air pollution

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Turn Off Your Truck: Central Valley Teens Campaign to Cut Emissions

Theresa Moreno, 15, talks to a trucker about strategies to reduce pollution. (Alice Daniel/KQED)

Theresa Moreno, 15, talks to a trucker about strategies to reduce pollution. (Alice Daniel/KQED)

At the intersection of I-5 and Highway 41 lies Kettleman City, a frequent stop for big-rig truckers. But drivers often leave their trucks idling while they have a meal, and residents worry about the resulting air pollution. As part of our first-person health series “Vital Signs,” we hear from two people: Theresa Moreno and Maricela Mares-a la Torre, a community organizer with Greenaction. She trains young people to talk to truckers about air pollution. Mares-a la Torre begins:

What we find is that a lot of the truckers that are stopped up here at the junction, they’re going into the restaurants, they’re hanging out, checking their email, eating their lunch, and they’re letting their trucks idle because supposedly, they don’t want the air conditioning to turn off. But that’s against the law.

We’ve trained our youth to go out and talk to truckers about idling and diesel emission safety. We try to go out in pairs just because it makes you a little braver if you’re with somebody, and truckers can be, you know, a little bit gruff. Continue reading

Can Air Pollution Make Children Fat?

(Jeff Swenson/Getty Images)

(Jeff Swenson/Getty Images)

By Chris Richard

Studies have linked air pollution exposure, especially exposure to pollution from congested roadways, with serious health conditions ranging from asthma, to heart disease, to cancer, to low birth weight.

Now a research team at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine has received funding to investigate whether children living near busy roadways are more prone to obesity.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the federal Environmental Protection Agency recently awarded $7.8 million to the medical school’s Southern California Children’s Environmental Health Center to fund research by over the next five years.

Scientists will conduct new studies and analyze existing data on whether and how roadway pollution may make children obese. They’ll also study metabolic abnormalities linked to air pollution from roads that might increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Continue reading

Air Pollution Standards Mean Truckers Must Retrofit or Upgrade — Soon

California Air Resources Board field representative Barry Pratt (right) questions Canadian trucker Henry Gustof, left, as a CARB team inspects trucks for compliance with clean air rules at a weighing station north of Los Angeles. Gustof’s engine met CARB standards. (Chris Richard/KQED)

California Air Resources Board field representative Barry Pratt (right) questions Canadian trucker Henry Gustof, left, as a CARB team inspects trucks for compliance with clean air rules at a weighing station north of Los Angeles. Gustof’s engine met CARB standards. (Chris Richard/KQED)

By Chris Richard

Every time Bloomington dump truck operator Ruben Garcia pulls up at a job site, he finds himself caught in the same conversation: “What are you going to do next year?”

Not everyone has a good answer.

“If we can clean up these fleets, then we will definitely have a positive impact on public health.”
Truckers in the Port of Oakland grabbed headlines recently when they held a demonstration at Oakland City Hall, demanding an extension to the January 1st  deadline to upgrade their engines to meet California pollution standards. They also want additional state subsidies to help them meet the cost. Meanwhile, general freight and construction truck drivers face a separate January deadline to start replacing their vehicles or install filters that can cost as much as a second-hand truck. That rule applies to most of the big rigs on the state’s roads. It’s an especially heavy burden for small operators.

“It’s like telling the person who works in an office that they’ve got to tear down the office because the outside of the office building doesn’t work well with the environment.” he said. “Those trucks are our offices. That’s how we make our living.” Continue reading

Can Air Pollution Cause Asthma in Kids? How About Autism?

(Getty Images/Thinkstock)

(Getty Images/Thinkstock)

We all know air pollution is not great for your health, but two new studies this week stressed just how bad it can be for children, infants and the developing fetus. Exposure to air pollution at a young age, these studies showed, can lead to an array of long-lasting health problems, including asthma and autism.

It’s not just that polluted air can, say, trigger asthma attacks. Now, researchers are finding that exposure to air pollution may actually cause some diseases.

“We’re discovering some of the long-term effects of this air pollution: things like lung development in kids,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

“Communities should be informed of what they’re breathing.” — Paul Cort, Earthjustice
A study led by UCSF found that African American and Latino infants living in communities with high automobile exhaust are more likely to develop childhood asthma than those living with less pollution. This is significant because minority communities are more likely to live near congested roadways.

In California, African Americans and multi-racial people have some of the highest rates of asthma, according to the CDC. But rigorous scientific studies that examine just how the lungs of minority children develop when swamped with car exhaust have been rare. Continue reading

EPA Study Explains Link Between Smog, Heart Problems

By Bernice Yeung, California Watch

Nine of the ten regions with the most ozone pollution are in California. High ozone has now been linked to health problems. (eutrophication&hypoxia/Flickr)

Smog has been linked to heart problems and even death, and new research by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency begins to explain why.

Researchers found that healthy young adults who have been exposed to ozone – which is a major component of smog – experience physiological changes that could be linked to heart ailments in vulnerable populations, such as elderly people with cardiovascular disease. Additionally, the study “provides a plausible explanation for the link between acute ozone exposure and death,” lead author Robert B. Devlin said in a statement.

The study has special implications for Californians, who are exposed to some of the highest ozone levels in the country.

Of the 10 regions in the country with the most ozone pollution, nine are in California, with Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside topping the list, according to the American Lung Association.

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Can Air Pollution Contribute to Dementia, Too?

By Susanne Rust, California Watch

(Mark H. Anbinder: Flickr)

(Mark H. Anbinder: Flickr)

It’s well established that dirty, sooty air is no good for your lungs and probably not great for your skin. But new research indicates it can damage your brain, too.

A study in the journal of the Archives of Internal Medicine shows that air pollution accelerates cognitive decline in women.

And with a new federal report showing Southern Californians are at the highest risk of death due to air pollution, this study adds to the growing body of grim evidence showing air pollution and healthy bodies don’t mix.

“We keep learning about more adverse effects (from pollution) than we thought possible,” said Jean Ospital, health effects officer with the South Coast Air Quality Management District, who was not involved with the current research.

“I’m not sure I find these results surprising,” he said, “but I’m also not sure I would have expected them if you’d asked me 10 years ago.” Continue reading

Quick Read: Diesel Truck Pollution in West Oakland Plummets

Diesel trucks in West Oakland. (Photo: Xan West)

Diesel trucks in West Oakland. (Photo: Xan West)

West Oakland residents have long been plagued by polluted air that comes from living near a huge port and three freeways. Rates of asthma and other illnesses are high. In early 2010, the Port of Oakland implemented a program to replace and retrofit the diesel trucks that rumble in and out of the neighborhood to comply with new state laws to reduce pollution.

Researchers at U.C. Berkeley measured emissions before the program started and again in mid-2010, just months after it went into effect.

The researchers found a dramatic change, just in those few months. The Berkeley Transportation Letter reports that “after the first phase of the emission control program took effect in early 2010, black smoke emissions were reduced by about half. NOx emissions also dropped by 40 percent.”  NO(nitrogen oxide) is a key contributor to smog.

Read the entire story here.

Building Houses Near Transit Is Good; But What About Air Pollution?

(Ordinary Grace: Flickr)

(Ordinary Grace: Flickr)

California has embarked on a landmark effort to reduce greenhouse gasses.  As part of that work, local jurisdictions are busy spotlighting zones for housing infill and transit-oriented development. Infill sounds good, right? Let’s avoid further suburban sprawl and direct people to mass transit, reducing greenhouse gasses.

Not so fast.

Here’s the problem: the state Air Resources Board has evaluated air pollution risk and identified swaths of urban areas that create public health hazards because of diesel truck traffic or other pollution.

Call it the irony of unintended consequences. The housing development areas overlap with the communities with high air pollution in too many places in the Bay Area. It looks like we’re on a road to reduce greenhouse gases while increasing public health risks.

That’s where a study today from the Pacific Institute is critically important. It has lots of colorful maps and detailed information that provide tools to cities and counties to consider when planning new housing.

Here’s a starting point in San Francisco County. The blue priority development area is almost completely encircled by an area the Air Resources Board says has health risk from toxic air pollution.

San Francisco map shows "Priority Development Area" located almost completely inside an area of concur to the state Air Resources Board. (Map: Pacific Institute)

San Francisco map shows “Priority Development Area” located almost completely inside an area of concur to the state Air Resources Board. (Map: Pacific Institute)

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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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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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