Pollution Health Risks

Here are a few interesting articles on pollution health risks….

The San Gabriel Complex fire in June 2016

While Wildfires Ravage the Forests, Our Lungs Are at Risk, Too

This year’s wildfire season is off to a dramatic and early start, and so is the worry about what that smoke is doing to our lungs. Big wildfires started burning in Southern California in early June, and since then, air-quality agencies have been warning residents that pollution from those Southern California fires could make breathing a risky pastime. Residents of cities as far away as Las Vegas are being advised to limit their exposure to the smoke from Southern California fires.

Smoke from wildfires can contain a bewildering assortment of dangerous pollutants. They can range from the dioxins and furans released when structures catch fire and the plastic objects in them burn, to toxic but completely natural oils released from burning poison oak, which can cause fatal reactions when inhaled.

But the biggest public health threat from wildfires comes in the form of fine particulate matter, the microscopic particles of soot that darken skies for hundreds of miles downwind and make the air in distant cities as dirty as anything that famously smoggy Beijing has to offer.

“Wildfires are a major source of the same kind of particulate matter pollution that kills tens of thousands of people worldwide each year,” says Greg Karras, senior scientist with the environmental justice group Communities for a Better Environment (CBE). “And in places like the L.A. Basin where air pollution accumulates, wildfire smoke is a serious health hazard.”

“For people with asthma and other respiratory diseases, wildfire smoke can be life-threatening,” says Julia May, Karras’ fellow senior scientist at CBE. “Climate change is making fires worse and more frequent, and that has direct effects on human health.”

Fine particulate matter, which environmental scientists call PM2.5, is made up of particles that are smaller than one-30th the width of an average human hair. (That’s about 2.5 microns or less, hence the official abbreviation.) Particles that small can easily be drawn deep into your lungs. Once they land there, they stay, causing problems ranging from asthma to cancer to cardiovascular illness. Smaller particles can even move directly into your bloodstream, spurring ailments as serious as sudden heart attacks.

Kids are one of the groups most at risk of harm from fine particulate pollution, in large part because they tend to spend more time outside, engaging in strenuous play and breathing hard, sucking that PM2.5 deep into their growing lungs. The elderly, and people of any age with existing lung or heart disorders, are likewise at special risk. At high enough levels, PM2.5 can harm even the healthiest people after even brief periods of exposure to fine particulates. The results can range from mild difficulty in breathing to sudden death.

There’s always at least a little bit of fine particulate matter in even the cleanest air. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for determining how much PM2.5 is too much; every five years, the EPA looks at the available science and sets both long-term and short-term exposure levels. Those regulations are due for review in 2017; at the moment, the agency considers PM2.5 concentrations under 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air to be safe.

Air with 35.5 micrograms of PM2.5 is considered unhealthful for sensitive groups, namely children, the elderly and people with heart and lung ailments. At 55.5 micrograms per cubic meter, the air becomes unhealthful for everyone; even the relatively healthy should reconsider running that 5K, while sensitive groups might best avoid strenuous activity altogether. Above 300 micrograms per cubic meter, we’re all better off staying inside and running the air filter on our AC. (Swamp coolers and whole-house fans, which don’t filter out PM2.5, aren’t much help.)

Thanks to LAWeekly.com for this information

Doctors call for ‘major shift’ away from cars

(Please find full article at onmedica.com)

Public health doctors have used a new report, published on the 60th anniversary of the Clean Air Act, to call on local and national politicians to encourage a “major shift” away from cars in favour of walking, cycling and public transport.

The Clean Air Act, which was passed in response to London’s Great Smog of 1952, introduced a number of measures to reduce air pollution, including “smoke control areas” in some towns and cities in which only smokeless fuels could be burned.

The Faculty of Public Health’s new report ‘Local action to mitigate the health impacts of cars’ provides practical advice, based on best practice, to help local authorities design towns and cities that encourage active travel. It is endorsed by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), Chartered Institute for Waste Management (CIWM) and Partnership for Active Travel, Transport and Health (PATTH).

The report calls on local authorities, which have a public health remit and are responsible for improving the health of their communities, to ensure that town and city centres are designed to reduce the health harms of cars to their residents. It wants improved street design, better traffic management and greater investment in public transport which will both reduce congestion and pollution and are good for the local economy. The report reveals that people who arrive at shops on foot spend the most over the course of a week or a month.

Professor John Middleton, President of the Faculty of Public Health, said that 40,000 deaths each year in the UK are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution. “It is also evident that it is disproportionately the poorest of our communities which are most exposed and vulnerable to air pollution,” he said.

Prof Middleton calls for everyone in public health, local authorities and across the health and social care sector to work together to reduce the health harms of driving. “For the sake of our health now and generations to come, we need a change in culture so that walking or cycling becomes part of our daily routine, rather than spending hours sitting in cars.

“The Government’s commitment to address local air quality is welcome. Success depends on meaningful national action to reverse the increasing proportion of diesel vehicles in the national fleet, together with serious investment in public transport, walking and cycling. Clean Air Zones alone will not deliver this.”

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has welcomed the report saying that cleaning up the “toxic air” of London is one of his top priorities. “I am aiming to encourage people out of their cars by making cycling and walking far safer and easier, and ensuring public transport is affordable and efficient. There are some interesting ideas in this report and I hope the Faculty will respond to a consultation I have launched on my own hard-hitting action plan, which is designed to freshen our filthy air and protect the health of every Londoner.”

Professor Jonathan Grigg, of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “I fully support the Faculty of Public Health’s report on local actions to mitigate the health impacts of cars. Local measures that reduce the exposure of population, especially of vulnerable groups such as children, are of outmost priority given the widespread damaging effects of air pollution. The challenge is to ensure that these local initiatives really do reduce personal exposure – especially for individuals who choose to use active travel. We must also not lose sight of the importance of national policy such as encouraging drivers of diesel cars and vans to switch to less polluting vehicles.”

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