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Science Wednesday: Clear Air for All? EPA Seminar Focuses on Research Exploring How Social, Geographic Differences Impact Air Quality

2010 August 4

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.
By Rachel Canfield

When Representative Donna Edwards (Maryland’s 4th District) addressed the audience at EPA’s Air Science 40 seminar, Clean Air for All? Air Quality across Social and Spatial Lines, she talked about how she and her young son would wait for the bus every morning close to a highway.

On July 21, government, industry, academic and the non-profit audiences gathered as scientists shared their research on how air pollution impacts populations based on social, environmental and geographic differences.

Marie Lynn Miranda, Ph.D., from Duke University’s Children’s Environmental Health Initiative presented EPA-funded research that looks at the shared effect of social and environmental factors, including air pollution, on pregnancy outcomes.

Miranda described studies that show exposure to fine particulate matter (PM) decreased birth weight, and exposures to ozone and PM in combination weakens lung function in newborns. The effects of these air pollution exposures don’t always end at infancy and can lead to more long-term health consequences. According to Miranda, social stress and closeness to busy roads can also increase health risks for pregnant mothers and their babies.

EPA scientist Alan Vette, Ph.D. emphasized how distance from roadways affects air pollution exposure and health, presenting some of EPA’s Near-Road Research Program’s work. Vette explained the importance of such studies, as over 45 million Americans live near an airport, railroad or highway.

Vette described a number of traffic-related air pollution studies EPA conducts throughout the U.S., including a new, collaborative study with the University of Michigan and Community Action Against Asthma. The study, the Near-Road Exposures to Urban Air Pollutants Study, will look at how vehicle emissions affect asthmatic children who live near busy roadways in Detroit, Michigan. According to Vette, asthma rates in Detroit are 29%–three times the national average.

As they spoke, I wondered what my house’s distance from the highway is and how often I hear a train whistle when I walk through campus. Air pollution doesn’t affect everyone in the same ways, our locations and lifestyles create unique situations for our lungs and interesting scientific challenges for EPA scientists to uncover.

About the author: Rachel Canfield is a student services contractor in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She is a graduate student in communication at North Carolina State University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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6 Responses leave one →
  1. William H permalink
    August 4, 2010

    well written. Thanks for sharing. I’ve looked at the online data for one of the EPAs(?) ambient air monitors near I-35 and a school here in Dallas. The levels were actually lower than I would have expected.

  2. armansyahardanis permalink
    August 4, 2010

    Dear Rachel,
    Please don’t think of dichotomy between social and environmental. If we see the disaster, it make many suffering to destruct infrastructures, people injured, water and air pollution, epidemic of diseases, economically and social problem, and change of ecology. There are ecosystem differentiation between before and after disasters. Environmental, now…, but in the future, it is masterpiece of the people who journey look for the hegemony, around The Universe. Environmentalism….

  3. Rebekah Soethe permalink
    August 4, 2010

    I used to walk a mile a day to work and another mile home. I worked at a nursing home so I was on my feet all day every day. My asthma got really bad. My mental health suffered. I have been walking at least 3 blocks a day for 20 years. Even roadside walks are bad on the lungs and heart. and the whole body.

  4. Wuv-Shyong Chang permalink
    August 5, 2010

    EPA has lagged behind decades long in Air Quality High Tech.

  5. Mike H. permalink
    August 9, 2010

    What do you do when it comes out that a Regional or State Agency has been giving out false air quality readings?

  6. Andrea Delgado permalink
    August 18, 2010

    Thank you for this informative article! Although it may be difficult to mitigate the social and economic factors that confine certain populations (low-income and communities of color) to areas with poor air quality, this data helps me inform Latino organizations and communities I work with about the importance of cleaner transportation options as a public health imperative and a component of the fight for comprehensive climate change and energy policy.

    This information will resonate with the people we talk to at the Regional Latino Leadership Briefings on Climate Change that the National Latino Coalition on Climate Change (NLCCC) holds throughout the year.

    Keep up the good work!

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