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From the Townsend Letter
December 2006


Web Page Potpourri
Health Impacts of Air Pollution
by Marjorie Roswell

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Soot = PM2.5
The symbol PM2.5 refers to particulate matter that is 2.5 microns in diameter or smaller. (This is commonly called "soot.") The federal standard for PM2.5 measured over a 24-hour period is currently 65 micrograms per cubic meter of air. This standard will soon be reduced to 35 µg/m3. The standard over an annual average basis is 15 µg/m3.

Selected Air Pollutants That Affect Respiratory Function
Small particulates (soot)
• Sulfur dioxide (SO2)
• Ozone (O3)
•Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
• Carbon monoxide (CO)
• Lead (Pb)
• Pollen • Radon

Health Impacts of Air Pollution
The Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi, India offers a primer on the health impacts of air pollution on its EduGreen site.

Health and Clean Air Newsletter
I encourage you to read this superb newsletter. The homepage describes best: "Each year air pollution claims upwards of 50,000 lives in the United States alone, but this and other information too often fails to make its way out of the pages of scientific journals and into the hands and minds of ordinary citizens to whom it is vitally important. The
Health and Clean Air Newsletter is our attempt to make this information available to readers ranging from the heads of parent-teacher associations to reporters, without sacrificing accuracy."

Rachel's Democracy & Health News
#95 – Urgent Action Alert: EPA Setting Deadly Air Standards
#131 Fine Particles – Part 1: The Dangers of Incineration
#132 Fine Particles – Part 2: Incineration's Tiny Byproducts Aggravate Asthma, Bronchitis
#134 Fine Particles – Part 3: Federal Standards Allow Disease
#136 Fine Particles – Part 4: Harm To Humans: Solid Evidence
#373 Invisible Killers: Fine Particles
#374 Asthma: Prevention May Be the Only Cure
#774 – The Revolution, Part 3: Ultrafines
I am a long-time reader of Rachel's Democracy & Health News, formerly called Rachel's Environment & Health News. Some of Peter Montague's Rachel's columns – going back to the 1980s and 1990s – still rank among the most compelling content on the health impact of airborne fine particles (soot). Dr. Montague explains key concepts, summarizes scientific papers, and offers detailed references. When you tell people that "The federal standard for particulate matter is not adequate to protect children," or that "air pollution is killing roughly 60,000 Americans each year," you'll be equipped to inform them that the sources are Brigham Young and Harvard University researchers.

Health and Economic Impacts of Air Pollution (100 pages; 800KB .pdf)
This site features publications from many countries on the health and economic impacts of air pollution.

Clean Air Trust
This site has not been current for a few years, but it's still a font of good information on the Clean Air Act.

National Library of Medicine
On the day that I write this column, the "Latest News" reads as follows:
• Polluted Air Might Increase Stroke Risk
• Years of Breathing Dirty Air Ups Women's DeathRisk
• Air Pollution Linked to Lung Cancer
• Air Pollution Harms Healthy Kids' Lung Function
• Study Suggests New Link Between Air Pollution and Infant Deaths
I doubt the news about air pollution is going to be any better any time soon. The question is what are we doing to ensure healthful air for our citizens?

EPA Cuts Soot Level Allowable Daily in Air: Industry and Activists Criticize New Rules
EPA Ignores Advice for Annual Limits on Tiny Soot:
Science Panel Had Urged Tighter Rules, Citing Health Effects
"Both Sides"
In September, the EPA announced it would lower the daily allowable limit of 24-hour soot exposure. That sounds like good news, but scientists at EPA also recommended lowering the annual soot limit – and that recommendation was ignored. Note how the same EPA ruling is headlined quite differently in two major papers! While The Washington Post headline makes the reader think it is basically good news, the San Francisco Chronicle headline tells the important story that the Environmental Protection Agency's own science panel was ignored in determining the EPA air quality ruling. The Post story gives the final quote to a Georgia County Commissioner concerned about the "detrimental impact on economic development." He says of soot, "I don't think it's affecting health in my community." David Roberts writes on The Huffington Post blog about The Washington Post coverage, noting that reporting "both sides" actually can bias the truth.

Court Rejects Bush Administration Plan to Gut Key Clean Air Act Safeguard
The Court's Ruling (163KB)
States Sue Federal Government to Protect Clean Air Act
We need to be ever-vigilant of efforts to roll back health protections. In March of this year, a circuit court struck down administration regulations that would have exempted many power plants from using the highest quality pollution control equipment. Looking back on the press release issued three years earlier by the dozen states bringing the lawsuit, I'm struck by the words of Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. He said: "This rollback is a presidential pardon for polluters who have defied the law year after year. Our court challenge will stop this illegal effort to repeal the Clean Air Act by dictatorial edict. The rollback is probably the single worst environmental policy decision by any administration ever. It leaves the administration without a fig leaf of credibility on environmental issues." Along similar lines, Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly said, "This new rule is an unjustified assault on citizens' rights to breathe clean air. We are not going to sit by quietly and allow the energy interests in this country to receive special treatment while so many of our children and elderly are needlessly suffering from respiratory problems that are, in essence, brought on by bad environmental policy." The Attorney Generals involved in this winning suit are our national leaders in maintaining health-protecting environmental law.

The Ehrlich-tric Power Grid (Jan. 2007: Complete link no longer works.)
My state – Maryland – passed the Healthy Air Act this year. There were all sorts of political shenanigans: electric company lobbyists were ghostwriting legislative recommendations signed by environmental officials, and the Governor even locked his office on the last day of the session so the legislation couldn't be submitted on time. The Baltimore Sun exposed this, and I suppose the Governor was embarrassed into signing the bill. A local illustrator captured how the regulatory agencies are "wired to give utility companies what they want." Through lots of hard work, the advocates for cleaner air won passage. The law mandates power plant reductions in emissions of SO2, NOx, Mercury, and carbon dioxide.

Clean Air Act Issues in the 109th Congress (94 KB)
The Congressional Research Service does a marvel-ous job of summarizing the issues facing Congress. If you have trouble understanding some of the finer points in this 18-page report on Clean Air Act issues, go ahead and ask questions of the clean air advocacy groups. If, in your conversation, you hear people mention "Knocks and Socks" note that they are actually referring to oxides of Nitrogen (NOx) and Sulfur (SOx).

American Lung Association – State of the Air: 2006
Of all the mainstream health organizations, I find the American Lung Association to be one of the most progressive. They do good work. I entered my zip code in their "How's your air" lookup, and I'm not surprised that my area (in Baltimore, Maryland) gets a failing grade in both annual and 24-hour particle pollution.

Two great resources on this site include the Air Pollution Primer on Laws and the Emissions Calculator.

Air Quality Index – Local Forecasts & Conditions
Air Quality Index (AQI) – A Guide to Air Quality and Your Health
Frequently Asked Questions
AirData Report
Smog: Who Does It Hurt?
I encourage all health providers to check out this content. You can learn how the Air Quality Index (AQI) is determined, and you can find out the AQI for your city or one closest to you. You can create maps of "Non-attainment" areas. The map-making resource is slow, so patience is rewarded.

California Asthma Public Health Initiative – Home Environmental Assessment Tools
This page offers helpful tools for parents and practitioners to monitor exposures to pets, pests, mold, dust mites, and smoke. Of course, what's always missing from all these home assessments is a page for assessing levels of air pollution determined by public policy. What are the maximum levels allowed? And how many days was the neighborhood out of compliance for these standards? Perhaps if our checklists included these questions, it would remind people to get active in cleaning up air policy.

National Center for Environmental Health
Air Pollution and Respiratory Health
The National Network Implementation Plan (NNIP) (71 pages; 1.26MB .pdf)
The CDC's National Environmental Health Tracking Program:
The Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) National Center for Environmental health works with a wide variety of audiences, including some providers, to address the environmental causes of disease.

The Environmental Impacts of the World Trade Center Attacks
Environmental Impact of 911 Attacks
After the fall of the World Trade Center towers, workers and tenants were assured by the EPA administrator that Manhattan's air was safe. Actually, the air was full of soot and other toxic contaminants, as fires continued to burn for months.

Toxic Trailers: Tests Reveal High Formaldehyde Levels in FEMA Trailers (456 KB .pdf)
When hurricane victims were given FEMA trailers last year in the wake of the hurricanes, a number of the trailer dwellers fell ill. The trailers were tested for formaldehyde, and more than 90% of them had levels deemed unsafe by the EPA.

Area's Immediate Reading (AIR)
Consider outfitting yourself with a portable device to measure ambient pollution. In New York, humans carry these devices. In California, carrier pigeons do! As the birds fly, they create a map of air pollution around them.

Marjorie Roswell
3443 Guilford Terrace
Baltimore, Maryland 21218 USA


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