smog into harmless matter that rain washes away.

"It could have a significant impact" if enough buildings use the product, says Craig Belnap, president of Alcoa Architectural Products. The company says 10,000 square feet of its panels have the air-cleansing power of about 80 trees.

The panel is the latest in a series of building products -- whether cement, tile, or paint -- touted for their pollution-fighting abilities:
•Ceiling tiles that remove formaldehyde, which is linked to health problems, were announced this week by Armstrong Ceiling & Wall Systems, which says the product has been certified by UL, an independent non-profit testing group.
•The Ionic Bulb by Florida-based Zevotek, now available in stores nationwide, is an energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamp that contains an air purifier to eliminate allergens, pollen, smoke, and dust.

"All such claims should be approached with caution" and validated by independent academic labs, warns Martin Holladay, senior editor of, a website that covers sustainable construction.

The coating on Alcoa's panels has long been used on concrete such as the TX Active product -- with proven results.

Such concrete reduced nitrogen oxides -- the smog-causing compound emitted by vehicles -- 25% to 45% in a small area of a Dutch town where it was used on roads, according to a lecture last year by Jos Brouwers at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands.

"It does work," says Nadav Malin, president of, an online source of eco-friendly construction. "But you'd have to have a lot of this out there in the built environment to make any dent in air pollution."

"It could be part of a solution," says Alcoa's Belnap, adding that the Reynobond panels also lower maintenance costs for commercial buildings by reducing water and dirt. He says Alcoa teamed with Japanese manufacturer TOTO to add the EcoClean coating and had its air-purifying impact verified by an independent lab.

The panels will cost about 5% more than similar aluminum ones and will become available nationwide this summer.

To see the whole article, click here

JJS: Probably a better use of titanium than jet bombers. Note, however, that before the panels dissolve smog, the pollution will have already been in the air for some time, doing damage to bodies, nature, and cities.

Expanding upon this model, if houses could be cleaning up after cars, what’s going to clean up after houses? Their sewage, the landfills, power plants, the clear cuts? A more basic solution might be to get more from less.

Another impact from housing is the bad location of some of them; when that bad decision results in disaster, everyone else bails them out.

In 1543, the De Soto expedition observed "little by little [the Mississippi River] rose to the top of the cliffs. Soon it began flow over the fields in an immense flood and ... there was nothing to stop the inundation."

What starts in Minnesota as a wadeable stream, eventually drains more than 40 percent of the lower 48 from the Rockies to the Appalachians. When the Illinois and Missouri Rivers join, the Mississippi doubles in size. After the confluence with the Ohio, it doubles again. The Mississippi flooding Memphis is twice the river that flooded the St. Louis area, and four times the size of the one that flows past Minneapolis.

Nationwide, the average annual loss due flooding was $2.6 billion during the first half of the 20th century. It increased to $4.5 billion for the second half and $6.2 billion for the ten years between 1995 and 2004 (constant 2004 dollars). Not much of a return on investment.

Despite this, the Corps of Engineers fought to close the naturally occurring New Madrid floodway in Missouri. This project would have opened up more land for agricultural production. But when, not if, the river rises, it would also devastate an even greater number of lives and property downstream.

Just two years after the Great Midwest Flood of 1993, so-called once-in-a-lifetime floodwaters returned to devastate many of the areas still struggling to recover. But not to the previously frequently flood towns of Arnold, MO and Valmeyer, IL -- both of these small river valley towns had been relocated to higher ground and the citizens could watch the flooding with dry feet.

The key is working with the river. Buying out property in the floodplain, setting back levees, and using natural systems to lower flood heights and protect vulnerable communities and vital infrastructure, are ways to save lives, protect property, and reduce the costs of inevitable flooding.

Mark Twain, Mississippi pilot and friend of economist Henry George, observed that government "cannot tame that lawless stream, cannot curb it or confine … make it obey; cannot bar its path with an obstruction which it will not tear down, dance over, and laugh at."

Instead of spending more, we need to spend wisely. Rather than opening up our wallet, taxpayers need to demand accountability from federal agencies, states, communities, and individuals.

JJS: Why subsidize bad decisions at all? Landowners already have insurance. If we let it be a matter of private enterprise, at last developers would have to build on stilts, as they do in areas prone to hurricanes, or as the Venetians decided to do centuries ago, or as tribes did in prehistoric times on lakes. There are technical solutions, when politics don’t get in the way.

And remember, when technical solutions do get used -- smog-eating walls, buildings on stilts, etc -- then the area becomes more desirable, meaning newcomers push up the land values. Rising land values can be a curse or a blessing, depending upon whether society recovers them and uses them to benefit all members equally.

One nice thing about having society recover land values is that it could then reduce or eliminate the counterproductive taxes on labor and capital. One nice thing about having society share land values -- a la Alaska’s oil dividend -- is that it could then reduce or eliminate the addictive subsidies underneath special interests. With such geonomics in place, then everyone would sink or learn to swim without dragging others down.


Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.

Also see:

China's Global Shopping Spree

Simple solutions that can change the world

To change land use, change who gets land rent

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