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Particulate Matter and Exercise

Most people are aware that particulate matter (PM) pollution due to wood smoke is especially harmful to infants, the elderly, and those with cardiovascular and lung problems. What’s less well known is that PM pollution from wood smoke harms healthy people as well.

A recent article [2] in the journal Sports Medicine, “Small Things Make a Big Difference: Particulate Matter and Exercise,” reviewed the short- and long-term responses to PM inhalation during exercise and examined how PM exposure influences exercise performance.

The researchers found that breathing polluted air while exercising results in pulmonary inflammation, decreased lung function (both acute and chronic), an increased risk of asthma, vascular endothelial dysfunction, mild elevations in pulmonary artery pressure, and diminished exercise performance. Not exactly what a weekend warrior hopes to accomplish during a workout.

Wood smoke makes up over 30% of wintertime particulate pollution in many communities. As individuals, we can help reduce this source of air pollution by choosing not to burn wood. This winter, let’s work to get the word out about the hazards of wood smoke pollution—for the runners, for the bikers, for the hikers, for our families, and for ourselves.

Wood Smoke from Wildfires Leads to Lower Birth Weight

We’ve known for years that exposure to high levels of indoor wood smoke harms babies and children in developing countries. This raises the question: Does shorter-term exposure to wood smoke affect babies in developed countries?

This question is difficult to address, but a new paper by researchers at UC Berkeley shows that pregnant women exposed to wildfire smoke during Southern California’s epic 2003 fire season had babies with lower birth weights.

Specifically, researchers compared the birth weights from pregnancies that took place entirely before or after the wildfire event (n = 747,590) with those where wildfires occurred during the first (n = 60,270), second (n = 39,435), or third (n = 38,739) trimester. They found that women who were pregnant during the wildfires had slightly, but significantly, smaller babies.

There is no need to panic if you are pregnant and breathing smoke from a wildfire. Dr. Richard Chinnock, head of the Pediatrics Department at Loma Linda University Medical Center, said the 10-gram decrease in birth weight observed in the study is so slight that no one would notice a difference in the delivery room.

The bottom line is that the air a woman breathes when she is pregnant can affect her developing baby. Smoke exposure “could be one insult that adds to another insult for a cumulative effect.”

A recent review concludes that greater exposure to air pollution during pregnancy leads to higher infant mortality, lower birth weight, impaired lung development, increased later respiratory morbidity, and early alterations in immune development.

Clean air is healthy air, especially for developing babies.

An Opportunity to Have Your Donation Doubled

Families for Clean Air has been given a limited time opportunity to receive up to $10,000 in matching grants. Any donations that you make over the next few weeks will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $10,000.

This is a great opportunity for you to help support our efforts to protect the public’s health from wood smoke pollution through education, advocacy, and community involvement. Your support will help us continue to work to improve the quality of the air we breathe.

Please help us to reach our goal of raising $10,000 to maximize the matching grants. Families for Clean Air is a 501(c)3 organization so your contribution is tax deductible and will be worth twice as much through this limited-time matching program.

You can make a secure on-line donation using your credit card or PayPal account by clicking on the button below.

PayPal - The safer, easier way to pay online!

You can also donate by personal or corporate check by making it payable to “Families for Clean Air” and mailing it to the following address:

Families for Clean Air
35 Miller Avenue, #146
Mill Valley, CA 94941

Wood Fires: A Traditional Source of Air Pollution

Many of our neighbors who like to use their fireplaces and backyard wood pits claim that burning wood is a traditional method of cooking and heating that goes back thousands of years. If wood has been burned for thousands of years, they reason, wood smoke can’t possibly be harmful, right?

Wrong. Not only do the bodies of the earliest humans show the effects of breathing wood smoke, many people in developing nations today are suffering and dying from the ‘natural and traditional’ use of wood fires. Even when biomass is burned in more modern cook stoves, soot is released at extremely high levels.

A recent article, “Killer cookstoves: Indoor smoke deadly in poor countries,” reiterates this point. The numbers are staggering, with about 2 million deaths annually attributed to cooking smoke. In addition, the World Health Organization attributes 35% of chronic obstructive pulmonary deaths and 21 percent of lower respiratory infection deaths to indoor air pollution from burning solid fuel.

Despite the fact that open-hearth fires are traditional, the smoke that is generated is extremely harmful. In efforts to decrease illness and mortality from the traditional use of wood fires, as well as to mitigate the enormous impact of these fires on global warming, developed countries have donated millions of dollars towards cook stoves intended to lessen the harmful health effects of traditional fires. Unfortunately, such stoves continue to emit extremely high levels of soot, offering little if any improvement over traditional fires.

The bottom line? Wood smoke from traditional (and not-so-traditional) fires is harmful to your health. And this tradition is one that continues to kill, thousands of years after its inception.

Here at home, the time has come to adopt new traditions when we gather with family and friends. On a global scale, we must work to develop new, less toxic ways for people to stay warm and cook their food.

After all, ingenuity, innovation, and creative problem solving are American traditions as well.


EPA’s New Standards: Burning Up About Fine Particulates from Wood Smoke

We at Families for Clean Air are often asked why the EPA is not actively involved in addressing wood smoke pollution. The answer is complex, but right now there is an opportunity for the EPA to impact wood smoke pollution through their newly proposed particulate matter standards.

On June 14, 2012, the US EPA proposed strengthening the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for fine particle pollution, also known as fine particulate matter (PM2.5 ). Full details can be found here. These changes are based on “an extensive body of scientific evidence that shows that exposure to particle pollution causes premature death and is linked to a variety of significant health problems, such as increased hospital admissions and emergency department visits for cardiovascular and respiratory problems, including non‐fatal heart attacks. PM also is linked to the development of chronic respiratory disease.”

In other words, the EPA has determined that the current fine particle standards are “not adequate to protect public health as required by law.”

Fine particle pollution is regulated to protect the public from the many harmful effects of long- and short- term exposure to PM2.5, such as the PM created by burning wood. The EPA is proposing that the allowable level of PM2.5 be lowered from the current level of 15.0 μg/m3 (set in place in 1997) to a level of 12.0–13.0 μg/m3. An area would meet the standard if the three-year average of its annual average PM2.5 concentration is less than or equal to the level of the standard. EPA anticipates designating regions as attainment/nonattainment areas by December 2014, and regions will then have until 2020 to meet the new standard.

How will this impact wood burning? That remains to be seen. But tightening this standard will bring more attention to sources of fine particulate pollution, like wood smoke, that have previously been ignored in many areas of the country. By motivating regions to strengthen existing rules or to develop new ones, it will also create opportunities for every air basin in the nation to address wood smoke as part of their overall efforts to attain the new standard.

The EPA states that the proposed standards are expected to yield significant health benefits, with health savings valued at $2.3–$5.9 billion annually for a proposed standard of 12 μg/m3 and $88–$220 million annually for a proposed standard of 13 μg/m3. This represents a return of $30 to $86 for every dollar invested in pollution control. Not only is this proposal good for public health, it makes economic sense as well.

Unfortunately the proposal does not directly address localized PM sources. The EPA is proposing updates and improvements to the nation’s PM2.5 monitoring network: No new monitors will be required, but a small number of monitors may be relocated to measure fine particles near heavily traveled roads.

This strategy ignores PM pollution “hot spots”, such as neighborhoods with wood boilers or older wood stoves, that are not near mobile transport corridors. In such areas, wood smoke can collect in valleys and have significant health impacts on the community. The EPA needs to hear that there are areas away from the freeways that are also bearing a heavy health burden from PM pollution.

We have an opportunity to tell the EPA that we want PM standards that are as stringent as possible. We need to let them know that we want wood smoke pollution addressed as part of their strategy to reduce the impact of fine particulates. Comments must be sent by August 31st, and final standards will be issued by December 14, 2012. In addition, two public meetings are being held in Philadelphia and Sacramento. Click here for information about how to comment electronically  or by mail or in person.

Let’s make our voices heard: Everyone deserves to breathe clean air.