Study: Air Pollution is Deadly

Study: Air Pollution is Deadly

A study recently published in the journal PLOS Medicine confirms what we already know: air pollution is hazardous to human health. Specifically, the authors found that fine particulate matter was responsible for more than 30,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2015, lowering national life expectancy by approximately 0.15 years. 

What is fine particulate matter?

Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5), or particle pollution, includes microscopic droplets of solids and liquids that are suspended in the air. It is emitted from industry, power plants, transportation, and other sources. These particles are very harmful to health, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. When a person inhales particulate matter, it can lodge deep in the lungs and contribute to major respiratory illnesses. Fine particulate matter can also get in the circulatory system and wreak havoc on the cardiovascular system.

What did they study? 

The team of researchers used “vital registration and population data,” nationally and at the county level, from 1999 to 2015 (excluding Alaska and Hawaii). Their data included information about sex, age, and underlying cause of death, and county of residence. The authors looked at per capita income, community poverty levels, race, education, smoking rates, and weather data as well. They used this information to model mortality and life expectancy loss due to exposure to PM2.5 and deaths due to cardiorespiratory diseases. They were also able to estimate benefits of pollution reductions since 1999. 

What did they find?

It should come as no surprise that fine particulate matter concentrations declined from 1999 to 2015 as a result of more stringent air quality standards. Life expectancy increased during the same period as well. The researchers found that even though concentrations had declined, PM2.5 emissions still resulted in thousands of deaths in 2015 — 15,612 deaths in women and 14,757 in men.  

The greatest life expectancy loss was in the Los Angeles area and in Southern states (i.e., Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Alabama). The researchers found greater impacts in counties with lower income and higher poverty compared with wealthier counties, as well as disproportionate meaning air pollution has a disproportionate impact on poor communities. In other words, research continues to show that not only is air pollution deadly but it impacts economically and racially disadvantaged communities more.

The American Lung Association’s 2019 State of the Air report ranked Jefferson County, Ala., as the 14th worst in the U.S. for year-round particle pollution.

More Strong Evidence Linking Air Pollution to Dementia

More Strong Evidence Linking Air Pollution to Dementia

Often, when I read scary articles about air pollution and the frightening effects it has on your and my health, I experience a lot of anxiety…and then proceed to do nothing. I was curious about why this happens and why I (a person who is involved in environmental causes) go to a place of inner resistance. Aka, a place of “ignore, ignore, ignore.”

As I reflected on my reaction, I found that it’s because I often feel so powerless in the situation. The system we live in is currently set up in a way that produces air pollution, and I’m just the product of that system. Can I really help that? And the system isn’t improving quickly either. In fact, it’s doing the opposite with Trump’s administration rolling back environmental protection. I can feel so helpless. Will reading another scary article change this or will it just deepen my feelings of powerlessness?

As I read the recent article about how leading scientists are getting more comfortable with stating that air pollution causes dementia, instead of just suggesting that it might, I had the paralyzing reaction. But at least this time I understood why I was having it and I could do something about it. I got myself unstuck by thinking about the reasons why I fight for clean air. And this empowered me to continue to strive to live a life, to vote, to volunteer, to support the movement for clean air.

The first reason why I support clean air is to ensure and improve the quality of human life.

If you haven’t already seen the documentary Alive Inside, you should watch it. Now. It will change you. Dementia is a horrifying disease that strips you of your personhood. Seeing the patients regain their identities through music, even if just for a few minutes, will touch you. And it will remind you how quickly and easily this disease makes you lose everything that makes you, you. Knowing that air pollution is linked to this makes me want to stand up and keep fighting for clean air. Supporting environmental protection laws works. For example, it was reported that “enforcing the EPA’s stricter air quality standard likely resulted in 140,000 fewer people living with dementia by 2014.” [1]

The second reason why I support clean air is to protect our ecosystem and all the inhabitants.

Just like humans, our ecosystem takes a hit from air pollution. Since our health is affected by poor air, then the health of our water, plants, pets, animals, reptiles, fish, insects – you name it! – is also affected. How can it not be. It wouldn’t make any logical sense. But if seeing the effects of dementia in humans somehow doesn’t move you, or you don’t feel connected to the health of the ecosystem that supports our lives, there is another reason to support clean air.

The third reason why I support clean air is to stop losing money.

You might be wondering what I mean by this. It’s simple. When humans age in a healthy way, we don’t spend as much money. Remember how it was likely that there were 140,000 fewer people living with dementia by 2014 because of enforcing the EPA’s stricter air quality standard? Well, that is equivalent to $163 billion dollars saved [1]. If we don’t have clean air, we are losing billions of dollars. So besides the fact that air pollution costs us our personhood and the health of our ecosystem, poor air also costs us a whole lot of money.

So the next time you feel overwhelmed by a scary article on air pollution, think about the reasons why you support clean air. And let that empower you to keep fighting for this beautiful cause.

Till next time.

Wishing you joy, safety and ease,
Anna

References: [1] https://www.wired.com/story/air-pollution-dementia/

Gasp Comments on JCDH Ambient Air Monitoring Network Plan for 2019

Gasp Comments on JCDH Ambient Air Monitoring Network Plan for 2019

Every year Gasp comments on the Ambient Air Monitoring Plans put out by ADEM and JCDH. These plans contain any changes that either ADEM or JCDH plan to make to their ambient air monitoring network in that year. The plans are subject to public comment and EPA must approve the Plans.

Where ambient air monitors are placed and for what pollutant they monitor is crucial to the regulators’ and public’s ability to understand their air quality. For example, when Birmingham has “ozone days,” this information is being collected from the various ozone monitors throughout JCDH’s ambient air monitoring network. Gasp has been commenting on these plans the past several years not only because of the crucial role ambient air monitors play in informing us about air quality, but also because a more robust, intentionally strategic ambient air monitoring network is a critical component of establishing everyone’s right to breathe healthy air.

According to a recent article, the gains the U.S. has made in improving air quality have decreased over the past 2 years. “There were 15% more days with unhealthy air in America both last year and the year before than there were on average from 2013 through 2016, the four years when America had its fewest number of those days since at least 1980.” The American Lung Association ranked Birmingham 14th worst city for year round small particle (PM2.5) pollution.

This year, Gasp is asking for more monitoring. Specifically, for monitors to address the Acipco-Finley neighborhood’s concerns about emissions from scrap metal recycling facilities in their neighborhood and for a dedicated fenceline SO2 monitor for ABC Coke. These are very specific requests that could not only give a clearer picture of air quality in these communities, but such information gives residents the power to make their communities and air healthier.

Information is power. A robust ambient air monitoring network, with monitors placed in the right places (short version: the “right places” are in hot spots of pollution, not far away from them), gives people critical information about the quality of the air they breathe. This is why weighing in on JCDH’s Ambient Air Monitoring Network Plan for 2019 is a crucial part of advancing healthy air and environmental justice.

‘What’s Up With that Sherman Concrete Plant?’

‘What’s Up With that Sherman Concrete Plant?’

Recently, there has been a lot of buzz about Sherman Industries relocating one of its concrete batch plants from Five Points South to Five Points West. This news broke after the company requested an air pollution permit from the Jefferson County Department of Health on April 14. Around the same time it was revealed that the Southside site was proposed to be rezoned for a mixed-use development by Birmingham POD, LLC, which Bham Now reports is connect to a Denver company called Residential Ventures.

Residents requested a public hearing from the Department of Health on the air pollution permit and also urged City Council to exercise its authority to re-zone the property in Five Points West as specified in the Community’s 2015 Western Area Framework Plan. The Department of Health will hold a public hearing on June 6 at 5:30 p.m. at the Birmingham Crossplex.

We’ve been getting tons of questions about this from the media, residents, and leaders. So we thought it would be a good idea to answer a few of the most common questions we’ve been getting.

What is a concrete batch plant?

Concrete is made from water, cement, and aggregate (such as sand, crushed stone, slag, fly ash). A batch plant — or batching plant — is just the name of a facility where those ingredients are combined to make concrete.

What’s the main air pollution concern with a concrete plant?

The primary pollutant of concern is particulate matter, or PM. Also called particle pollution, PM is made up of tiny solid particles and liquid droplets in the air. PM comes in many different shapes and sizes and can include everything from acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, and metals, to microscopic bits of soil, pollen, and dust.

Concrete batch plants have a reputation for creating significant amounts of fugitive dust, which consists of tiny crushed up bits of things like sand, silica, aggregate, cement, and metals. Fugitive dust is not emitted from the manufacturing process itself but is rather distributed into the air through other means. In other words, it’s not what you would see coming out of a smoke stack, but instead what you’d see blowing around the property — hence the term “fugitive.” According to the EPA, fugitive dust accounts for 92% of the coarse particle pollution (PM10) in the United States.

What’s a “minor source permit”?

A typical concrete batch plant in the United States has to obtain what is called a “minor source permit” for its air emissions. In Jefferson County, those permits are issued by the health department. Under the Clean Air Act, facilities that emit more than 100 tons per year of any single criteria air pollutant (such as particle pollution), more than 10 tons per year of a single air toxic, or more than 25 tons per year of any combination of air toxics have to get a “major source permit.” Sherman Industries’ plants do not meet those thresholds but do have emissions; therefore, they must get is a minor source permit.

Where does fugitive dust come from?

Some of the most common sources of fugitive dust at concrete batch plants include transfer of the aggregate material to the site; truck and/or equipment loading; aggregate storage piles; and traffic to, from, and near the site.

Does a “minor source permit” mean there’s nothing to worry about?

Air pollution is leading environmental risk factor for premature death and disease in the world. Because particulate matter is microscopic, it can be inhaled into your lungs and can negatively affect the heart, lung and even brain health. Research has shown that particle pollution is linked to neurological diseases like dementia, Parkinson’s Disease, and multiple sclerosis. It also stunts the cognitive development of children and can permanently damage the brain. Exposure to air pollution is linked to stroke, heart disease and other cardiovascular health issues. As little as 15 minutes of exposure to particle pollution can result in an increase in blood pressure. Finally, The most obvious symptoms of air pollution exposure come from the respiratory system. Asthma, COPD, lung cancer, and numerous other lung diseases are known to be directlly linked to breathing dirty air. There is no safe level of exposure to particle pollution. 

Who is the most at risk?

In general, the people most at risk to the harmful effects of air pollution are children, seniors, pregnant women, and people with preexisting health troubles like asthma, COPD, and diabetes. In addition to those vulnerable groups, research has consistently shown that people of color and low-income families are disproportionately burdened by air pollution. In fact, Birmingham ranks in the top 15 urban areas with the largest disparity in air pollution exposure between whites and nonwhites, placing an undue burden on poor communities and people of color. Clean, healthy air is a right, and one’s skin color or socioeconomic status shouldn’t determine their opportunity to live a healthy life.

What can I do?

Attend the Department of Health hearing on June 6 mentioned above and voice your concerns about Sherman’s draft air permit. Talk to your City Councilor about what they’re doing to proactively prevent things like this from happening again, especially without consulting with the community first. If you’re opposed to the re-location, call Sherman and ask them to consider a different location not in the heart of a densely populated residential area.

By the way, how do I report air pollution concerns in Birmingham?

Whether you see a plume of smoke or smell something, you should always report that instance of air pollution. If you have air pollution concerns in your community and you live in Jefferson County, this is how to get those complaints on the record:

  1. If you see air pollution (for example, a plume of black smoke) take pictures. Not only is this evidence of the problem, but it helps identify the type of pollution and source of the problem you’re dealing with.
  2. Submit a complaint to the regulatory agency. In Jefferson County, you report air pollution to the Department of Health (JCDH). When you submit your complaint, be very specific. Include the date and time you noticed the air pollution. If you experienced a smell, describe it as best you can. (For example, did it smell like tar or rotten eggs?) The best ways to report pollution to JCDH are:
    • Call 205.930.1276 or 205.930.1230
    • If you have a picture, email it with your complaint to: [email protected]
  3. After you report the pollution to JCDH, tell us. We will do our best to help you investigate and solve these issues. Share your complaint with us by calling 205.701.4272 or emailing Haley Lewis at [email protected]. You can also share your complaint at gaspgroup.org/airwatch.

Clean Air, Healthy Kids: What I Learned as an Intern

Clean Air, Healthy Kids: What I Learned as an Intern

Over the past spring semester I have had the privilege of working as Gasp’s ASBA Public Health Intern for 2019. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the staff and learning about the impact that air pollution has on our everyday health. When I first started, I had no knowledge of how poor the air quality is in the Birmingham Metropolitan area.

While learning the ins and outs of my responsibilities as an intern, I was also learning important information that contributes to the quality of our air. A source that I personally found helpful is Airnow.gov. It provides the local air quality conditions and posts important announcements regarding the air quality index (AQI). Every day the Air Quality Index (AQI) tells you how clean or polluted your outdoor air is, along with associated health effects that may be of concern. The AQI translates air quality data into numbers and colors that help people understand when to take action to protect their health.

As Gasp’s Intern, my project focused on the Clean Air, Healthy Kids initiative. More than 120 million people in the United States live in communities with unhealthy levels of air pollution. Impacted the most are children and teens, older adults, people with heart or lung problems, and people who are active outdoors. The more we know about the quality of our air, the more we can do to protect the health of those most at risk. The goals of the Clean Air, Healthy Kids initiative are to:

  • Teach students in the greater-Birmingham area about how air pollution affects human health.
  • Reduce exposure to ground-level ozone, particulate matter, and other harmful air pollutants.
  • Amplify scientific knowledge and interest among Birmingham-area schoolchildren.
  • Inspire future generations of scientists and environmental advocates in the greater-Birmingham area.
  • Nurture relationships with educators, parents, and communities.

Another aspect of this initiative is the EPA’s Air Quality Flag Program. Schools and organizations all across the country raise a flag every day alerting their communities to the quality of the air they breathe. The color of the flag matches the color of the Air Quality Index. For example, if the flag is green, the air quality is good; if the flag is red, the air quality is unhealthy. Because these flags increase awareness of air quality, hundreds of thousands of people are better equipped to make decisions that help their exposure to air pollution.

Another element is using digital air monitors for citizen science. We want to work with schools to install a stationary Purple Air PA-II-SD sensor outdoors at the school’s location. This allows students to observe the air quality data and give them hands-on experience with the science of air monitoring. This program not only educates children on what they can do to improve our air quality, it equips students with greater scientific literally and greater ability to interpret air quality data.

In addition to the EPA flag program and digital air monitoring, Gasp offers worksheets and educational activities, classroom presentations, an Air Quality Widget for schools websites, and workshops for teachers!

My overall experience as an intern has been very beneficial and has opened my eyes in a brand new perspective. My exposure to Gasp and what they advocate for will carry into my professional career as a future healthcare provider.

The Consequences of My Consumerism

The Consequences of My Consumerism

One of the hard parts for me about our consumerism driven world is that it is often so easy for me, a privileged middle class white female, to not feel the consequence of my own actions.

We’ve known for a long time that minorities, specifically Black and Hispanic Americans, tend to live in neighborboods with more air pollution. But it turns out, that they aren’t the ones who are creating most of that air pollution, it’s more likely that people like me are the ones who are creating it!

A study that lasted over six-years has found that there is a racial gap between those who causes air pollution and who breathes it:

“While we tend to think of factories or power plants as the source of pollution, those polluters wouldn’t exist without consumer demand for their products.

The researchers found that air pollution is disproportionately caused by white Americans’ consumption of goods and services, but disproportionately inhaled by black and Hispanic Americans.” [1]

So even if I am not personally feeling the consequences of me buying and throwing away a single use coffee cup, it is negatively impacting the physical health of another human. Knowing that my consumerism does have consequences, even if I personally can’t feel them immediately (though eventually, I personally believe air pollution will catch up with all of us), changes things for me.

Here are some changes that I’ve made to improve the way that I consume goods and services and you can too:

I carry with me and use a reusable water bottle. Sip by Swell, the pink one in the photo, is my favorite! It’s easy to drink out of, doesn’t leak and isn’t too big. And you can often find it on sale at Target for $12.49! Another thing is I ask for ceramic mugs when I’m at coffee shops.

I bring my own grocery bags instead of using the plastic ones. A reusable bag is a great thing to buy when you are travelling as a souvenir for yourself. You’ll use it all the time and remember the great trips you’ve taken!

I try to repair before throwing something away and buying a new replacement. This vacuum works great but the end of the cord broke off so going to take it in for repair rather than throwing it away (and will probably save some $$ too).

A great resource that I have found is a YouTube channel called Exploring Alternatives. Check out their video on 12 Cheap & Easy Tips for Reducing Your Waste.

Per usual, let’s take a few deep breaths together.

In through the nose for four counts, 1…2…3…4…

Hold your breath for four counts, 1…2…3…4…

Exhale through the mouth for six counts, 1…2…3…4…5…6…

Repeat one more time.

Till next time.

Wishing you joy, safety and ease,

Anna

References:

[1] https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/03/11/702348935/study-finds-racial-gap-between-who-causes-air-pollution-and-who-breathes-it


Anna Vantsevich is a volunteer for Gasp and an advocate for healthy air and environmental protection. To learn more about how you can volunteer with us, visit gaspgroup.org/volunteer.