Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

As PM-2.5 increases, so does risk of heart attacks

Over Thanksgiving, a friend asked how the San Joaquin Valley’s air quality might affect someone with a heart problem. It’s a good question now when the most dangerous air issues arrive.

There is evidence that heart attack risk rises as particle pollution, known as PM-2.5, increases.

What’s PM-2.5? Think soot from wood burning in fireplaces, though it also comes from diesel exhaust, chemicals in the air and microscopic moisture droplets.

By chance, an air-quality activist last week sent me a link to an article in progress on the Journal the American College of Cardiology. It included a section on PM-2.5, saying the odds of a fatal heart attack for nonsmokers rise 22% for each 10 microgram increase in PM-2.5.

The health standard is 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air. On Jan. 1 this year, one Fresno monitor was 70 micrograms higher than that federal standard.

You don’t need to do the math to see that even people without heart or lung problems were suffering through an air crisis at the time.

The article advises anyone with cardiac problems to avoid exposure during episodes of PM-2.5. Last winter, that would have meant avoiding the outdoors for weeks in December and January.

Obviously, the Valley has many violations of the federal PM-2.5 standard. The biggest hot spots seem to be Fresno and Bakersfield, but there are PM-2.5 violations in many places.

What about this year?

A quick look at the California Air Resources Board site tells us that PM-2.5 hasn’t been a problem yet. If we have a lot of stormy weather this year, we might not have a long run of bad days as we did last year.

But dry, stable weather — as we seem to be having now — can make things miserable. So keep your eye on the weather report, and check with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District web page before you light a wood fire at home.

 

Responses

8TM says:

One of the problems is that we allow wood-burning until the concentrations of soot in the air are averaging 30 micrograms per cubic meter before a burning curtailment is made mandatory, even as the evidence accumulates that even one day breathing that level of fine particle pollution puts one at greater risk of a heart attack or stroke.

That 35.5 micrograms of soot or fine particulate matter (PM2.5) per cubic meter of air is the federal daily standard, meaning no 24 hour period should ever exceed that average. Over the last 8 years, Central Fresno has averaged 40 days a year exceeding that average. In addition to this daily standard, there is a federal yearly health standard that limits the amount of PM 2.5 per cubic meter of air to an average of 15 micrograms, a standard many physicians and scientists believe inadequate to protect public health, and should properly be set at a minimum of 12.5 micrograms. Central Fresno has averaged 16.15 micrograms over the last 8 years.

Living in an environment where the yearly averages are high, such as the valley’s cities, increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, but now evidence is mounting that the vascular damage is affecting your brain in other ways.

Bad Air Means Bad News for Seniors’ Brainpower

Pollution Accelerates Cognitive Decline And Raises Stroke Risk

I have been critical of our Air District for its failure to anticipate days of stagnation such as we’re experiencing today (Saturday. November 24th) as often in the past it has seemed as though the Air District meteorologists, who must decide by the afternoon of the previous day if the following day is expected to exceed 30 micrograms per cubic meter, were content to merely wait until the air was already exceeding the 30 microgram threshold for a burning curtailment before calling for a no burn order for the following day. While it must be conceded that the pollution levels for the following day must be a difficult thing to always accurately predict, it has seemed as though the bias has been to under-proscribe. I therefore wanted to commend the Air District (in this same forum where I have sometimes been their critic) for calling for today’s curtailment in a timely and preemptive way.

8TM says:

One of the problems is that we allow wood-burning until the concentrations of soot in the air are averaging 30 micrograms per cubic meter before a burning curtailment is made mandatory, even as the evidence accumulates that even one day breathing that level of fine particle pollution puts one at greater risk of a heart attack or stroke.

That 35.5 micrograms of soot or fine particulate matter (PM2.5) per cubic meter of air is the federal daily standard, meaning no 24 hour period should ever exceed that average. Over the last 8 years, Central Fresno has averaged 40 days a year exceeding that average. In addition to this daily standard, there is a federal yearly health standard that limits the amount of PM 2.5 per cubic meter of air to an average of 15 micrograms, a standard many physicians and scientists believe inadequate to protect public health, and should properly be set at a minimum of 12.5 micrograms. Central Fresno has averaged 16.15 micrograms over the last 8 years.

Living in an environment where the yearly averages are high, such as the valley’s cities, increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, but now evidence is mounting that the vascular damage is affecting your brain in other ways.

Bad Air Means Bad News for Seniors’ Brainpower

Pollution Accelerates Cognitive Decline And Raises Stroke Risk

I have been critical of our Air District for its failure to anticipate days of stagnation such as we’re experiencing today (Saturday. November 24th) as often in the past it has seemed as though the Air District meteorologists, who must decide by the afternoon of the previous day if the following day is expected to exceed 30 micrograms per cubic meter, were content to merely wait until the air was already exceeding the 30 microgram threshold for a burning curtailment before calling for a no burn order for the following day. While it must be conceded that the pollution levels for the following day must be a difficult thing to always accurately predict, it has seemed as though the bias has been to under-proscribe. I therefore wanted to commend the Air District (in this same forum where I have sometimes been their critic) for calling for today’s curtailment in a timely and preëmptive way.

8TM says:

The new PM2.5 health standard for “good” air set by EPA this last Friday is 12 or fewer micrograms of soot per cubic meter of air. This is what the Clean Air Act guarantees us: a yearly average of air no worse than that. So how much longer will our Air District continue to allow wood-burning at times when measurements show valley cities like Fresno and Clovis to be exceeding that standard? The plan the Air District will vote on this week will limit wood burning to days that they predict to average less than 20 micrograms—a few years from now. But how will we ever get to averaging 12 micrograms if they allow wood burning at 20? Health-damaging soot from wood-smoke is the greatest single direct source of this type of impurity in our winter air.

The new threshold for a wood-burning curtailment, at 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air, is more protective of public health than the present threshold of 30 micrograms. But it can only be as protective as the accuracy of the prediction. Burning was allowed yesterday as the day average was not predicted to exceed 30 micrograms, yet it did, both in Fresno and Clovis.

—Sunday, December 16, 2012

Alan Kandel says:

The Valley Air District needs to be just as courageous as the EPA in setting Valley soot and particulate matter standards.

With that said, it should be noted, however, that “A federal court required EPA to issue final standard by December 14, because the agency did not meet its five-year legal deadline for reviewing the standards,” according to information presented in EPA’s 12/14/12 press release “EPA Announces Next Round of Clean Air Standards to Reduce Harmful Soot Pollution.”

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