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Polis Report

Air 4 Sale

By Ami Chen Mills

For the first time in North America--in Toronto, to be exact--you can now buy fresh air. For 13 bucks, receive a 20-minute hit of 99.9 percent pure oxygen at the "O2 Spa Bar" and, according to new addicts, receive relief from headaches and allergies. U.S. entrepreneurs are already heady with the cash potential of purity in an impure world. Perhaps, though, we should all pause--and take a deep breath.

What does it mean when we buy our air, as many of us now buy water? "It means it's time to pack up and move to another planet," jokes Leslie Byster, program director for the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. Byster sees oxygen-as-commodity as an ill omen. "It's amazing we'd have to pay for air. This was something that was once free and should be the right of everyone to have. And the people who need clean air the most, the children, the elderly, sick people, won't have access to these 'oxygen bars.' We should ask, 'Why should we have to buy our air?' "

Many of us already buy our water. According to David Chatfield, state director for Clean Water Action, in many Bay Area communities half the households use filters or buy bottled water. The irony, he points out, is that bottled water is subject to less stringent regulations even than tap water. "In most cases, that water is no better than the water you're getting out of your municipal system," he contends. What the anxious purchase of these once-abundant necessities signifies, he says, is a general "lack of confidence" in our air and water. "It's a testimony to the need to push for improved air and water quality."

Breathe.

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From the October 17-23, 1996 issue of Metro

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