Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Clean Cars, Clean Air, a Healthier California – As Told by Our Doctors

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

For 45 years, the state of California has made remarkable progress towards improving air quality via the implementation of critical standards and regulations. California, the pioneer state for tailpipe emission standards, now faces another critical set of decisions later this fall that could significantly impact the health of its residents as well as the production of, and transition to, cleaner vehicles. CARB will be voting on important updates to the Clean Cars Program that aim to reduce toxic vehicle emissions, decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and improve the availability of infrastructure that properly supports clean, alternative fuel cars. As expected however, advocates for more stringent standards are not met without opposition – placing the California Air Resources Board in familiar territory: balancing health, environmental, and economic well-being.

Physicians and other health professionals are some of the major players in support of strengthening federal air quality regulations, particularly vehicle emissions, and continue to rally ever increasing numbers – with good reason. California can successfully claim all 10 of the nation’s smoggiest counties and thus, some of the worst air pollution in the country. The major cause? Over 30 million registered vehicles and the staggering amounts of traffic pollution that they produce. Support from the medical sector continues to call public attention to poor air quality and its direct relation to negative health impacts, both acute and chronic. These effects include respiratory diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and many others – with the most serious being lung cancer and premature death. The populations most susceptible to emission-related illnesses are children, the elderly and those with preexisting respiratory conditions. According to a study done in 2010 by the RAND Corporation, “unhealthy air days caused 33,000 Emergency Room visits and hospitalizations at a cost of almost $200 million dollars from 2005-2007”. According to “The Road to Clean Air” study conducted by the American Lung Association, California could potentially reduce all major air pollution-related health problems by as much as 70% – a change that proves both economically and socially beneficial. With the overall well-being of society in mind, health professionals as well as the American Lung Association continue to push for the protection and maintenance of strict air quality regulations. However, automotive manufacturers and their employees express concern to such firm standards, particularly the steep increases in Corporate Fuel Economy Standards (CAFE) and increasingly stringent GHG emissions standards.

The major cause of automaker hesitation to higher standards stems from their concern of the potential impact such changes may have on sales and jobs. The redesign of vehicles to effectively boost fuel economy through the use of lighter but more expensive materials may stress automakers’ margins – the driving notion that propagates concern among union members that company jobs will be the first aspect effected. Federal officials, automakers as well as representatives from the United Auto Workers (UAW) have been continually meeting and discussing feasible CAFE standards that will not result in a misbalance of the equally important priorities involved with these future updates. “We want to get it right…” stated the Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood who is optimistic that new, fuel efficiency standards in agreement with both automaker and regulator goals will be settled for the 2017-2025 timeframe. The secretary went on to say that “current talks with companies have focused solely on finding the right standard” and as of July 29th, such a compromise was finally reached. In an address made by President Obama, he confirmed that “by 2025, the average fuel economy of [newly manufactured] vehicles will nearly double to almost 55 miles per gallon…[saving] a typical family more than $8,000 in fuel costs over time”. Now the Air Resources Board looks ahead to amend California’s Low-Emission Vehicle (LEV) regulations with the intent of implementing more stringent GHG and tailpipe emission standards for new passenger vehicles. This proposed set of amendments is known as LEV III and also includes efforts found in the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program. If passed, the integration of these 3 programs: smog, GHG and ZEV will place additional pressure on automakers to meet both the new state and federal standards. However,  “most vehicle manufacturers agree…these technologies will be necessary to meet climate goals by 2050” though consumers can expect to see an increase in sticker price. Nevertheless, in a report compiled by GO60mpg, a joint effort comprised of numerous environmental organizations, calculations show that “for most consumers who finance the purchase of a new [fuel efficient] vehicle, the fuel savings will be greater than the additional cost”. A thought prospective car owners should definitely keep in mind, especially with continually increasing gasoline prices.

Though automakers’ express valid and genuine concerns, history has shown us that seemingly ‘impossible’ air quality standards have been instated and successfully practiced despite initial uncertainties. The state of California experienced that firsthand with, for example, the requirement of pollution-reducing catalytic converters in new cars and the adoption of the smog check program. The mistake is made in the assumption that it is an either/or decision. It is not a choice between the health of the public and economic prosperity, but rather how soon we hope and want to see changes for the better. Now having reached an agreement, a collective effort can be made on all parts. As demonstrated in the past but not without its challenges, meeting these new regulations still remains an accomplishable goal. Through this progress, physicians and other supporters can hope to see the clear skies and improved air quality they’ve been working toward.

By Christine Jaramillo

Autistic Freeways

Monday, December 20th, 2010

A recent study completed by researchers from the University of Southern California shows that a pregnant mother living within a 1,000 feet of a freeway has twice the chance of having an autistic child.  Given that 11% of our population lives withing 100 meters (328 feet) of a four-lane highway, this finding has significant societal implications.

While the causality still needs to be worked out to definitively link autism to freeway air or noise pollution, living next to a freeway carries indisputable negative health impacts.  For example, children living within 100 meters of a freeway have been found to develop significantly more coughing, wheezing, runny noses, and doctor-diagnosed asthma than those living farther away. (1)

To solve the problem, we can take at least two approaches.  We can move our populations away from freeways and the air pollution that spills from them, or we can clean our transportation by moving away from fossil fuels so that our freeways create less pollution.  Both offer significant challenges and tremendous payoffs, namely healthier people.

Smart growth policies, such as those driven by California’s SB 375, can increase the number of people living away from freeways by aggregating populations around public transit, biking and walking options.   In reality however, as long as our transportation system focuses on the personal automobile, we will have high numbers of people living next to the freeway.

Given this reality, the need to transition away from petroleum, internal combustion engines, and the pollution associated with both is increasingly critical.  We have the technology to make the transition happen (i.e., battery-electric and hydrogen-fuel-cell-electric vehicles), we just need the political and economic will to make the transition happen.

Take your pick of reasons to push for the transition:  national security, global warming, air quality, water quality, health, economics, peak oil, oil spills, terrorism….and add the autistic freeway to the quiver.

-Tyson Eckerle

(1) Motor Vehicle Exhaust and Chronic Respiratory Symptoms in Children Living near Freeways. Environmental Research, Volume 74, Issue 2, August 1997, Pages 122-132. Patricia van Vliet, Mirjam Knape, Jeroen de Hartog, Nicole Janssen, Hendrik Harssema, Bert Brunekreef

Premature Deaths from Pollution

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

According to a report issued on August 31, 2010 by the California Air Resources Board, approximately 9,000 people in California die prematurely each year as a result of exposure to fine particle pollution from combustion processes (i.e., diesel and gasoline engines, power plant boilers, wood burning).  Compared to the nation, California receives a much greater proportion particulate matter from transportation than traditional power plants.  The chief culprit: conventional diesel engines. EIN continues to fight for a critical component of this issue that was outside the scope of this specific ARB study, namely: a solution.

First of all, diesel engine retrofit technologies exist today that can be applied to old, polluting diesel engines which would significantly limit or eliminate life threatening particulate emissions. Yes, these retrofits will add an additional cost component to an old truck, but will that cost be more than the cost of the life of even 1 of the estimated 9,000 Californians who died a premature death last year? In addition, there are state programs to help finance and fund these projects to help equipment owners transition away from their out-of-date, dirty technology towards more efficient, cleaner burning engines. These retrofits, coupled with the introduction of more advanced clean diesel engines and lower carbon biofuels, are a critical first step in protecting the health of California’s citizens while simultaneously lowering our dependence on foreign oil.

However, if we truly want to solve the solutions associated with emissions from our transportation sector on a local toxic air pollutant level, AND on a global greenhouse gas emission level, it is essential that we transition rapidly and expansively to zero emission vehicle (ZEV) technology. EIN continues to push the envelope for potential Zero Emission Vehicle platforms powered by Hydrogen and Electricity: the only currently available fuels with the potential eliminate transportation generated emissions. Yet, as with all emerging technology, costly premiums still exist in the marketplace that are limiting the application of ZEVs to only the most affluent communities of California, the opposite of where they are needed most. Most of California’s poorest regions are also its worst regions in terms of air quality and traffic congestion, resulting in respiratory illness and reduced quality of life. In many communities the consequences of environmental pollution disproportionately fall on the poor. Zero emission transit is a key solution to this dilemma.

Bus transit thrives in densely populated communities, providing mobility to those who otherwise would not be able to afford it, while also giving typical single occupancy vehicle commuters a viable alternative. Zero emission buses, such as an electric or hydrogen fuel cell bus, emit virtually zero harmful particulates or toxic emissions that cause poor air quality and endanger public health, a 100% reduction from conventional buses. Zero emission transit can and will reduce all harmful emissions, reduce our dependence on dirty fossil fuels, reduce GHG emissions, reduce traffic congestion, reduce noise pollution, and will be accessible to all economic and social classes.

Zero emission transit solutions are already producing positive results in some communities in California. For example, Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District’s (AC Transit) has developed the most comprehensive hydrogen fuel cell demonstration program in the world, which currently features three zero emission hydrogen fuel cell buses, and on-site hydrogen production and fueling. Sunline Transit Agency in Southern California has also demonstrated the viability of the hydrogen fuel cell bus. Battery electric buses have also proven to be effective in the City of Santa Barbara and have been in service there since 1991.

Clearly, the goal of an emissions free society is unattainable with current available technology. California needs to decide if its next dollar is going to be invested in a technology that kills 9,000 of its citizens a year, or weather it will be invested in cleaner, more sustainable zero emission technology that can lead us to energy independence.