Monthly Archives: November 2011

KQED Story Prompts Improved Health Alerts?

Children's park located under a freeway in Fresno.  (Photo: Sasha Khokha)

Children's park located under a freeway in Fresno. (Photo: Sasha Khokha)

Yesterday morning, KQED brought you Sasha Khokha’s report questioning how well the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District is protecting public health on poor air quality days.

About 10 hours later, the Valley Air District issued an air quality alert using significantly stronger language than it had used previously.

Coincidence?

A little background: Khokha reported that the Valley Air District’s public service announcements had focused on what people could do to reduce emissions, but had not alerted the public how to protect their health on poor air quality days.

For example, the District issued a PSA on September 29, 2011, a day when the air quality was in the “unhealthy for all” category. Among other things, the District recommended people walk or bicycle instead of drive their cars. Now, this is great for reducing emissions, but anyone who followed this advice could have harmed their lungs. Not exactly a great public health message.

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Asthmatic Kids at Risk in San Joaquin Valley

This post originally appeared in KQED’s NewsFix on November 1, 2011.

Water polo tournament at Fresno's Sunnyside High goes on, despite air quality so poor that school districts are supposed to cancel outdoor activities. (Photo: Sasha Khokha)

Water polo tournament at Fresno's Sunnyside High goes on, despite air quality so poor that school districts are supposed to cancel outdoor activities. (Photo: Sasha Khokha)

Today, KQED’s Sasha Khokha outlines how the lack of effective air monitoring policy in the San Joaquin Valley could be harming the people who live there. As she reports, a recent study from UCSF Fresno and CSU Fresno [PDF] finds a direct link between air pollution and asthma-related ER visits. The study found what researchers call a “linear association” between certain components of air pollution and asthma ER visits. In other words, as air pollution goes up, the likelihood of an asthmatic child heading to the ER goes up, too.

The San Joaquin Valley has some of the dirtiest air in the country and high rates of childhood asthma.

As air pollution goes up, the likelihood of an asthmatic child heading to the ER goes up, too.
 The culprits are two components of air pollution: ground-level ozone and particulate matter. Ground-level ozone can have corrosive effects on the lungs, decreasing lung function. Particulate matter are tiny particles, like soot.  The simple act of breathing carries these particles deep into the lungs where they stick and can cause breathing and heart problems.

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Clearing the Air on Climate and Smog

This post originally appeared on KQED’s Climate Watch blog on October 21, 2011.

Tourists snap pictures of a murky sunset in San Diego.  (Sandy Huffaker / Getty Images)

Tourists snap pictures of a murky sunset in San Diego. (Sandy Huffaker / Getty Images)

A major study released recently in Fresno details the direct link between higher levels of air pollution and asthma-related ER and hospital admissions. So, what’s that got to do with climate change? Plenty.

“There’s a division in the public’s mind between global warming and health effects of pollution,” says Dimitri Stanich of the California Air Resources Board.

In reality, there’s significant overlap. Some components of air pollution shown to have harmful warming effects on the planet are also harming people, especially children, right now.

Let’s start with ground-level ozone. Ground-level ozone is different from the ozone layer, which lies about 15 miles above the earth (not exactly ground level). The ozone layer shields us from most of the sun’s harmful rays. Ozone is good in the atmosphere but bad, in many ways, at or near ground level.

Some components of air pollution shown to have harmful warming effects on the planet are also harming people right now.
Ground-level ozone is not part of air pollution itself. Instead, it is formed by a complex chemical reaction starting with the nitrogen dioxide (NO2) component of air pollution. That chemical reaction is especially strong when the air is calm and the sun is shining (California’s Central Valley in the summer, anyone?). This stuff is terrible for your lungs.

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Steve Jobs “Think Different” Philosophy Included Approach to Cancer Treatment

Steve Jobs announces the availability of iTunes for PC computers in October, 2003. He was diagnosed with cancer the same month. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Steve Jobs announces the availability of iTunes for PC computers in October, 2003. He was diagnosed with cancer the same month. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

This post originally appeared on KQED’s NewsFix on October 7, 2011

Since Steve Jobs’ resignation as Apple CEO in August, many of the basic facts of his disease have been widely written about. Jobs had a rare form of pancreatic cancer, Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors. The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post both feature solid pieces with additional detail about this disease.

The American Cancer Society’s five-year survival rates for the more frequently diagnosed type of Pancreatic Cancer are bleak.  But for those afflicted with the rare type of this cancer Jobs had, survival rates are much higher.

For a moving obituary, the American Cancer Society’s Dr. Len Lichtenfeld had a surprising approach. He writes about Steve Jobs as a survivor.

 …his greatness is amplified by what he accomplished under the most difficult of circumstances. For here was a man who had an uncommon cancer that recurred and required a liver transplant. Here was a man who was failing in his health, yet had the fortitude to face every day as a new challenge, to do what he wanted to do, to accomplish successes that had never been accomplished before. Here was a man who embodied the drive and the spirit that so many cancer survivors possess every day of their lives, even when facing the ultimate moment as Steve Jobs faced today.

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