“Moderate” PM Pollution in DFW Kills and Maims

by jim on April 14, 2012

It’s behind the paywall, but the Morning News and Randy Lee Loftis commit real journalism today in the form of anarticle on the dangers of Particulate Matter pollution, even at so-called “moderate” levels. It’s based on two recent studies, inlcuding one we profiled here last week, but then does the right thing by localizing what the results of those studies mean for DFW air quality. The answer isn’t pretty. It turns out there were an average of 41 days a year from 2007 to 2011when PM readings at one of two monitoring stations in Dallas were in the range that’s associated with increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. By comparison, DFW experienced 38 days last summer when the new 75 parts per billion ozone standard was exceeded. Considering that there are about three times as many ozone monitors as PM monitors in DFW, you can see where some folks might think we have a problem: for more than a month every year, we breathe air that can make us sick or kill us. Unfortunately for future victims, it appears it will take some kind of threat from the federal government, or the courts, or both to make PM pollution as much of a target for control as ozone pollution, even thought the scientific evidence continues to mount that particulates cause much more widespread public health damage. That’s because state and local governments risk losing federal highway dollars if they don’t try and reduce ozone pollution, or smog. There is no such threat driving public policy regarding any other air pollutant. There are almost 40 posts on PM pollution listed in our category directory for this blog. Many of these summarize recent studies showing how pervasive PM pollution is and how insidious its health effects are. It damages you by being both a piece of dirty soot that can make it hard to breathe, and as a carrier of any number of toxic chemicals that attach themselves when the piece of soot is created. PM can have lead or mercury on it. It can have benzene or formaldehyde. It’s a microscopic suitcase for toxins. PM can cross the lung/blood vessel barrier and travel throughout your body, affecting your brain, your reproductive health or your immune system. It’s the most underestimated, and under-regulated pollution. Federal standards for PM pollution are stuck way behind the times and need to be updated, but the Obama Administration decided not to go forward with trying to write a new standard in its first term – probably because of projections about how far-reaching the solutions to PM pollution will have to be – taking in everything from cars to power plants to diesel trucks, to cement plants. You’ve seen the howling from industry over new ozone standards and power plant mercury rules. Imagine the reaction to a tougher PM standard. Yet that is the direction the science is sending us. We’ve often been critical of the dearth of local environmental reporting in DFW, but this piece today is an excellent example of he kind of work a major metropolitan daily needs to be churning out on a regular basis. Kudos to the News and Loftis. 

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