The necessity of pure air need not be argued. It is a fundamental principle registered by human experience. Modern studies of ventilation emphasize the physical properties of the air - temperature, humidity, and movement - and their physiological importance. These heat relations are closely linked with the problem of sunlight, already considered.
Nothing in recent experimentation, however, controverts the need of cleanliness of the air we breathe. Dust in the air tends to irritate and clogs the breathing apparatus. If the dust particles are sharp, as in the case of silica, they wound the delicate membranes so that bacterial infection is likely to follow. Statistics of tuberculosis among stonecutters show that this disease is prevalent in direct proportion to the percentage of silica in the stone dust. Dust may injure the eyes and clog pores of the skin. Its damage is economic as well as physiological. The extent to which disease germs are transmitted from person to person through the air is not well known. Ordinarily, spray from the mouth or nose does not carry more than a few feet, and accompanying bacteria capable of detection by present methods do not live long in the air because of the destructive effect of drying and sunlight. The behavior of the filterable viruses in air and the longevity of the spores of bacteria, molds, and fungi, however, are only imperfectly understood. Irritating fumes from chemical processes maybe not only offensive to the senses,but also cause physiological injury. Any air which by reason of dust or bacteria, irritating fumes, or offensive odors tends instinctively to induce shallow breathing must be regarded as injurious to health. Just as pure air tends to promote health by naturally inducing deep breathing and stimulating the bodily functions, so exposure to vitiated air tends to break down the individual's power to resist disease, especially respiratory affections, such as colds, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. Here the element of time is important. A fleeting bad odor may be offensive, but do little or no injury, whereas some odors, long continued, may be injurious. On the other hand, there are odors to which people become accustomed and which do no damage. Individual susceptibility plays an important part in the phenomenon of odor. The extent to which foul air affects breathing during sleep appears to be not well known from experimental studies, but, judging from experience, its influence is quite as important as during waking hours.
The air which enters a building, both in quality and in quantity, is influenced by the neighboring buildings and by the streets. Intakes of ventilation systems are more often located with reference to indoor distribution than to exterior conditions which affect the quality of the entering air.
Many studies have been made of the number of dust particles and bacteria in city air, both in the United States and abroad. The absolute figures need not be considered because their order of magnitude varies according to the methods used and the sizes of the dust particles included in the counts. Relatively, the tests agree in showing that dust in the air is greatest near the street and decreases logarithmically upward; that macadamized streets and much-traveled granite pavements produce more dust than streets sheet paved; that dust is closely associated with the cleanliness of the streets and methods of cleaning; that automobile traffic produces less dust than horse traffic, but distributes it to a greater extent; that street cars raise dust one or more stories higher than horse traffic; that less dust is found over grass land than pavements; that less dust is found in residential districts than in business or industrial districts, etc.
Smoke is another important source of dust. The use of oil burners in place of coal burners is changing this problem. The Mexican oils are higher in sulphur than American oils, and their use increases the sulphurous fumes in the air to a measurable extent.
Where high buildings exist, the ventilation of streets is coming to be an important problem. If buildings are high relative to the street width, there is likely to be a stagnation of air over the pavement and a concentration of dust bacteria, foul odors, and automobile smoke injurious to the health of persons using the streets.
The density of automobile traffic in cities is already so great that traffic officers are sometimes overcome by the poisonous fumes of carbonic oxide, and pedestrians are greatly inconvenienced by the smoke. In business districts, where large trucks are used and traffic is heavy, these conditions are especially bad, and are at their worst when associated with high buildings with flat roofs and overhanging cornices. If the streets have a marked grade, there is a tendency for gravity currents to produce partial ventilation with dilution of the bad air; but when they are level, gentle winds do not suffice to effect the necessary ventilation of deep, cavernous streets. Strong winds, on the other hand, produce excessive currents through cavernous streets that are very objectionable in winter.
In the interest of air purity, therefore, zoning is justified. Residential districts, where people sleep and recreate and where children grow up, need protection against the atmospheric dirt of the business and industrial districts.