Archive for the ‘epidiemiology’ Category

Smogtown set for e-book for Kindle and other mobile devices August 23. It’s a helluva, brown story for a warming age.

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Click here at amazon.com and let the journey begin

Some reasons to download it:

* Named one of 2008′s best environmental books by Booklist magazine

* Awarded silver medals at The Green Book Festival and Independent Book Publishers (IPPY) Awards. Winner of the Green Prize for Sustainable Literature from Santa Monica.

* Reviews

“[A] remarkably entertaining and informative chronicle of the birth and—so far—inexorable evolution of smog… This book is just amazing, a gripping story well told, with the requisite plucky scientists (including Arie Haagen-Smit, a Dutch biochemist who was “the Elvis of his field”), hapless politicians, and a nebulous biochemical villain who just will not be stopped.” –Booklist (Starred review)

“The history of smog has never been so sexy” — Los Angeles Times

“Smog in all its hazy-and sometimes humorous-permutations … a zany and provocative cultural history.” — Kirkus

“Finished with a particularly powerful, forward-looking epilogue, this friendly, accessible history should appeal to any American environmentalist.”– Publishers Weekly

“… a meticulous chronicle of the city’s signature airborne grime and of the civic and social forces that emerged to stop it … … The story of Smogtown is that of a city vying against time to reconcile incommensurables … ” — Bookforum

“The narrative that emerges is more than a tale of a region and a populace besieged by smog; it is also a parable for a nation beset by environmental and social problems … (a) well-researched cultural history” — Slate

“Writing in a hip, lively style, …[An] intriguing social history of an environmental problem that won’t go away. Recommended.” – Library Journal

“A well-documented, highly engaging, and widely relevant account of southern California’s battle with “the beast,” as the authors lovingly refer to smog. … Smogtown is not your typical “green’s” diatribe against big business and weak government. No, Jacobs and Kelly are much smarter-and fairer-than that” — Sustainablog

* From the dust jacket description:

“The smog beast wafted into downtown Los Angeles on July 26, 1943. Nobody knew what it was. Secretaries rubbed their eyes. Traffic cops seemed to disappear in the mysterious haze. Were Japanese saboteurs responsible? A reckless factory? The truth was much worse–it came from within, from Southern California’s burgeoning car-addicted, suburban lifestyle. Smogtown is the story of pollution, progress, and how an optimistic people confronted the epic struggle against airborne poisons barraging their hometowns. With wit, verve, and a fresh look at history, California based journalists Chip Jacobs and William J. Kelly highlight the bold personalities involved, the corporate- tainted science, the terrifying health costs, the attempts at cleanup, and how the smog battle helped mold the modern-day culture of Los Angeles. There are scofflaws aplenty and dirty deals, plus murders, suicides, spiritual despair, and an ever-present paranoia about mass disaster. Brimming with historic photographs, forgotten anecdotes, and new revelations about our environmentally precarious present, Smogtown is a journalistic classic for the modern age.”

Nobody said clean air was free in the short term. They said just it was worth it in spades for future generations.

Friday, June 10th, 2011

By 2020, ozone-limiting regulations in the federal Clean Air Act enacted will have saved the country — wait for it — 230,000 lives and $2 trillion. Can we really afford to water down regulations when we net those types of gains? We don’t believe we can. Big Business disagrees in the continuation of a fight that’s been going on since L.A. first smog attack.

* From the Bloomberg story about lungs and politics.

“Cutting ozone pollution using the Clean Air Act will have saved $2 trillion by 2020 and prevented at least 230,000 deaths annually, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a report. Tougher emission restrictions adopted in 1990 helped avoid more than 160,000 premature deaths, 130,000 heart attacks, 13 million lost work days and 1.7 million asthma attacks last year, according to today’s report, which measured only the impact of amendments from 1990. By 2020, complying with the amendments would prevent 200,000 heart attacks, 17 million lost work days and 2.4 million asthma attacks, according to the report …”

* Speaking of the dangers of ozone emissions, Latinos are pressing the Obama Administration to keep the pressure on polluters as an environmental justice issue. From the L.A. Times:

“… EPA announced proposed ozone standards of 60-70 ppb in January 2010, but delayed implementing them and in December, said it would submit the issue to a scientific advisory panel. That panel since has endorsed the lower limits. The agency is slated to establish new standards in July. The George W. Bush administration had lowered the limit from 85 to 75 ppb. No urban area of California meets even the 1997 federal standard of 80 ppb. If states fail to meet federal standards, the government can withhold highway funding.
The Latino groups that signed the letter, from California, Texas and other states, are part of a growing environmental movement centered around some of the nation’s most polluted urban areas. Signatories included the Comite del Valle from Brawley, in California’s Central Valley, and the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California. Groups such as East Yard Communities in Los Angeles have been pushing for help with unhealthful air in their working-class neighborhoods, surrounded by freeways and large rail yards. In San Bernardino, air pollution authorities on Wednesday announced a major study of communities around large rail facilities that serve as a main inland hub of goods shipped across the U.S. The study will examine rates of cancer and asthma in those low-income communities …”

* An important Harvard study about traffic emissions has come out. Last year, America’s top 83 top urban areas saw 2,300 premature deaths and $18 billion in public health costs from motorists stuck in congestion. Particulate matter so fine it can penetrate the lung’s natural defenses and enter the bloodstream was a particular danger.

From the USA Today article

” …What the study says is when you are designing and evaluating (transportation) policies, you should take into account the pollution impacts, because they do matter,” says Katherine von Stackelberg of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, a co-author of the study. She says people at risk are those sitting in traffic and others exposed to the polluted air. Researchers evaluated premature deaths resulting from people breathing particulate matter. Previous studies have shown that motor vehicle emissions contribute up to one-third of particulate matter in urban areas. Researchers evaluated premature deaths resulting from people breathing particulate matter. Previous studies have shown that motor vehicle emissions contribute up to one-third of particulate matter in urban areas. “The report highlights the complete failure of elected leaders to adquately invest in new capacity for all modes of transportation,” says Matt Jeanneret, spokesman for the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, one of 29 groups that commissioned the study. “Sadly, traffic congestion in America can be summed up this way: Time lost, fuel lost — and now, lives lost …”

From lungs to the head: the inexorable path of smog through the body

Monday, April 11th, 2011

* Researchers at USC made news recently with their announcement that they discovered a correlation between microscopic air pollution particles and neurological conditions including Alzheimers. From the L.A. Times (and I encourage you to read the comments, too) blog:

“It is well known that air pollution from cars and trucks on Southern California freeways — a combination of soot, pavement dust and other toxic substances — can cause respiratory disease, heart attacks, cancer and premature death. Now, exposure to pollution particles roughly one-thousandth the width of a human hair has been linked to brain damage in mice, including signs associated with memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease, according to a USC study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. In a statement, senior author Caleb Finch, an expert on the effects of inflammation and holder of USC’s ARCO/William F. Kieschnick Chair in the Neurobiology of Aging, said “You can’t see them, but they are inhaled and have an effect on brain neurons that raises the possibility of long-term brain health consequences of freeway air.”

Of course, us Angelenos have been on the front lines of the smog-public health trenches since the mid-1940s. We detail the entire progression in our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles.

The first evidence that smog was unhealthy and not just a temporary misery came from mothers who noticed their children were afflicted with headaches, hacking coughs, distracted minds and a sort of spiritual torpor after exposure to the brown murk. Those doctors, though lacking today’s sophisticated equipment, soon developed a consensus that L.A. air pollution was a real threat to people’s pulmonary systems, especially among the aged and infirmed. Many doctors urged ill patients to flee the area.

One USC researcher said the region was “living in a giant cancer experiment.” Besides fears of massive cases of lung cancer (some believed it’d trigger more of it than cigarette smoking), physicians also noticed the hazy, ozone-laden air did a number of people’s tickers, causing tissue damage or igniting an irregular or elevated heart rates. Slowly, as the science improved in the 1950s and 1960s, researchers began noticing that smog was messing with people’s heads. Some Angelenos grew agitated and belligerent in smog, others became surly and even suicidal. Decades back, a top California medical official said Southern California’s noxious atmosphere was driving up admission into state mental hospitals. In a freakish aside, a small number of people suffered a smog-ignited syndrome called “globus hyperius,” an imaginary lump in the throat that can induce spasmadoic swallowing. 

It wasn’t until the 1990s that researchers drew connections between today’s mutated smog — one heavy on ultra-fine particulate pollution, much of it from diesel engines and proximity to freeways – neurological conditions like dementia and even autoimmune diseases like diabetes. Today’s mice are just confirming the episodic understanding that air pollution is far more harmful to certain people at more nuanced levels than we ever imagined.

This is a terribly important find for a tenacious urban condition of our own making.

Now, this is a big deal – California cementing its commitment to green energy

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

 

– From the L.A. Times story: “A mandate that California utilities increase their use of renewable energy sailed through the state Assembly on Tuesday and is headed for the governor’s desk. Environmental groups say the legislation is the most ambitious of its kind in the country. It would require the state’s electricity companies to provide 33% of power from renewable resources by the year 2020. State law now sets a 20% goal. Supporters made their case by invoking the nuclear plant problems in Japan and conflict in the oil-rich Middle East, as well as the struggling California economy: Environmentalists have said the mandate could create 100,000 jobs. The bill aims to lessen dependence on coal and natural gas in favor of wind, solar and geothermal energy. It would also protect ratepayers from large new costs, and “provides flexibility to utilities,” argued Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata).”

Very heartening news. Too bad it didn’t come a generation earlier.

– More on California and energy.

* It looks like California’s under-reported and provocative bid to run a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade will go forward after all once officials conduct further studies about alternative plans. Color us skeptical about market-based approaches after covering the Anne Sholtz case involving the AQMD, EPA, DOJ, and, yes, even the CIA, and hearing about Europe’s rampant cap-and-trade scandals. We’ll see.

* From the L.A. Times: “California’s effort to curb global warming, which was put on hold by a court decision, will be able to proceed on schedule once officials conduct a new environmental review, according to attorneys analyzing the case. A San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled that the California Air Resources Board failed to properly evaluate alternatives to the so-called cap-and-trade program, which would allow industries to purchase pollution allowances rather than cut their own carbon emissions. The court said that measures such as a carbon tax or direct regulation of greenhouse gases were not given enough consideration. Air board officials said Tuesday that they would meet with environmentalists who filed the lawsuit in an effort to narrow the scope of the court injunction, which is expected to be issued in about a week …”

* Wave energy and the future: a truly untapped source to meet our insatiable needs or a quick path to disrupt the marine ecosystem we need to live? Read it here. :”The waves off San Onofre have for generations beckoned surfers and sport fishermen to a wild stretch of coastline in the shadow of domed nuclear reactors. Now, an Orange County entrepreneur wants to tap the power of that legendary surf in a novel but highly controversial plan to build one of the nation’s first hydrokinetic wave farms …”

– For those convinced it’s no big deal to shave provisions of the Clean Air Act to shore up the wobbly recovery, take a read through these EPA-generated public health statistics from the Environment News Service. “Last year, the reductions in fine particle and ozone pollution from the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments prevented more than 160,000 cases of premature death, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates released Tuesday … By 2020, the benefits of reducing fine particle and ground level ozone pollution under the amendments will reach approximately $2 trillion while saving 230,000 people from early death in that year alone, the report concludes.”

In the year 2010, the reductions in fine particle and ozone pollution from the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments prevented more than:

  • 160,000 cases of premature mortality
  • 130,000 heart attacks
  • 13 million lost work days
  • 1.7 million asthma attacks

For more about the landlmark Clean Air Act, click here.

– Will the prolonged and alarming Japanese nuclear-plant crisis mean fresh opportunities for more exotic alternative energy ideas? Geothermal: get ready for your close up. LA Times Greenspace Link. Here’s my L.A. Times’ story on this general subject. And here’s my New York Times online Op-Ed that underscores how few Californians in supposedly America’s greenest state have largely eschewed solar power and our governmental hypocrisy.

– More about those Robert F. Kennedy photographs that my older brother took not long before RFK was assassinated in the kitchen of the old Ambassador Hotel nearly 43 years ago. L.A. Times Daily Mirror blog (note to self: type slower when commenting) and L.A. Observed, which produced a hysterical headline.

* For the record, my brother a couple of years ago emailed me these photographs and told me I could do with them what I pleased, as long as nobody stole the images. They sat idly on my hard-drive until I did a little file organizing recently and decided to post them. Both of us had completely forgotten about them, and so the idea we were seeking our 15 minutes — or 15 seconds in the blogosphere — of fame out of such a gruesome tragedy makes me want to laugh for about 15 hours. These were just a couple of poignant and significant photos taken by a then-21-year-old USC undergrad who stumbled upon one of his heroes. In broken record cadence, I believe the timing of the images pales next to the fact that Paul could get so close to a presidential candidate whose brother was assassinated in Dallas less than five years earlier!

Japan’s nuclear crisis: get educated, not hysterical.

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

* L.A. Times: Within days, nuclear radiation released from Japan’s damaged Fukushima reactors could reach California, but experts say the amount that makes its way across the ocean should pose no danger.

* Are the nuke plant workers on a suicide mission to cool the reactors before they all melt down? Chilling reading from the New York Times. ” … They crawl through labyrinths of equipment in utter darkness pierced only by their flashlights, listening for periodic explosions as hydrogen gas escaping from crippled reactors ignites on contact with air. They breathe through uncomfortable respirators or carry heavy oxygen tanks on their backs. They wear white, full-body jumpsuits with snug-fitting hoods that provide scant protection from the invisible radiation sleeting through their bodies …”

* America’s most vulnerable nuclear-energy plants are in places NOT named California. From MSNBC: ”What are the odds that a nuclear emergency like the one at Fukushima Dai-ichi could happen in the central or eastern United States? They’d have to be astronomical, right? As a pro-nuclear commenter on msnbc.com put it this weekend, “There’s a power plant just like these in Omaha. If it gets hit by a tsunami….” It turns out that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has calculated the odds of an earthquake causing catastrophic failure to a nuclear plant here. Each year, at the typical nuclear reactor in the U.S., there’s a 1 in 74,176 chance that the core could be damaged by an earthquake, exposing the public to radiation. No tsunami required. That’s 10 times more likely than you winning $10,000 by buying a ticket in the Powerball multistate lottery, where the chance is 1 in 723,145 …”

* Youtube clip on the after-effects of Chernobyl. So far, the situation in Japan is nowhere near as severe. Still, we must never forget what faulty design, human error and totalitarian rule conspired to ignite: the world’s worst atomic-energy disater. Caution: graphic images in this video.

The case of the curious engineer and the inexplicably functioning lungs of smog-bessoted mice

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Note to readers: one of the unexpected treats of running a blog derived from a book about a whopper of a subject is learning how the work provokes in-depth curiosity and contemplation among experts who know the subject far better than the authors do. Sometimes as a book-writer you can only broach and present an issue and have to move on without a complete examination of it, lest you drown in cascading details. But the scientific minded don’t think that way, thank goodness. They never rest until they get their answer.

Ross Caballero is one of those people who read Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles and sunk his teeth into an important medical study deserving fuller attention than the book or newspapers at the time afforded it. Tapping his intellectual curiosity, he sought out to learn the results of a well-publicized study examining how lab animals reacted to L.A. air pollution – a topic that first provoked his interest decades earlier driving on the Hollywood Freeway — and discovered a counterintuitive, head-scratching conclusion just like the old researchers once did. The health consequences of air pollution fluctuate widely from organism to organism. Don’t underestimate the effects of genetics and biological defenses. And never assume anything.

So, it’s with pride and excitement that we present our first guest blogger, who not only made his patient pursuit informative. He made it entertaining and compelling. You can contact Ross at rosscaballero@cs.com

I recently read the book, Smogtown, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  The book discusses animal exposure studies done in the 1960s, which were conducted to assess adverse health effects of exposure to smog, and provides a footnote citing a Los Angeles Times article describing the then-underway tests.

That piqued my interest and set me off on a journey to learn more about the testing.  What I discovered is very interesting, and I want to share it with you.

But first, who am I, and why would I have any interest in this subject?  My name is Ross Caballero.  I am a retired engineer having worked in a variety of engineering fields: aerospace, civil, environmental, and chemical.  I spent the last approximate 20 years of my 40 year career working on issues dealing with air pollution, and I grew up in the Los Angeles area when smog was really, really bad.  One of the test sites mentioned in your book where animal exposure studies were conducted was in buildings located in the median of the Hollywood Freeway near Vermont Ave.  I drove by that facility many times in the 1960s and knew that some kind of animal studies were underway but never knew the details.  I was always intrigued as to “What’s going on in there?”  And yet I can never remember any newspaper article about what the test results were.  After reading your book, I decided to answer my question.

After spending a lot of time looking through the Los Angeles Times historical archives I was able to locate an additional seven articles that described the animal exposure tests.  All of the articles discuss the studies as either as-proposed or now-underway.  No article discusses any results.  Some of the articles mention names of researchers involved in one way or another with the study, most of whom were faculty members or researchers associated with the USC School of Medicine.  Searching the Los Angeles Times archives for other articles containing those names came up empty.  Looking at the USC School of Medicine’s Norris Library on-line data bases, I was unable to find any reference to any of the subject faculty/researchers concerning this study.

I was flummoxed.  This was a really big study.  It involved testing thousand of animals.  It had to have cost a huge amount of money.  It got a lot of publicity as it was planned and as it was being initially implemented.  Then, nothing after May 1964.  This story disappeared off the radar.  Why?

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