As part of my series on air pollution in Los Angeles, I recently took a Toxic Tour with Communities for a Better Environment. Check it out, and consider booking your own tour at www.cbecal.org!
Archive for the ‘In The Air’ Category
Kiana Coronado Ziadie lives in an apartment near the Los Angeles River. An overpass at the end of the block lifts the 101 Freeway over both the river and her street.
The day I visit, the eighth grader doesn’t want to talk and she doesn’t want her picture taken, even with her cool new blue hairdo. She hasn’t been feeling well. Asthma and a virus that’s going around have her huddled beneath a blanket on the couch.
Between phone calls to nail down an appointment with the pediatrician and showing off a photo of Kiana at the White House, Kiana’s mother, Diana Machado, tells me she and her three daughters, Kiana, Sarah and Daniela, have lived in this apartment since June. Before that, they lived in Hancock Park and the girls were born at Cedars Sinai Medical Cener. All three girls have asthma, but Kiana’s is by far the worst. Her first attack, when she was 2, hospitalized her for two weeks. “With her, I have to use medication every day,” says Machado, showing me a list of at least six medicines Kiana takes regularly, including antihistamine pills, an inhaler and a nebulizer. Kiana is also allergic to dust and animal dander, and has an epi pen so she can inject herself if she has a particularly bad reaction.
More than 2.7 million children in L.A. County have asthma, and the government reported in January that the national rate is now 8.2%. Studies increasingly point to pollution from freeways as an aggravator, if not a cause, of childhood asthma. And that isn’t the only problem experts think they can pin on vehicular exhaust.
The latest is a December study examining the possible link between vehicle exhaust and autism. The CDC says autism rates jumped 57% between 2002 and 2006, but can’t explain the increase. Heather Volk, Ph.D., lead author of the study that suggests an air pollution-autism connection, says nearness to freeways was a natural way to pinpoint families breathing high levels of airborne toxins. “Within 300 meters (1,000 feet) of a freeway, those levels are quite high,” says Volk, who holds appointments in the Community, Health Outcomes & Intervention Research Program at The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute and the Department of Preventative Medicine at USC. Click to read on …
Eight weeks without food. Five days without water. Three minutes without air. In the world of survival math, breathing is at the top of almost every equation. But here in the L.A. Basin, we inhale much more than life-sustaining oxygen, drawing in a mix of ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfer dioxide, lead and airborne particles.
Researchers decades ago pegged ozone as the major culprit behind short-term smog troubles like acute asthma attacks and shortness of breath, and suspected it also caused long-term health effects like heart disease and lung cancer. But about 10 years ago, the venerable Children’s Health Study, launched in 1992 to find out more about how air pollution affects kids, began to focus more attention on traffic-related pollutants. During the past four years, they have zeroed in on the health effects of particulate matter, especially the smallest particles – and the chemicals that piggyback with them into our bodies.
Other researchers are now carefully piecing together a road map that could prove these particles as the cause, not just an aggravator, of asthma – a connection that could finally account for growing rates of the disease.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates PM10s, which are smaller than 10 microns in diameter, and PM2.5s, particles smaller than 2.5 microns. (For comparison, a human hair is 50-70 microns.) These are stirred up by cars and construction, spewed from truck tailpipes and industry, and also created in the atmosphere.
“Area-wide pollution” shows up throughout the basin when wind blowing from the ocean drives emissions inland, explains Suzanne Paulson, Ph.D., vice chair of the UCLA department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. As the air travels, the sun shining from above forms a high-pressure system that traps the emissions near the land and “brews” them into photo-chemical smog. The farther east the air moves, the more time it has had in the sun, and the stronger the brew. “By the time the air that was on the ocean in the morning reaches San Bernardino, it’s had time to react,” says Paulson. This explains the haze that often hangs over the Inland Empire on sunny afternoons.
“Direct emissions” refers to pollution that hangs out near where it was created. The map below offers one view of direct emissions, detailing the risk of getting cancer from a lifetime of exposure in different parts of the Basin. Note the sinister dark blotches near the ports, and where major freeways converge. The government’s Multiple Air Toxics Exposure Study III (MATES III) research, which produced the map, didn’t include ultrafine particles, but other researchers have found that the particles are most concentrated near freeways.
“If you are on a freeway, you have about 500,000 ultrafine particles in an area the size of a sugar cube,” says John Froines, Ph.D., who studies the particles as director of the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at UCLA. Not currently monitored or regulated by the government, ultrafines are 0.1 microns in diameter, small enough to burrow deep into our cells, releasing toxic chemicals that come along for the ride. “It’s not just the ports that are affected,” Froines says. “When you start to think about these trucks traveling across all these freeways, it affects the entire Los Angeles Basin.”
And it affects us throughout our lives – and especially our children. As we learn more about this threat, medical societies, public health groups and others locally and across the country have begun to clamor for stricter government regulation. Over the coming months this series will examine the impact of the air we breathe on our unborn babies, children and teens, and look at what is being done to turn the tide and clear the air. Visit LAParent.com for more pollution maps, and a glossary of pollutants. And look for future articles in L.A. Parent, plus updates on our website and via Facebook and Twitter.
Got a question or a story to tell? Contact me at Christina.Elston@Parenthood.com.
About This Series
“In the Air” is being produced as a project for The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, a program of USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.
January: In Utero, how air pollution affects babies in the womb.
February: The Kids Aren’t Alright, rising asthma rates among children.
March: Teenage Lungs, the long-term effects of breathing smog.
April: Clearing the Air, efforts at change and what you can do.