Tiny particles in air linked to 1,000 early deaths in San Diego
provided by Environmental Health Coalition
San Diego's particle pollution ranks as the thirteenth worst in the
iny particles in the air contribute to an estimated
1,000 premature deaths annually in San Diego, according to a new analysis
by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released in May. The study
is the first ever estimate of the number of heart and lung-related premature
deaths from fine particle air pollution in U.S. metropolitan areas.
The study finds that the majority of urban areas in
California experience more than 300 particulate related air pollution deaths
each year, even at pollution levels well below the current national health
standard. San Diego County is currently in compliance with the federal particulate
matter standard, but all areas of San Diego County where air quality is
measured are out of compliance with the more stringent California 24-hour
"What this report shows is that current levels
of fine particle pollution are a serious threat to the public health. Hundreds
of premature deaths in San Diego could be averted each year if the EPA set
stringent new health standards for fine particle pollution," said Paula
Forbis of the Environmental Health Coalition, which released the study in
San Diego. "In addition to that, we call upon the local Air Pollution
Control District to enforce all current regulations that apply to particulates
and resist pressure to relax these standards."
Currently the APCD is considering whether to roll back
emission standards for certain types of road paving equipment which emit
fine particles. For some of these types of equipment, control technology
has been developed and is already in use. "We see no reason why standards
should be rolled back to appease some members of industry, when conscientious
members of the industry are in compliance with the current standards,"
The report, entitled BREATH-TAKING: Premature Mortality
Due to Particulate Air Pollution in 239 American Cities, reviews the mass
of epidemiological studies on the health effects of particulate pollution.
The report covers a total of 239 U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas. Cities
that ranked at the top of the list in terms of particulate air pollution-attributable
deaths were Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit. San
Diego ranked thirteenth.
The NRDC report estimates that approximately 64,000
people may die prematurely each year as a result of particulate air pollution.
Lives are shortened by an average of one to two years in the more polluted
areas. The elderly and those with heart and lung disease are most affected.
The study also noted that other measures of respiratory distress, such as
asthma attacks, use of bronchodilators, and trips to the emergency room,
are linked to particulate levels. "The analysis shows that the current
health standards for particulate matter are not protective of public health,"
said Deborah Sheiman Shprentz, author of the NRDC report.
The NRDC report is the first to apply the findings of
a 1995 study by the American Cancer Society (ACS) and Harvard Medical School
to local data to gauge the extent of the particle pollution problem. The
ACS study reported that people living in cities with higher concentrations
of fine particles suffered an increased risk of premature death, compared
to people living in cleaner cities. The ACS study used statistical techniques
to factor out the effect of other risk factors such as smoking, body weight,
occupational exposure and other air pollutants.
The findings come at a time when EPA is reexamining
its health standards for particulate air pollution. The analysis show that
EPA needs to select more stringent standard levels than those now under
consideration in order to substantially reduce premature deaths from particulate
air pollution. NRDC and EHC are recommending that EPA establish a new standard
for the fine particles (PM2.5) at a level of 10 micrograms per cubic meter
on an annual average basis, lower the annual average PM10 standard to 17
micrograms per cubic meter, and establish stringent new limits on 24-hour
According to data from the National Center for Health
Statistics, 8,147 adults died from cardiopulmonary causes in the San Diego
metropolitan area in 1989. The NRDC report estimates that particulate air
pollution plays a role in about 1,000 of these deaths.
More than meets the eye
Particulate air pollution is not just visible smoke
and soot; it is also made up of tiny invisible particles formed from gaseous
emissions of sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds. These tiny particles
are considered to be the most dangerous by health scientists because they
are small enough to evade the body's respiratory defense mechanisms and
lodge deep in lung tissue. Current standards do not target fine particle
The NRDC study examines the primary sources of particulate
pollution nationally, including older, coal-fired power plants, industrial
boilers, and gas and diesel-powered vehicles, among others, and recommends
solutions for reducing the emissions from these sources. Local sources of
particulate pollution include gasoline vehicle exhaust, diesel vehicle exhaust,
power generation, solvent use in local industries, and operations of the
construction and mineral products industries.
A limited number of copies of the report are available from the Environmental
Health Coalition (235-0281).