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Air conditioning `cool'

By Lisa Hammer, Dispatch/Argus Staff writer

Take away my television set, take away my dishwasher, but take another step towards my air-conditioning and you've had it.

Air-conditioning is at the top of many Americans'list of favorite 20th century technologies. Even computers are dependent on it.

Before 1900, an air-conditioner was designed to cool perhaps the hottest place in the country this month, the U.S. Senate. Credit for invention of the air-conditioner is generally given to Willis H. Carrier, who in 1911 presented a paper on air-conditioning to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

In the 1920s, people always had to leave home to find air-conditioned comfort. Only a few theaters and department stores had it. Most homes weren't air-conditioned until the 1960s.

During the energy shortage of the late 1970s, President Jimmy Carter upset the nation's A/C devotees by signing a proclamation requiring commercial, government and many other public buildings to set their thermostats no lower than 78 degrees in the summer.

Air-conditioned comfort runs into big money -- summertime A/C takes two to three times more energy than heating homes in the winter.

A/C gives tremendous relief, but it can also make people sick as buildings get less fresh air. Paul Guse, environmental health director for the Rock Island County Health Department said A/C systems are a prime suspect whenever ``indoor air quality'' (IAQ) seems to be a problem.

Air-conditioning spreads the bacteria that caused Legionnaire's disease in the 1970s. Other problems are chemicals, man-made materials and radon. Mr. Guse said Rock Island County Health Department employees themselves got ill recently after workers used solvents in one part of the building and the A/C system spread it around.

``We had a hint because there was an odor,'' said Mr. Guse. ``You're not always lucky to have a clue like that.''

In more recent years, a dilemma has begun over air-conditioning in automobiles, now that the standard coolant, freon, has been banned

Some people who take the concept ``refrigerant'' in their air-cooling systems quite literally have been less than pleased with the freon substitute, but there's hope yet for the nation's 120 million freon-A/C vehicles on the road. An article in the July, 1998 issue of Consumers Research stated a new compound developed by InterCool Energy Corporation and Pennzoil provides the same level of performance as freon but has none of the damaging chloro-fluorocarbons, and would be on the market in six months.

Copyright 1999, Moline Dispatch Publishing Co.