|Drs. Julie Richman Fox and Sverre Vedal discuss an air pollution study in South Seattle.|
May 17, 2012. To try to figure out the health effects of air pollution, researchers are studying traffic! Twenty-five UW students, faculty, and neighbors talked about air pollution and health at the Public Health Café at Chaco Canyon on May 15th from 5:30 to 7:00 pm.
Prof. Sverre Vedal told us that air pollution is everything that reduces visibility. In Puget Sound, most air pollution comes from two sources: traffic and burning wood. Air pollution contains many different things. Sverre focused on 3 of them: Particulate matter (PM) gets breathed deep into our lungs and causes blood vessels to contract. That makes blood pressure go up and can lead to cardiovascular disease. Ozone forms from chemical reactions between sunlight and nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons from vehicles. Breathing ozone is associated with respiratory diseases like asthma. Finally, volatile organic compounds or VOCs are carbon-based molecules from vehicle engines that can cause cancer.
Dr. Julie Richman Fox talked about the research she’s doing to measure exposure to diesel exhaust in the south Seattle neighborhoods of Georgetown and South Park. There are many kinds of air pollution on the south side, but a door-to-door survey found the people are most concerned about diesel exhaust from truck traffic. Julie showed us small exposure monitors that will be placed on light poles to measure outdoor pollution, and small plug-in monitors that will be used to measure air pollutants inside homes.
After the presentations, we had small group discussions at our tables. My table group talked about retrofitting diesel trucks to be less polluting and what regulations are already in place. One group pointed out that many residents of the area rely on local industries for jobs. This might mean tough choices between staying employed and cleaning up the air. Another group was concerned about how to best protect ourselves. A few ideas? It’s healthy to get exercise by walking, running or biking outside. If possible, however, do so away from traffic - especially heavy traffic. When you drive in traffic, roll up your windows and turn on your heater or air conditioner with the "recirculate air" feature on. In many newer cars this actually causes the air to go through a HEPA filter that removes many of the pollutants.
To close the evening, participants were asked to write a bumper sticker about health and air pollution. Here are a few of their responses:
- If you can read this, you are being exposed to air pollution
- Breathe through your nose
- Don’t die from diesel: Get your truck serviced
- Air pollution is happening right now!
- Clean Air = Healthy Hearts