Archive for the ‘Air pollution medical tests’ Category

Holiday Season first annual point – counterpoint babble

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

* POINT: The Ontario International Airport is worse than Los Angeles City Hall’s red-haired stepchild. It’s more akin to the deserted, forlorn cousin promised housing in a garden shed. Glad folks are just learning this.

- From the L.A. Times: “After three decades of steady growth and earning a Forbes magazine nod as one of the nation’s top “alternative airports,” Ontario International is now among the fastest-declining midsize airports in the country. A pillar of pride for the Inland Empire, which rode the housing boom to a colossal bust, the sprawling facility owned and operated by the city of Los Angeles lost a third of its 7.2 million annual passengers between 2007 and 2010. The airport is on track to lose an additional 200,000 this year — setting it back to 1987 levels, when Ronald Reagan was president and the Dow was below 3,000. Nationally, only Cincinnati is shedding travelers at a faster pace …”

* COUNTER-POINT: (A.K.A. first to the punch): my piece on this subject from way back when.

- “Thirty-six years ago, during the money-loathing Summer of Love, Los Angeles got control of the air at a bead-like price. For $1.2-million and future concessions, the city bought a postage-stamp airport in the dusty flatlands of the Inland Empire in the era before the subdivisions and chain-malls invaded. Though dry in detail, if not colonial in result, the 1967-transaction provided each side with something immediately useful. Los Angeles International Airport secured a backup landing strip for those nights coastal fog (or smog) socked in its runways. Ontario inherited a strapping big-city patriarch that could lure commercial jetliners to the scruffy, San Bernardino County outpost while chasing federal dollars to expand it. Ontario’s airfield was barely more than parched earth and booster dreams when L.A. came along. It had taken World War II training needs to convert the dirt runways there to concrete, and defense contractors after that to bulk up the facilities. The first passenger terminal, one converted from a hybrid chapel-theater-canteen, didn’t rise until the 1960s. It was bush league at best …”

* POINT: The cities of Glendale, Burbank and northwest Los Angeles have tried their level best to keep hexavalent chromium (chrome-six, “The Erin Brockovich chemical) under state standards by either diluting the tainted fluid with fresh suppies, shutting off compromised acquifers or just dumping the stuff into the Los Angeles River. Research in Glendale, meantime, is underway to figure out how to remove the industrial contaminant point blank. This is an enormous issue where the Cold War, environmental science, Superfund policies and municipal water management weave in and out of the water table pocked by decades of defense manufacturing (mainly Lockheed), chrome plating and other industrial work involving heavy metals. You just wouldn’t know it’s a crisis from the scant media coverage. Consider this short piece from the L.A. Times:

- “Although the City Council last week approved spending an additional $400,000 to continue research at two testing facilities — just two months after the council gave the green light to spend $550,000 in grant and state funding on more research — some city officials are getting antsy …”

* COUNTERPOINT: My article that launched a series and community hullaballoo about local chrome-six water contamination after I worked with the L.A. Times in the year-2000 exposing the problem. Sometimes, it seems like we all have dementia when it comes to remembering that there’s an unusually pernicious toxin infesting our water. Maybe it was the recession or terrorism that spurred us kick this can down the road? Or, environmental fatigue? Couldn’t be politics (insert laugh track) or the sheer magnitude of the issue.

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Update on air pollution health effects while driving. L.A. has been a cancer petri dish on this front since World War II.

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

But the Wall Street Journal chimes in with a pithy update.

” …  As roadways choke on traffic, researchers suspect that the tailpipe exhaust from cars and trucks—especially tiny carbon particles already implicated in heart disease, cancer and respiratory ailments—may also injure brain cells and synapses key to learning and memory.  

Columbia University’s Frederica Perera discusses the link between exposure to pollutants in the womb and mental impacts in children. Plus, how New York City – one of the most congested cities in the U.S. – is improving traffic flow.

New public-health studies and laboratory experiments suggest that, at every stage of life, traffic fumes exact a measurable toll on mental capacity, intelligence and emotional stability. “There are more and more scientists trying to find whether and why exposure to traffic exhaust can damage the human brain,” says medical epidemiologist Jiu-Chiuan Chen at the University of Southern California who is analyzing the effects of traffic pollution on the brain health of 7,500 women in 22 states. “The human data are very new …”

Lots of local scientists are working on this subject. Angelenos, in fact, are the oldtimers in this field. At one point, the raw threat from chronic, toxic smog was considered to be more of a cancer progenitor than cigarette smoking. Now we are learning more, especially about the effects of carbon molecules on neuro-biologoy. For a look waaaaay back, to 1940′s California when university doctors and researchers put their mind on the subject, read our critically acclaimed book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles.

Drivers beware. That tailpipe in front of you may have a say on your life-span.

Cap-and-trade is now California law

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

* We, here at Smogtown, have cast our doubts after a market solution to greenhouse gases, wondering about its practicality, its vulnerability to fraud and abuse and general public acceptance. It was no sure bet, either. Environmentalists wrangled ded over it, corporate lobbyists were committed to it, the courts weighed in, and a national cap and trade fell on its face during the recession. But it’s on the books now here on the West Coast so read up. From the L.A. Times

“The California Air Resources Board on Thursday unanimously adopted the nation’s first state-administered cap-and-trade regulations, a landmark set of air pollution controls to address climate change and help the state achieve its ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The complex market system for the first time puts a price on heat-trapping pollution by allowing California’s dirtiest industries to trade carbon credits. The rules have been years in the making, overcoming legal challenges and an aggressive oil industry-sponsored ballot initiative … Cap-and-trade is the centerpiece of AB 32, California’s historic climate change law that mandates a reduction in carbon pollution to 1990 levels by 2020. Beginning in 2013 the state’s largest carbon emitters will be required to meet the caps or buy credits if they cannot. A second phase of compliance begins in 2015 and is expected to include 85% of California’s emissions sources … The vote was closely watched by other states and, if the program is deemed successful, it will likely serve as a model for future markets. The U.S. Congress has rejected a similar national program. “If California gets it right, others will see it’s possible to regulate greenhouse gas emissions while protecting its economy and while fostering a new green economy and industry,” said Gary Gero, president of the L.A.-based Climate Action Reserve, a nonprofit that runs North America’s largest carbon offset registry. “People watch what California does and do emulate it. Future cap-and-trade programs are going to pick up a lot of the design features we are implementing here. You’ll see regional programs develop. They will put pressure on the federal government. It will send out ripples around the country …”

In our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, we detail Southern California’s middling success with the world’s first air pollution cap and trade and profile the woman who fleeced it. For more about L.A.’s experience, read Chip’s Op-Ed at newgeography.com

* In other news of the “no-duh” kind, scientists reaffirm that global warming is real. Supposedly, they are about to also reiterate the world is round. The Christiam Science Monitor, via MSNBC, lays it out.

“A new climate study shows that since the mid-1950s, global average temperatures over land have risen by 0.9 degrees Celsius (1.6 degrees Fahrenheit), confirming previous studies that have found a climate that has been warming – in fits and starts – since around 1900. Most climate scientists attribute warming since the mid-1950, at least to some degree, to carbon dioxide emissions from human activities – burning coal, oil, and to a lesser extent gas, and from land-use changes. The latest results mirror those from earlier, independent studies by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, the Hadley Center for Climate Prediction and Research in Britain, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). These previous efforts, however, came under fire from some climate-change skeptics who said they had detected serious flaws in the analytical methods and temperature records the three groups used …”

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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.

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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