When It Comes to Air Pollution, the Tiniest Particles Might Be the Worst

When It Comes to Air Pollution, the Tiniest Particles Might Be the Worst AdvertisemENT By: Patrick J. Kiger When we think of air pollution, we usually think of smoke pouring out of smokestacks and the unsightly brown haze that hangs over many of the world’s cities, from Los Angeles to Beijing. When we think of […]

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When t Comes to r Polluton, the Tnest Prtcles Mght Be the Worst

By: Patrick J. Kiger

When we thnk of r polluton, we usully thnk of smoke pourng out of smokestcks nd the unsghtly brown hze tht hngs over mny of the world’s ctes, from Los ngeles to Bejng.

When we thnk of r polluton, we usully thnk of smoke pourng out of smokestcks nd the unsghtly brown hze tht hngs over mny of the world’s ctes, from Los ngeles to Bejng.

But n recent yers, scentsts hve found ncresng evdence of helth rsks from prt of air pollution tht we don’t see, nd tht sn’t yet regulted under federl r qulty stndrds. n ddton to vsble emssons, the burnng of fossl fuels nd other types of combustons crete vst qunttes of ultrfne prtcles — somewhere round thousndth of the wdth of humn hr — tht we nhle wthout even relzng t.

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Ultrfne prtcles come from n rry of sources, ccordng to Brt Ostro, former chef of r polluton epdemology for the Clforn Envronmentl Proteon gency, nd currently resercher t Unversty of Clforn, Dvs. They’re emtted from vehicles, especlly ones tht burn desel fuel, s well s smller gsolne-burnng engnes, such s the ones n lwn mowers nd leaf blowers. But other types of burnng — wood fres, burnng leves, secondhnd smoke from cgrettes, for exmple — lso produce ultrfne prtcles. So does cookng met on the stove n your ktchen.

Nevertheless, t’s chllenge to fgure out the extent of our exposure to ultrfne prtcles. Becuse the prtcles re so smll nd so trnsent — they quckly dsperse, or else cogulte nto bgger prtcles — they’re type of polluton tht s especlly dffcult to mesure, Ostro sys.

“Ultrfne prtcles re very hgh n concentrton next to rodwys, for exmple,” Ostro explns. “But f you go 300 to 500 yrds (274 to 457 meters) wy, the ultrfnes go down to lmost bckground levels.”

n recent yers, though, scentsts t Unversty of Clforn, Dvs hve developed sophstcted modelng methods tht combne sensng dt wth knowledge bout how chemcl processes nd meteorologcl condtons ffe the prtcles. Tht’s llowed them to pred concentrtons over severl yers, whch n turn mkes t eser to study the prtcles’ effe on humn helth.

Ostro ws the led uthor on groundbrekng study publshed June 1, 2015 tht combned such modelng wth helth dt on 100,000 mddle-ged femle techers nd dmnstrtors recruted from the Stte Techers Retrement System, nd found n ssocton between ultrfne prtcles nd deth from hert dsese. (Here’s press release tht summrzes the fndngs.)

Snce then, ths prl 26, 2017 study lso found long-term exposure to ultrfne prtcles round hghwys ssocted wth crdovsculr dseses nd hypertenson. nd Februry 2018 study n the journl Envronmentl Polluton suggests tht smply movng bus stop from 131 to 154 feet (40 to 50 meters) wy from n nterseon cn substntlly reduce trnst-users’ exposure to hgh levels of ultrfne pollutnts.

t my seem strnge tht somethng so smll could be dngerous. But becuse of ther sze, ultrfne prtcles hve n eser tme gettng nto lung tssue nd cusng nflmmton, s detled n ths 2003 nml study. Even bref mount of ultrfne prtcle exposure cn ncrese the llergc nflmmton tht mkes sthm worse, ccordng to ths study publshed July 5, 2010 by UCL reserchers.

But tht’s not the only worry. Ultrfne prtcles re so tny tht they cn penetrte the blood-brn brrer nd be bsorbed nto brn tssue. Recent reserch suggests possble lnk between the tny prtcles nd lzhemer’s dsese nd other forms of dement, s detled n ths 2017 Science magazine article. Scentsts lso hve found tht mce exposed to ultrfne prtcles erly n lfe hd chnges n ther brns tht bore resemblnce to those seen n humns wth utsm nd schzophren, ccordng to ths 2014 article n the journl Envronmentl Helth Perspeves.

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Despte ll tht, federl r polluton stndrds don’t yet set lmts for ultrfne prtcles. s spokesperson for the Envronmentl Proteon gency explns n n eml, “The EP currently hs Ntonl mbent r Qulty Stndrds (NQS) for fne prtcles (PM2.5) nd for corse prtcles tht re smll enough to be nhled nto the lungs (.e., PM10). These stndrds re bsed on strong scentfc evdence tht exposures to mbent prtcles n these sze rnges cn cuse hrmful crdovsculr nd resprtory effes. Gven uncertntes n the helth evdence for ultrfne prtcles, nd lmttons n the vlble montorng dt, seprte stndrd for ultrfne prtcles ws not estblshed n the lst revew of the PM NQS, completed n 2012. Ths decson n the 2012 revew ws consstent wth the dvce provded to the EP by the Clen r Scentfc dvsory Commttee (CSC).”

But Ostro sys there re some mesures tht people cn tke to prote themselves from ultrfne prtcles. f you hve preexstng condtons such s crdovsculr or resprtory dseses, t’s good de, for exmple, to lmt your exposure to emssons such s desel fumes, cr exhust nd ny sort of burnng bomss. nd even f you’re helthy, you’ll probbly wnt to vod such exposure s well.

f you see people runnng long mjor rodwy, tht’s probbly not good de,” Ostro cutons.

n study publshed n the journl Scence on Jn. 26, 2018, reserchers found tht some ultrfne prtcles — ones less thn 50 nnometers cross — hve the blty to ntensfy storms.

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When t Comes to r Polluton, the Tnest Prtcles Mght Be the Worst


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