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#136 - Fine Particles -- Part 4 Harm To Humans: Solid Evidence, 03-Jul-1989

Small particles (ash, soot, smoke) in the air, even in amounts that are
legal, can harm human health. This fact was emphasized dramatically by
events in the Utah Valley near Provo, UT during the period April, 1985,
to February, 1988, when a steel mill closed and then reopened. The
steel mill was the source of 82% of all the small particles in the
local atmosphere, and a researcher at Brigham Young University, Dr. C.
Arden Pope, studied hospital admissions for pneumonia, pleurisy,
bronchitis, and asthma with the steel mill closed and with the steel
mill open. Opening of the mill coincided with a dramatic increase in
hospital admissions for these respiratory ailments, especially among

Douglas Dockery [see RHWN #134] at the Harvard University School of
Public Health called this "a landmark study," when it appeared in the
AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PUBLIC HEALTH in May, 1989. In epidemiology, he
explained, "you look for unique situations where there is a natural
experiment going on." The Utah Valley from 1985 to 1987 provided such
an experimental setting.

The Utah Valley is an especially good place to study the effects of air
pollution on human health because only 5.5% of the 258,000 adults (18
and older) who reside there smoke tobacco, about one-fourth the
national average; smoking is strongly discouraged by the Mormon church.

At times, pollution is very noticeable in the Valley. During winter
1985-86, in a random survey of Valley residents, 29% said they had one
or more family members with health problems aggravated by air

Admissions data from three local hospitals were collected for the
period April, 1985, to February, 1988. Emergency and outpatient care
were not included, so this study only counted people sick enough to be
admitted into the hospital.

Particles in the atmosphere were measured as PM-10 (particulate matter
10 micrometers or less in diameter), which is U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency's standard measure for particles in air.

The EPA's allowable limit on PM-10 pollution is a 24-hour average of
150 micrograms of particles per cubic meter of air; higher than that
violates the standard. (A microgram is a millionth of a gram and there
are 28 grams in an ounce. A meter is approximately a yard.) The
allowable annual average is 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

Dr. Pope looked at the data four ways. First he compared hospital
admissions during those months when the 24-hour PM10 standard was
exceeded one or more times, versus hospital admissions during months
when the standard was not exceeded. During the four months when the 24-
hour standard was exceeded, admissions of children (0-17 years of age)
nearly tripled compared to admissions during the 31 months when the 24-
hour standard was not exceeded. During months when the 24hour standard
was exceeded, adult hospital admissions rose 44%, compared to months
when the standard was not exceeded.

Dr. Pope next compared hospital admissions during eight high months
when the average (mean) PM-10 levels exceeded 50 micrograms per cubic
meter of air versus admissions during 27 low months when average PM-10
levels never exceeded 50 micrograms per cubic meter. During high
months, hospital admissions for children doubled, compared to low
months, and adult admissions increased by 47%.

Dr. Pope then compared hospital admissions during periods when the
steel mill was open versus when it was closed. During winter months,
children's hospital admissions tripled when the steel mill was open,
compared to winter months when it was closed. During fall months,
children's admissions doubled when the steel mill was open, compared to
fall months when it was closed.

The fourth technique, called regression analysis, created a
mathematical model of the relationship between PM-10 pollution levels
and hospital admissions for chest ailments. The model showed a very
strong correlation between pollution and hospital admissions.

Strong correlations do not prove a cause and effect relationship. It is
always possible that a third variable (such as a flu epidemic)
coincided by chance with the opening of the steel mill.

To try to rule out such extraneous events, Dr. Pope studied admissions
at a "control" group of Utah hospitals outside the Utah Valley and he
could find no similar effects related to either PM-10 levels or to the
opening or closing of the steel mill. He was also unable to find a
relationship with the cold winter weather, and he was able to rule out
an epidemic of contagious illness (such as flu) as a cause of the peaks
in hospital admissions.

"The results indicated that hospital admissions for respiratory
illnesses were strongly associated with PM-10 levels. This association
is much stronger for children than adults, and is somewhat stronger for
asthma and bronchitis than for pneumonia and pleurisy," Dr. Pope

It is important to note that "increased admissions for children are
observed even for months when PM-10 did not exceed 150 micrograms per
cubic meter, suggesting that this standard may not be adequate
protection for some children," Dr. Pope concludes. The federal standard
is not adequate to protect children.

In fact, the EPA itself admitted, when it published the PM-10 standard,
there is evidence that NO levels of fine particle pollution are safe,
especially for children. The EPA said, "The data do not provide
evidence of clear thresholds in exposed populations. Instead, they
suggest a continuum of response for a given number of exposed
individuals with both the likelihood (risk) of any effects occurring
AND the extent (incidence and severity) of any potential effect
decreasing with concentration." [See FEDERAL REGISTER, Vol. 126 (July
1, 1987), pg. 24642; emphasis in the original.] The absence of a
threshold means that ANY exposure to fine particles will take its toll
on the health of the exposed population. The fine particles produced by
every incinerator are harmful to humans, especially to children. The
cumulative evidence is now overwhelming and has been ignored for too
long by the promoters of incineration. It's time they were forced to
confront the consequences of their dangerous technology.

Get: C. Arden Pope III, "Respiratory Disease Associated With Community
Air Pollution and a Steel Mill, Utah Valley," AMERICAN JOURNAL OF
PUBLIC HEALTH, Vol. 79 (May, 1989), pgs. 623-628. For a free reprint,
contact Dr. Pope, Associate Professor of Natural Resources and
Environmental Economics, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602;
phone (801) 378-2157.

--Peter Montague



We thank everyone who wrote letters to EPA Administrator William Reilly
and to New York Governor Mario Cuomo, protesting the EPA's outrageous
plan to move families back into the contaminated neighborhoods at Love
Canal, NY. (See RHWN #133.)

A rally and demonstration has been organized by Greenpeace and by the
Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste (CCHW) in Albany, to impress
upon Governor Cuomo the need to stop this lunatic plan. Save the date:
Sept. 15. We'll publish more details soon.

--Peter Montague


Descriptor terms: ut; steel mills; health effects; brigham young
university; studies; air quality; air pollution; epa policies;
regulations; standards; children; adults; particulates;