Tag Archives: air pollution

Leaded aviation fuel a threat to public health, children

KUOW’s John Ryan used federal data and a few key sources to delve deep into issues surrounding one of the few remaining sources of airborne lead in the United States, a leaded aviation fuel known as “avgas.” In the process, he reveals damage that even low levels of lead exposure could be doing to children.


Avgas accounts for less than 1 percent of the nation’s liquid fuel use. Yet enough piston–engine planes fly enough miles on avgas to belch out half of all the lead going into the nation’s air.

Lead paint in old buildings remains a bigger threat, but even low levels of childhood exposure, one source tells Ryan, can manifest itself in “Decreases in IQ, changes in test scores, changes in attention, hearing threshold, all sorts of things like that.”

Earlier this month (January), an expert panel advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cut in half the levels of lead in children that should alarm parents or doctors. Researchers have yet to find any level of lead exposure that doesn’t cause harm.

Michael Kosnett, a medical toxicologist at the University of Colorado, told Ryan, “In any one child, it’s not something that’s going to necessarily cause them to display any kind of signs and symptoms. But if you can lower the lead exposure of a population of children, you’re going to give that population more of an opportunity to have gifted children and to have children who have higher IQs, and that’s certainly a desirable public health goal.”

Marie Lynn Miranda, an environmental health scientist and a dean at the University of Michigan, points out that “Living close to an airport can increase your blood lead level anywhere from 2 to 4 percent,” acknowledging that is a small amount but that evidence indicates even small amounts of lead are bad. She also notes that “lead is especially a problem for the low–income families that are most likely to live near airports.”

Pilots who still use avgas say their businesses would be dead in the water if they couldn’t get the leaded fuel, an argument Ryan contrasts with quotes from a Europe-based lead-free avgas producer, who sells it for 40 cents less a gallon, but hasn’t been able to break into the U.S. market “Because no one thinks that there will be demand for an unleaded–grade aviation gasoline.”

The federal database Ryan used, The National Emissions Inventory, is posted online by the EPA.

Blame trucks, not just factories, for industrial pollution in Seattle

Spurred by a few recent studies, InvestigateWest’s Robert McClure and KCTS-Seattle’s Jenny Cunningham launched an investigation to figure out just what has made Puget Sound’s air some of the most toxic in the nation. Their work centered on the heavily polluted, industrial Seattle neighborhoods of Georgetown and South Park, where residents “face an onslaught of toxic airborne pollutants that according to a recent study exceed regulatory caution levels by up to 30 times.”

Where is this toxic air coming from? The answer may surprise you. The majority of the pollution, government regulators and scientists say, comes not from the large concentration of industrial facilities in South Park and Georgetown. Rather, it’s from the cars, trucks and buses whizzing by these neighborhoods – especially those with diesel engines. Fumes from ships in Elliott Bay and the Duwamish, as well as diesel-powered equipment at the Port of Seattle and elsewhere, add to the toxic mix. In the fall and winter, wood smoke from fireplaces becomes a significant contributor.

The problems here have implications in other neighborhoods, too: Anywhere people are living close to major roadways, they’re likely breathing unhealthy air, studies show. Anyone living within about 200 yards of a major roadway is thought to be at increased risk, with the first 100 yards being the hottest pollution zone.

Watch the full episode. See more KCTS 9 Connects.

Reporters looking to localize the story will probably want to scroll first to the “The Effects” section, which gets into the practical science of how this sort of pollution takes its toll. You’ll probably also enjoy Cunningham’s sidebar on what she learned in reporting the piece (it’s at the bottom of the page). If you’re also looking to understand the regional and national regulatory structure which governs diesel and related emissions, the “Solutions” subheading is also worth a pit stop.

For more on the big picture issues impacting health in South Seattle, see Carol Smith’s recent piece on the related Superfund site.

Warehouses are ‘magnets for pollution’

Mira Loma, a town east of Los Angeles that’s become home to distribution centers and warehouses for some of the nation’s largest corporations, often finds itself playing host to more than 800 tractor trailers an hour.


Photo by cupcakes2 via Flickr

And, even in air-quality deprived Southern California, that makes for some serious pollution.

Caitlan Carroll, of American Public Media’s Marketplace, assessed their impact. Locals complain of soot, stench and respiratory problems and planners openly wish the village of Mira Loma weren’t so close to the warehouse district.

Ky. county to warn coaches about air pollution

In a story that shows how health stories can span several beats, James Bruggers, writing for the Louisville Courier-Journal‘s kentuckianagreen.com, reports that the Jefferson County School District (which includes Louisville) will now share air pollution warnings with district coaches, who may then use that information to alter practice schedules.

Louisville skyline (Photo by Glorius via Flickr)

The decision comes as a statewide sports safety work group created by the Kentucky General Assembly is scheduled to take up questions about air quality and outdoor practice at a meeting Thursday in Lexington. The Kentucky High School Athletic Association also is weighing possible recommendations on air quality and sports practices to its 279 members.

Bruggers found that, right now, such advisory practices (and more severe restrictions) are not widespread nationwide. “Bruce Howard, spokesman for the National Federation of High School Associations, said he has not heard of any schools or school districts anywhere in the nation with formal policies curbing practice during air quality warnings,” Bruggers wrote.

Iowa air pollution unmonitored, may be dangerous

The Des Moines Register‘s Perry Beeman and Chase Davis investigated air pollution in Iowa, particularly that made up of enough fine particles to come close to violating federal limits.

Beeman and Davis look at the major polluters, new federal pollution limits that are causing a push for increased testing and the possible health consequences of the state’s polluted air (related Q&A). The Register‘s package also includes an impressive interactive map showing major polluters.