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Video Program Gives Smog Top Billing

June 19, 1999|GARY POLAKOVIC

It probably won't be competing with any Hollywood movie blockbusters, but Ventura County smog fighters expect positive reviews of their star-studded interactive computer program called Air World.

Combining flashy graphics and movie stars that move across a touch-and-go video screen, Air World will become the electronic equivalent of a clean-air ambassador to local schools, businesses and government agencies this summer.

"It's to get air quality information to the public in a fun, creative way and to educate them. We wanted to make it interesting and fun because some of this stuff can be a little boring," said Barbara Page, spokeswoman for the county Air Pollution Control District.

Indeed, photochemical smog, meteorology and the chemistry of particulate soot seem like real snoozers. But Air World transcends potentially dull themes using star power to drive home its message: Smog, more than a nuisance, is a health hazard for Californians, and individuals can make a difference in the quest for blue skies.

Touch the screen and Shelley Long intones the perils of global warming and industrial greenhouse gases released to the atmosphere. Tap another spot and fitness guru Kathy Smith extols the value of keeping car engines mechanically fit to reduce emissions. Tim Russ of Star Trek Voyager describes new advances in clean transportation technology.

The fast-paced program is designed to hold a user's attention for about two minutes, said Sandra Holden of Media 360, the Beverly Hills designer who worked with air quality officials for two years to create the two-CD program. It hooked the delivery man who took it to Cal State Channel Islands last week; he played with it for about 10 minutes. Messages are delivered in English and Spanish subtitles.

Air World cost $108,000 to develop; the money came from a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency public education grant. Page said it is the only interactive computer program that deals with smog. EPA will get 100 of the CDs used for Air World and circulate them to all the local air districts in the nation, she added.

Air World is at the county smog agency headquarters in Ventura to have a few bugs worked out. From there, it will move to county government centers in Ventura and Simi Valley, the county fair in August and local schools and businesses in fall.

The air pollution district is seeking additional funds to link Air World to the Worldwide Web so it can be accessed by students and folded into curriculum for schools, Page said.

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