Smog alert ahead

Summer will soon be here and that can mean high levels of air pollutants in our air, specifically ozone and small particles, commonly known as smog.

Meteorologists declare “Air Quality Action” days when they project that weather conditions are conducive for unhealthy air pollution. In 2012, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) called 12 “action days” for the Susquehanna Valley.

We should heed those warnings. Recent scientific studies conclude that short-term exposure to unhealthy air pollution can have significant adverse effects on pregnant women, children, the elderly and even the general population — especially those with pre-existing conditions such as asthma.

Short-term symptoms resulting from breathing high levels of ozone and fine particulate are chest pain, coughing, nausea, throat irritation, and congestion. These pollutants also aggravate bronchitis, heart disease, emphysema, and asthma — and can increase risks of stroke.

Children, senior citizens, and those with asthma or other respiratory problems are urged to limit outdoor activities when an action day is predicted.

The quality of the air we breathe is a fundamental component of our overall health. The physiological effect of short-term ozone exposure is being unable to inhale to total lung capacity. Small particles, or PM 2.5, can be especially dangerous because they can travel deep into human tissue. Scientific studies over the last two decades have shown that exposure to high levels of PM 2.5 can raise the incidence of heart and pulmonary disease, cancer, infant mortality, low birth-weight babies, and even impaired cognitive function.

Air Quality Action days are often declared when there is little wind, and when the amount of ozone or particles in stagnant air could exceed federal health standards.

The DEP monitors local and regional air quality. Local television and radio stations alert the public to an Air Quality Action day prediction. Check your newspaper’s websites as well. The Clean Air Board of Central Pennsylvania also monitors pollution levels at its website, and posts notices when DEP declares an Air Quality Action day. Go to:

On Air Quality Action days, the public can take simple, voluntary actions to help reduce the chances of creating even more health-impairing pollution. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends 10 steps:

1. Instead of driving, share a ride, take public transportation, walk or bike.

2. If you must drive, avoid excessive idling or jack-rabbit starts, and try to consolidate errands.

3. Don’t refuel your car, or only do so after 7 pm.

4. Avoid using outboard motors, off-road vehicles, or other gasoline powered recreational vehicles.

5. Wait to mow your lawn until late evening or the next day. Also, avoid using gasoline-powered garden equipment.

6. Use latex paints instead of oil-based paints, solvents, or varnishes that produce fumes.

7. If you are barbecuing, use an electric starter instead of charcoal lighter fluid.

8. Limit or postpone your household chores that will involve the use of consumer products.

9. Conserve energy to reduce energy needs.

10. Keep your car well maintained to limit excess emissions.

As more scientists and public health officials have studied air quality, more links have discovered between pollution and illness. Our local monitoring and notification systems work like other public information systems that warn of danger and possible threats to our health. They work to protect us, and it is, therefore, wise to pay attention to them.

submitted to Sentinel by Thomas Au

Carlisle Air Quality Hourly Updates

After many months of maintenance work, the Clean Air Board’s air quality monitor is back on line.  Go to the Sentinel webpage to check current readings for particulate matter. 

Clean Air Board Community Meeting, March 7, 2013, 7 pm

“Looking Forward to Clean Air”

CAB will look at new developments under the federal Clean Air Act and under state regulations.  Arleen Shulman, former air resources planning chief at the state Department of Environmental Protection will speak to the board.

This meeting will be held at the Second Presbyterian Church, 528 Garland Drive, Carlisle, PA 17013, on March 7,  at 7 pm.   Join us for a discussion of this important topic.

Diesel soot is a major source of black carbon in the atmosphere

Burning Fuel Particles Do More Damage to Climate Than Thought, Study Says

The tiny black particles released into the atmosphere by burning fuels are far more powerful agents of global warming than had previously been estimated, some of the world’s most prominent atmospheric scientists reported in a study issued on Tuesday.
The particles, which are known as black carbon and are the major component of soot, are the second most important contributor to global warming, according to the recent study.

EPA sets new standard on airborne soot

The Clean Air Board applauded the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to set a  stronger national air quality standard on fine particulate matter (PM2.5), also known as soot - one of the nation’s most lethal air pollutants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set limits on these airborne microscopic particles, following the findings by independent scientists that this pollutant causes premature death at levels well below what was considered safe.

The EPA tightened the limit, called the national ambient air quality standards, for the annual average level of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) to 12 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) from the outdated standard set in 1997 of 15 µg/m3.  “We have been waiting for this update of the national standard for a long time.” said Thomas Au, Clean Air Board president.  “The public health studies supports strengthening the annual standard. Letting the public know where the air is dirty and dangerous is the first step to improving our health.”

For more info: <a href="

Scientific Studies Support New Look at Air Quality Standards

EPA is right to revise small-particle pollution standards 

Published: Friday, June 29, 2012, 5:00 AM

By Tami Davis Biddle and Thomas Y. Au
When we look back on photos, film and other imagery from the mid-20th century, we are often struck by the prevalence of cigarettes. Americans smoked; many smoked heavily. Smoking cigarettes was not only considered acceptable, it was considered appealing, attractive and cool. Then we learned better.

Scientific studies began to pile up more and more evidence, from the 1960s through the 1980s, indicating that smoking was directly linked to all kinds of negative health outcomes, most notably cancer. Public information, including government-led campaigns, helped us see the light.

In the second decade of the 21st century a similar ground-swell of awareness is developing about the air around us. This groundswell, too, has developed gradually and is just now beginning to gain a head of steam. Once again it pertains directly to our health, and once again it pertains directly to the air we put into our bodies. This time, however, the focus is on air pollution and “fine particulate matter,” which is invisible and small enough to penetrate readily into human body tissue.

From the 1990s, scientific evidence has been piling up regarding the wide array of negative health effects of air pollution. And that evidence has pointed a particularly telling finger toward fine particulate matter, or PM 2.5 for short. It is well-established that exposure to air pollution increases the incidence of respiratory illness, including bronchitis and asthma.

Recent studies, including one run by the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, have drawn direct links as well between high levels of combustion-generated pollutants and high rates of infant mortality, low birth weight and cancer. In recent years, a direct link has been established between air pollution and cardiovascular illness. This link has been confirmed repeatedly in studies by scientists around the world. This problem is of concern in central Pennsylvania, where small-particle pollution is high.

If all this wasn’t enough to give us pause, researchers have begun to find strong linkages between PM 2.5 and two other dreaded health problems: stroke and cognitive degeneration. A recent study run by Gregory Wellenius of the Brown University Center for Environmental Health and Technology revealed that on days when concentrations of traffic pollutants go up, so, too, does the risk of stroke.

The increased stroke risk was highest within 12 to 14 hours of exposure to PM 2.5 and was most strongly associated with traffic-related pollution. Regarding the latter finding, the authors noted that “Experimental studies in humans and animals have shown that exposure to concentrated ambient PM 2.5 can induce increases in blood pressure and heart rate and reductions in heart rate variability within this time frame.”

What is perhaps most striking about this study is that PM 2.5 exposure increases the risk of ischemic stroke at levels below those currently considered safe under U.S. regulations. This observation prompted Dr. Rajiv Bhatia of the San Francisco Department of Public Health to suggest that ambient air quality standards should be reviewed. Bhatia argued that improved human control of PM 2.5 is “technically feasible, but will require increased efforts to assess exposure at the community level, more stringent and creative regulatory initiatives, and political support.”

In a study with equally daunting ramifications, Jennifer Weuve of the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found women with higher levels of long-term exposure to course and fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) had significantly faster declines in cognition than those with less exposure to pollutants. Weuve and her colleagues found evidence that fine particulate can penetrate the brain through the nasal passages. Her study followed 19,409 women in the U.S. between ages 70 and 81 for about a decade, looking at cognitive changes every two years.

All of these studies have significant ramifications for national health policy and regulatory policy in the United States, suggesting stronger efforts to control fine-particle pollution might be needed to protect the general population. These studies should be in the forefront of the public debate as the Environmental Protection Agency considers whether to raise the standards for fine particulate.

Tami Davis Biddle and Thomas Y. Au are members of the Clean Air Board of central Pennsylvania. 


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