As you know, nearly all of the articles I write and post about air pollution are centered on regulations. What may the upcoming regulations in Air look like, and how will they impact your firm and job? I hope this information has been useful. But it’s important once in a while to examine what is going on in the Air field. What does the latest scientific research show? What are the newly shown potential effects of key air pollutants on public health? And, therefore, what may be driving the future debate and regulations in the area?
Fortunately, I have a leg up on answering these questions. You see, I am an adjunct professor at New York Medical College and teach each spring semester an online, graduate level course in Air Pollution to MPH and MD students. Every week I post up an open-ended question about Air, both science and policy, and the students go at it with their opinions and research and all. They are amazing, as they find new areas of research that I am not aware of. Well, the semester is over and I wish to take the opportunity to share with you some of the new work and long-term implications that may affect trends in regulations and our professional lives.
New potential approach for air toxic emissions. Recent studies have shown that in recent years the biggest source of toxic emissions is now mobile sources. MACT standards begun to be implemented in the 1990’s have been successful in reducing air toxic levels nationally. A few years ago the Health Effects Institute released a study claiming that half of all cancer risk and about three-quarters of non-cancer risks are due to air toxics from mobile sources. The USEPA has started to address this issue in making more stringent its CAFÉ (mpg) standards and benzene limits in gasoline. The USEPA is beginning to address issues like these using life cycle impact assessments (LCIA). LCIA is an analysis of all environmental inputs and outputs and what they may mean in terms of air levels and public health. For example, a proposed regulation which would reduce gasoline combustion would result in reduced levels of SO2, NOx, benzene, CO, CO2, etc. SO2 reduction would result in reduced acidification of both the air, oceans, and land, which would have physical results (benefits). CO2 reduction would reduce climate change. Etc. Of course, reducing mpg would have many proposed positive effects, benefiting many areas. Many changes or strategies may benefit some areas, while having negative impacts on others. LCIA attempts to quantify and allow analysis for overall benefit.
Increase in cross-border impacts. There was an interesting presentation on a probIem called “Hwangsa”, yellow dust, affecting South Korea. This is dust originating from the Gobi Desert in China and Mongolia. PM levels used to rise to dangerous levels in Seoul on average 3 or 4 days per year. There would be a yellow tint to the air and the vista throughout the country. However, in recent years the number of such days has risen to over 12. Plus the hospitals have seen a major increase in the incidence of bronchitis and pneumonia corresponding to Hwangsa incidents and there have been significant impacts on agriculture, such as livestock deaths and irrigation canals being affected. Even airplane flights are impacted by the yellow dust. The increase appears to be due to the growing desertification of the Gobi, contributed to by climate change. South Korea has begun to work toward solving this problem by working with Chinese authorities to plant trees and otherwise halt and reverse the desertification. Of course, this is one example, but cross-border effects are likely to increase in the future.
Greater health impacts of air toxics. New health research appears to show that health effects of air toxics are wider in the human body than previously understood. It was thought that toxics getting into the body primarily affected the lungs before being diluted in the blood stream. However, growing evidence indicates that even diluted levels of certain compounds can do damage to organs one would not associate with air toxics. And this relates to the increasing impacts of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which can carry and release certain air toxics deep in our lungs. A major recent study showed a strong correlation not only between PM2.5 exposure and effects on the newborn, such as low birth weight, birth defects, etc., but also tracked the migration and buildup of metals (transported by PM2.5) in the uterus. A quantitative correlation between PM2.5 exposure and birth weight was established. Certain airborne exposures of potassium and titanium also correlated to birth weight. PM2.5 exposure also correlated to rate of premature and stillborn deliveries.
Correlation between regulations and health effects. A major study was done in India correlating air emissions with health effects, focusing on coal-fired power plants. Such plants are located in only certain parts of the country (over 400 million Indians do not have access to electricity). India has Air rules for coal-fired power plants, but allowable emission rates are much higher (as much as an order of magnitude higher) than US standards. Pockets of high asthma hospitalizations correlate strongly to regions downwind of coal-fired plants. The study showed a cost to the economy from these health problems alone of over $5 billion annually, and suggested amended rules approaching US standards and electrification using non-coal means as ways to save money and improve the nation’s health.
I hope these ideas are of interest to you and indicate where Air research is going.
CCES has the experience and expertise to help you organize your Air toxics program to minimize emissions and impacts and to do so cost effectively. Contact us today.