Fort Collins Conservation District

Ron Neher

Air quality, - it’s getting better

By: Ron Neher, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Retired

On July 17, 1970 I arrived at Travis Air Force Base aboard a C-141 Starlifter. It was the end of a 10-hour non-stop flight from Japan where I had undergone surgery from an injury I received at Da Nang, Vietnam.

I was involved in a non-combat accident while on duty serving with the U.S. Navy. Amongst the excitement after the accident, I was offered first aid and was later pronounced dead at the scene. Eighteen of my coworkers, I was later told, took off their green shirts and covered me in a road while further assistance arrived. I was taken to Army’s 95th Evacuation Hospital where (luckily) someone had a stethoscope and knew how to use it. (That is about as close as one wants to come.)

The flight back “to the world” (term used by GIs in Vietnam) was rather uneventful where I laid on a stretcher, stacked 3-high with other military patients, and awaited the landing. The only exciting thing was our flight crossed the International Date Line where time zones don’t get confused, - you do. All of a sudden it’s a different day. To put it in confused reality, - I arrived at Travis AFB six hours before I left and enjoyed five meals on that 40 hour, 24-hour day. You have to enjoy the gusto where you can find it, - even if it is on a stretcher.

We arrived at 6:40 a.m. PST where unloading procedures commenced at a rather comfortable pace. A local radio station was able to be heard through speakers in the plane’s cargo section where I and the other GIs were located. It was nice to be back home.

One thing I will never forget, - and I don’t want to forget it, - was that the area around Da Nang had a constant odor and unpleasant smell. You can imagine such an issue in a third world country, with non-existent sanitary facilities, no laws governing such, as well as being in the middle of a war, - not to mention no one really caring about the odor one gets used to.

As the cargo door from the rear of the plane was opened, I immediately began to enjoy the nice fresh air from outside. Wow! What an improvement from where I recently came. As I lay on that stretcher, the very next thing I heard on the radio was news about the poor air quality in that portion of California. I had just commented silently to myself how pleasant the air quality was and at the same time I am hearing a conflicting message on the radio contrary to what I was experiencing, - or at least to what I think I was experiencing.

That was a long time ago and much has changed since. Through scientific research, various regulations, self-initiative, and many other endeavors, today’s air quality has improved, - not just in our country but also in many less-developed areas. By recognizing issues which create poor air quality and addressing them, air quality today has improved dramatically during just in my lifetime.

Air quality is a current focus of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). I believe it is only fair to give credit to where credit is due. No one single group has tackled this subject of air quality alone. Several organizations, government agencies, groups, individuals, what have you, - not to mention scientific research, - have all participated in cleaning up the air we breathe. Today, the NRCS promotes, encourages, and assists with various conservation practices which address air quality in the agricultural environment.

Agronomic practices such as conservation tillage and no-till, cover crops, multi-year cropping sequences which keep the highly erodible land covered, and improved crop genetics have all contributed to air quality improvements. In addition, installation of windbreaks in various areas has contributed to cleaning up the air. Stock yards and dairies have implemented better waste utilization and waste storage facilities which in turn reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Rangeland management practices such as proper grazing use also contribute to reducing dust and the interception of particulate matter.

So where has air quality improvement changed since the 1930s, when the Soil Conservation Service (later changed to Natural Resources Conservation Service in 1994) was included in the USDA. From the Dirty Thirties, through the sixties, and into today, you have to admit air quality has improved. Will it ever be a perfect, sterile environment some think it should be? Don’t be ridiculous. However, with today’s regulations along with various levels of available technical and financial assistance, we can continue to enjoy sustained improvements in air quality.

One thing we can count on is that person who continues to complain about the odor of “agriculture” while they eat their BLT or pizza. I doubt if that will ever change.