Entries in Air Pollution (5)


LA Tops ‘Dirty Air’ List for 13th Time in 14 Years

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- Thanks to the Clean Air Act, a lot of people in the United States are breathing a little easier. The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2013″ report, which analyzed ozone and particle levels in the air from 2009 to 2011, showed that the nation’s air quality is overall much cleaner, especially compared to a decade ago.

Still, the report found that more than 131.8 million people – 42 percent of the nation – live where pollution levels often make breathing a hazardous activity.

Nearly 120 million people live in areas with unhealthful levels of ozone, putting them at risk for premature death, aggravated asthma, difficulty breathing, cardiovascular harm and lower birth weight, the report revealed. The actual number who breathe unhealthy levels of ozone is likely much larger, since this number doesn’t factor people who live in adjacent counties in metropolitan areas where no monitors exist.

Car-obsessed Los Angeles once again tops the list for the worst ozone pollution in the country for the 13th time in the 14 years the report has been issued. Californians, in general, tend to inhale the dirtiest air: seven of the top-10 most air polluted cities on the list are in that state.

Houston, Dallas and Washington, D.C., round out the top 10 for dirtiest air.

Although the worst offenders tended to be repeats from the 14 previous reports, there were a few surprises.

“One of the concerns we saw in this year’s report was the increase in unhealthy ozone days in the middle part of the county,” noted Janice Nolen, assistant vice president of national policy for the American Lung Association. “This smog spike in smaller cities in particular may be related to increased heat in the summer and to the growth in oil extraction.”

Four cities – Bismarck, N.D., Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla., Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Fla., and Rapid City, S.D. – were noted for having the cleanest air overall, meaning they reported no days at the unhealthy level for ozone, short-term particle pollution or year-round particle pollution.

The majority of cities that topped the list for lower ozone pollution, lower particle pollution or both, tended to be in the western part of the country in states like Colorado, Arizona and Utah. But Bangor, Maine, enjoyed low levels for both year-round and short-term particle pollution, and Burlington, Vt., topped the list for lightest ozone levels and year-round particle pollution.

One lone city from the Deep South, Muscle Shoals, Ala., was singled out for low levels of ozone and short-term particles.

Even in the cities with the filthiest of air, there are some glimmers of fresh oxygen through the smog. Fifteen of the 27 cities with the most ozone pollution improved their air quality in the previous year. And 13 of the country’s most smog-polluted cities experienced their best year yet.

Unfortunately, even with the improvements, people living in the most pollution-choked areas are still breathing air that reaches dangerously unhealthy levels.

The full report can be found here.

Copyright 2013 ABC New Radio


The Indoor Pollution Threat You May Not Have Known Existed

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors, but have you ever thought about the purity of the air that you are breathing as you sit inside your home, office or even a restaurant?

Indoor air quality is considered to be the fourth greatest pollution threat to Americans by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Even if you can never see, and can’t always smell, the chemicals inside your home, they are there.  It comes from cleaning products, dry-cleaning chemicals, plastic products like computer keyboards, furniture, paint, carpeting and more.

With the help of the Greenguard Environmental Institute, part of Underwriters Laboratories, ABC's Good Morning America set out to investigate exactly what kind of threat indoor air pollution posed to the average person by setting up a child’s nursery with a new crib, changing table, rocker and decorations.

Seven days of testing later, the results were in.  The air in our new nursery contained 300 different chemicals  -- compared to just two right outside the same house.  The EPA confirms that indoor air is usually more polluted than outdoor air.

The rocker in the nursery contained seven times California’s recommended level of formaldehyde, a chemical known to cause cancer.  The crib mattress gave off more than 100 different chemicals, including industrial solvents and alcohols. Meanwhile, the paint used on the nursery’s walls contained chemical gases at five times the recommended limit.

Yet, none of the products used in the GMA testing were in violation of any law. Fortunately for consumers, there are easy, practical steps you can take today to minimize you and your family’s exposure to your home’s chemicals.

Look for certifications.  Certifications for low chemical emissions are in their infancy, but the more people who buy and request certified products, the more there will be.  Greenguard, part of Underwriters Laboratories, certifies furniture, paint, and other office and household products.  Scientific Certification Systems is another certifier.  And, for carpet, you can look for the “Green Label Plus” created by the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI).

Choose unscented products.  Many manufacturers make both scented and unscented versions of their products.  Always choose the unscented ones.

Avoid pressed wood.  Pressed wood and wood composite materials are manufactured using strong glues that often contain volatile organic compounds.

Unwrap.  When you buy new furniture, unpackage it outdoors and let it sit outside for at least one week to air out.  Similarly, make sure to unwrap your dry-cleaning outdoors before bringing it into your house.

Ventilate.  Try to paint in the spring and fall when you can comfortably leave your windows open for ventilation.  Same goes for new furniture or cabinetry.  Keep your windows open for a couple of weeks, if possible.

Paint first.  It’s a good idea to paint your home first, then ventilate for several days before installing new carpeting and other textiles.  That’s because these products can absorb chemicals from the paint and re-release them into the air over time.

Buy used.  Chemical emissions are at their highest when a product is brand new, so one solution is to buy used furniture that has already off-gassed in somebody else’s house.  You should look for furniture built after 1978, when lead paint was banned.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Air Pollution Tied to Premature Births, Study Finds

Comstock/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- Pregnant women who live in areas with high levels of air pollution caused by heavy traffic could be at increased risk for premature births, according to a new study.

Researchers led by Michelle Wilhelm, an assistant professor in residence at the UCLA School of Public Health, found that Southern California women exposed to traffic-related air pollution had a 30 percent higher risk of pre-term birth.

Wilhelm and her colleagues looked at 100,000 births that occurred in Los Angeles County within five miles of stations used by the state to monitor air quality.

Using birth records and specific exposure information provided by the state, they determined that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) -- chemicals found in soot -- were associated with the highest risk of premature births.  They found that traffic was the biggest source of PAHs.

"Even at air pollution levels in Los Angeles which are much lower than in previous decades, we still see adverse birth outcomes that we attribute to traffic-related air toxics," said Dr. Beate Ritz, a co-author and professor of epidemiology at the UCLA School of Public Health.

"This research fits with a whole body of literature over the past decade that show problems between a woman's exposure to pollution and pregnancy and subsequent health of the baby," said Dr. Philip Landrigan, director of the Children's Environmental Health Center at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.  Landrigan was not involved in the California research.

The study also found that other chemicals, such as ammonium nitrate and benzene, were also associated with an increased risk of premature birth, but to a lesser extent.

Babies and children exposed to certain pollutants are known to be more susceptible to health problems.

"It's known that when pollutants get into pregnant women and their baby, they disrupt the metabolism of the baby," said Landrigan. "Infants exposed to air pollution are at higher risk for asthma, respiratory infections and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)."

The authors said other factors could be contributing to the risk of premature births in these women.  The women living in the affected areas were more likely to be Hispanic, born outside the U.S., lower-income and have government health insurance.  Because they used birth data, the researchers were unable to control for the effects of smoking as well.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Do You Breathe 'Toxic' Air? Group Lists 20 Worst States

Tom Brakefield/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The people of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida breathe the air most polluted by power plants, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The report, which was based on data from the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory, ranked the 20 worst states – the so-called "Toxic 20" – based on air pollution from power plants. Here's the list from worst to, well, less bad:

  1. Ohio
  2. Pennsylvania
  3. Florida
  4. Kentucky
  5. Maryland
  6. Indiana
  7. Michigan
  8. West Virginia
  9. Georgia
  10. North Carolina
  11. South Carolina
  12. Alabama
  13. Texas
  14. Virginia
  15. Tennessee
  16. Missouri
  17. Illinois
  18. Wisconsin
  19. New Hampshire
  20. Iowa

According to the report by the private non-profit group, power plants are the single largest industrial source of toxic air pollution in 28 states and the District of Columbia. In Pennsylvania, airborne toxins from coal- and oil-burning plants account for 82 percent of the air pollution.

The report did not assess air pollution from non-industrial sources, which could explain why smoggy California didn't make the cut.

Metals emitted by power plants, such as nickel, cadmium and mercury, have been linked to respiratory illness, cancer and birth defects.

The EPA estimates that reducing pollution by levels proposed in the "Mercury and Air Toxics" standards, expected to be finalized in November, could save as many as 17,000 lives and prevent more than 12,000 hospital visits every year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Air Pollution Makes Controlling Asthma Difficult, Study Finds

John Foxx/Thinkstock(VILLEJUIF, France) -- Air pollution is known to increase the risk of developing asthma, but French researchers found that it also makes controlling it more difficult.  

Researchers at INSERM and CESP Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health surveyed 481 people about their asthma symptoms and compared that data to information about local levels of ozone, nitrous oxide, and particulate matter -- all factors that contribute to poor air quality.  The survey results showed that levels of ozone and particulate matter were strongly linked to poorer asthma control, with long-term exposure increasing the risk of having uncontrolled asthma by 69 percent and 35 percent, respectively. 

Therefore, the authors conclude that “both ambient O3 [ozone] and PM10 [particulate matter] concentrations jeopardize asthma control in adults.”

These findings were published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio