Posts Tagged ‘UCLA’

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.

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

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?


EPA to the rescue, right, and alarming news about particulate matter

Thursday, June 18th, 2009


From the MSNBC story about the asbestos situation in Montana, where the government declared, for the first time, a public health emergency. If you read our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, you’ll see how close Southern California was for asking for that same designation, even if the EPA was decades from being created.

“… Asbestos contamination from a now-closed vermiculite operations near Libby has been cited in the deaths of more than 200 people and illnesses of thousands more. Vermiculite is used to make insulation material but the ore found in Libby was eventually found to be contaminated with a toxic form of naturally-occurring asbestos …

Miners carried vermiculite dust home on their clothes, vermiculite once covered school running tracks in Libby and some residents used vermiculite as mulch in their home gardens …”

Here’s another recap of what’s happening with a renewed federal effort in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, where the mining of uranium ore on Najavo lands “left a legacy of disease and death.”

“The federal government plans to spend up to $3 million a year to demolish and rebuild uranium-contaminated structures across the Navajo Nation, where Cold War-era mining of the radioactive substance left a legacy of disease and death.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its Navajo counterpart are focusing on homes, sheds and other buildings within a half-mile to a mile from a significant mine or waste pile. They plan to assess 500 structures over five years and rebuild those that are too badly contaminated …”

Finally, in our last item of environmental news catchup, comes this health study by USC, UCLA and the California Air Resources Board that shows particulate matter drifts signifcantly and dangerously farther than once assumed.

“Environmental health researchers from UCLA, the University of Southern California and the California Air Resources Board have found that during the hours before sunrise, freeway air pollution extends much further than previously thought.

Air pollutants from Interstate 10 in Santa Monica extend as far as 2,500 meters — more than 1.5 miles — downwind, based on recent measurements from a research team headed by Dr. Arthur Winer, a professor of environmental health sciences at the UCLA School of Public Health. This distance is 10 times greater than previously measured daytime pollutant impacts from roadways and has significant exposure implications, since most people are in their homes during the hours before sunrise and outdoor pollutants penetrate into indoor environments …”

Chip talking smog and L.A. culture at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA

Sunday, April 26th, 2009


To watch the clip from C-SPAN’s Book TV, click here and scroll forward to 5 hours, 3 minutes and 20 seconds. The panel, devoted to Los Angeles’ unknown and forgotten history and moderated by USC history professor William Deverell, took place on Saturday, April 25 on the UCLA campus.

Here’s the Times’ coverage of the panel from the L.A. Times Jacket Copy blog.

It was astonishing event and quite the high. We had probably 300 people in a jam-packed lecture hall, and my two co-writer and our moderator were outstanding. What else would we expect?

I was also able to promote and sell my other book, Wheeling the Deal: the Outrageous Legend of Gordon Zahler, Hollywood’s Flashiest Quadriplegic, in addition to Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, which was the reason I was invited on the panel. If Smogtown has my lungs, existentially that is, Wheeling the Deal holds my heart.

Smogtown authors on Jon Wiener show on KFPK (90.7 FM) yesterday: beware, as he noted, the “Dutchman.”

Thursday, April 16th, 2009


You can hear the entire interview on KPFK by clicking here and then searching for Smogtown. Or you can go to the station’s podcast center here. Wiener, a noted writer and documentary maker (think The U.S. Versus John Lennon) asked piercing questions, with a particular focus on corporate-tainted science and pollution-induced illness. Bill did great. Chip, for some reason, perhaps sleep deprivation, stumbled a bit in aBushesque way.

Incidentally, Jon will be moderating a climate change panel that will include Bill at the upcoming Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on Sunday, April 26 on the UCLA campus in West Los Angeles. Chip will be on a different panel — one devoted to Los Angeles “unknown history” — on Saturday, April 25.

For your reading pleasure, may we present these selected articles:

* Our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, made another book recommendation list, this time for Earth Day. We’re flattered. (Kauai News)

* U.S. bracing for a drop in gasoline demand. (Wall Street Journal)

* L.A. City Hall teaming up with USC, UCLA and Caltech on environmental issues. This echoes our smoggy past. (L.A. Times)

* The new way of moving around cities. Three wheels up! (New York Times)