Study says area air pol­lu­tion cut­ting life­spans

Merced Sun-Star (Saturday) - - Community - BY STUART LEAV­EN­WORTH sleav­en­[email protected]­

Peo­ple could add years to their lives in Cal­i­for­nia and other smog-plagued parts of the world if author­i­ties could re­duce par­tic­u­late pol­lu­tion — soot from cars and in­dus­try — to lev­els rec­om­mended by the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, a new study re­ported Mon­day.

No other large U.S. city would ben­e­fit more than Fresno, which has soot con­cen­tra­tions at roughly twice the WHO guide­lines. Fresno res­i­dents would live a year longer if the re­gion could meet the health or­ga­ni­za­tion’s rec­om­mended lev­els of ex­po­sure, ac­cord­ing to Mon­day’s study by the En­ergy Pol­icy In­sti­tute at the Univer­sity of Chicago.

The av­er­age Merced res­i­dent could add about seven months to their life, while Los An­ge­lenos could add eights months. The av­er­age Sacra­mento res­i­dent would add nearly three.

Merced’s air qual­ity is of­ten sim­i­lar to Fresno’s, ac­cord­ing to Heather Heinks, com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager for San Joaquin Val­ley Air Pol­lu­tion Con­trol District.

“Over­all, it’s fairly sim­i­lar across the board,” she said. “There’s prob­a­bly a (me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal ben­e­fit) that you guys are closer to the delta.”

The north­ern part of the state usu­ally gets more rain, wind and cooler weather than places like Fresno and the com­mu­ni­ties south of it, she said.

In re­cent weeks, mil­lions of Cal­i­for­ni­ans have been chok­ing on high lev­els of par­tic­u­lates, due to smoke from rag­ing wild­fires. This week’s study doesn’t ac­count for that but in­stead fo­cuses on ev­ery­day lev­els of soot and fine par­ti­cles, pro­duced largely by ve­hi­cle ex­haust and other burn­ing of fos­sil fu­els. World­wide, this ex­po­sure re­duces av­er­age life ex­pectancy by 1.8 years, com­pa­ra­ble to the im­pacts of smok­ing cig­a­rettes, ac­cord­ing to the study’s au­thors.

“While peo­ple can stop smok­ing and take steps to pro­tect them­selves from dis­eases, there is lit­tle they can in­di­vid­u­ally do to pro­tect them­selves from the air they breathe,” said Michael Green­stone, an eco­nomics pro­fes­sor and di­rec­tor of the En­ergy Pol­icy In­sti­tute.

Mon­day’s study demon­strates the health ben­e­fits world­wide of clean­ing up the world’s most smog­plagued re­gions, where an es­ti­mated 5.5 bil­lion peo­ple live.

But cut­ting pol­lu­tion to WHO-rec­om­mended lev­els will not be easy. In agri­cul­tural-heavy ar­eas like Merced or Fresno, a 50 per­cent re­duc­tion in par­tic­u­lates would re­quire much more ag­gres­sive emis­sions con­trols on cars, trucks, agri­cul­tural equip­ment and oil and gas op­er­a­tions — reg­u­la­tions re­sisted by in­dus­tries.

At is­sue is what is known as “par­tic­u­late mat­ter 2.5,” or PM 2.5 — par­ti­cles so fine they are just 3 per­cent the di­am­e­ter of a hu­man hair. Un­like larger par­ti­cles, this type of air pol­lu­tion can lodge deep in a per­son’s re­s­pi­ra­tory sys­tem and con­trib­ute to lung dis­ease, strokes, heart dis­ease and other ail­ments.

In heav­ily pop­u­lated coun­tries such as In­dia and China, auto emis­sions and smoke from coal and wood burn­ing have cre­ated the high­est con­cen­tra­tions


of PM 2.5 on Earth. Ac­cord­ing to the En­ergy Pol­icy In­sti­tute, peo­ple in In­dia would live 4.3 years longer on av­er­age, if that coun­try could lower pol­lu­tion to the WHO guide­lines. Peo­ple in China would live 2.9 years longer on av­er­age.

To es­ti­mate im­pacts on life­span, the in­sti­tute re­lied on a pair of peer-re­viewed stud­ies co-au­thored by Green­stone that quan­tify the re­la­tion­ship be­tween par­tic­u­late pol­lu­tion and ex­pected longevity. The in­sti­tute used that data to de­velop what it calls an “Air Qual­ity Life In­dex,” so peo­ple can read­ily re­view the long-term health im­pacts of air pol­lu­tion in dif­fer­ent parts of the world.

Across the United States, cities and states have a strong record of re­duc­ing soot lev­els in the air, Mon­day’s study notes. Be­tween 1970 and 2016, par­tic­u­late pol­lu­tion de­clined by 62 per­cent na­tion­wide, largely be­cause of cleaner ve­hi­cles and new re­quire­ments for scrub­bers and emis­sions con­trols on power plants and in­dus­tries.

But not all ar­eas have seen cleaner skies. Fresno’s am­bi­ent con­cen­tra­tion of par­tic­u­lates — 20 mi­cro­grams per cu­bic liter — is ef­fec­tively the same as it was in 1970, ac­cord­ing to the in­sti­tute.

The San Joaquin Val­ley Air Pol­lu­tion Con­trol District, the agency re­spon­si­ble for meet­ing fed­eral air stan­dards, blames the prob­lem partly on the area’s bowl-like ty­pog­ra­phy, which traps pol­lu­tants. En­vi­ron­ment and health ad­vo­cates, by con­trast, say the air district hasn’t been ag­gres­sive enough in reg­u­lat­ing in­dus­tries, farms and ve­hi­cle fleets.

In late 2012, the air district adopted a plan for meet­ing fed­eral par­tic­u­late stan­dards by 2019. On Thurs­day, the air district’s board adopted an up­dated plan for com­ing into com­pli­ance, said Samir Sheikh, the air board’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

“Achiev­ing these stan­dards will be dif­fi­cult and will re­quire bil­lions of dol­lars of new clean air in­vest­ments,” said Sheikh, given the Val­ley’s ge­og­ra­phy and vol­ume of heavy-duty trucks.

Since tak­ing of­fice, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has a mixed record of ad­dress­ing par­tic­u­late pol­lu­tion. In Oc­to­ber, act­ing EPA ad­min­is­tra­tor An­drew Wheeler scrapped a sci­en­tific panel as­signed to re­view air stan­dards for par­tic­u­lates. This week, the EPA sur­prised en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists by an­nounc­ing new pol­lu­tion re­stric­tions on heavy duty trucks.

Res­i­dents can look at real-time air qual­ity data spe­cific to their neigh­bor­hoods at

Merced Sun-Star re­porter Thad­deus Miller con­trib­uted to this story.

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