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Air Pollution Kills. What to do?

There is a highway between me and some places I want to go. When I walk or run across the highway I know the pollution is not doing me much good. I decided to get a respirator or mask to wear. This is about air pollution and ways to protect one's lungs and heart.

Added by colin #442 on 2005-11-17. Last modified 2006-04-15 04:26. Originally created 2005-11-17. F0 License: Attribution
Location: World, United States, California, San Diego, SDSU
Topics: fashion, health, preparedness, toxicology, wasteland


Update 2006-04-14

I've decided I should walk more (or leave the area), and I've found a route that almost is beautiful for most of it. I have to get across the highway though. So I'm looking at masks. Here are the particles filtered by the I can breathe masks. According to this article on soot, published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the smallest particles, those not filtered by I can breathe, do significant harm.

Once formed, soot comes in many sizes, though all just a fraction of the width of a human hair, from coarse PM (less than 10 microns in diameter) to fine PM (less than 2.5 microns) to ultrafine PM (less than 0.1 microns). Most soot is in the fine and ultrafine categories, with ultrafine particles making up 80-95% of soot.

Ultrafine particles are the most dangerous, however, as they are small enough to penetrate the cells of the lungs. Soot particles can have an environmental lifetime of one to three weeks, and they can travel long distances, journeying to communities in far regions. Soot particles have even been found at the South Pole, where no major emission source exists for thousands of miles.

But in general, soot tends to fall out of the atmosphere close to the source of the pollution. The further you are away from diesel exhaust sources, the better for your health, and vice-versa.

In California, the home of the nation’s largest fleet of diesel vehicles, roughly 80 percent of the state’s diesel pollution sources are found in 5 of the 15 air basins. Showing that the effects of diesel soot are, mostly close to the source, about 87% of California’s over $21.5 billion yearly diesel exhaust-related health care costs come from the same 5 air basins.

On the effects of these particles:
Fine and ultrafine particles (less than 2.5 microns) are the most successful in invading your body, small enough to travel all the way down deep into your lungs.

[Diesel Soot Animation. See how soot travels through the body in this animation (courtesy of the Long Beach Press Telegram's Toxic Air Series)]

Once there, these soot particles can irritate and mutate the most sensitive tissues in your lungs: your alveoli. These air sacs line your lung’s alveolar ducts and are the primary gas exchange units of the lungs.

Surrounded by networks of blood capillaries, alveoli exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide from the air you breathe in with blood in your capillaries, thus allowing your circulatory system to carry oxygen to the rest of your body.

Soot particles, however, make this task more difficult as they cause inflammation and scarring of these alveoli.

Scar tissue builds up and slows oxygen flow to your capillaries, straining your heart because it must work harder to compensate for oxygen loss.

Soot also finds other ways to harm your body, including causing chronic bronchitis and asthma.

These conditions occur when the linings of your lung’s bronchioles (air passageways) become irritated and swollen, in turn causing your lungs to create mucus to soothe the irritation. These conditions prevent your bronchioles from moving oxygen to the rest of your body. Symptoms can range from coughing and shortness of breath to severe and fatal attacks of oxygen loss.

In addition, soot particles also reduce your respiratory system’s ability to fight infections and remove other foreign particles.

Soot particles can also act as carriers of carcinogenic compounds into your body.

Compounds in soot such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are carcinogenic, and diesel soot itself is classified by many government agencies as either a probable or known cancer-causing agent. For example, the California Air Resources Board has concluded that diesel soot is responsible for 70 percent of the state’s risk of cancer from airborne toxics.

Lastly, diesel pollution can be deadly, causing premature mortality through cancer or heart and respiratory illnesses. In the population as a whole, studies have shown a 26% increase in mortality in people living in soot-polluted cities.

Hell. In a month and a half I should be on a farm in Tennessee. But I may be living in San Diego and wanting to cross that highway from September to mid May until May 2008. . . My inside is my outside. My mental and physical insides reflect my physical and social environment. As the environment dies and is poisoned, I die and am poisoned. Is what I can learn here worth staying here for? Can I learn to inspire others and to live well in a place where the urban form and pollution reflect the damaged state of the culture?

Not to mention the widespread disregard for air quality exhibited by students (perfumed hand lotions, smoking, driving), campus maintenance (new carpet glue and other unnecesary interior fumes, two-stroke go-carts, leaf blowers), and other things like white board markers.

2006-04-14-1826 Well I took a deep breath and spent $80 on three masks from National Allergy. I'll let you know what I think. It wouldn't be that big of a deal, but I'm nearly money-free.

Order Details:


  Qty    Each  SKU              Description                          Price

   1   21.99  41-6240          3M 6291 P100 Mask / Respirator - M   21.99
      Weight (each):     0.3

   1   21.99  41-7001          Honeycomb Mask                       21.99
      Weight (each):     0.0

   1   24.99  41-7003          Silk Mask by I Can Breathe           24.99
      Weight (each):     0.0

                    Total weight:     1 lb.   Order subtotal: $     68.97

                                Shipping charge (FedEx Ground):      8.99

                                                TOTAL CHARGE: $     77.96

2006-04-14-1845 Now I've found something else from searching on the yahoo carfree list.

Next time I'm buying these, I may try a respro. I need to see what other people on the mailing lists think. I may cancel my order and just buy one mask. . . I'll let you know what happens.


I've complained about this interchange or cloverleaf I walk across most recently here. It is where College Avenue crosses Interstate 8.

The good news is that on Wednesday, November 2, 2005, for the first time, someone—a woman—walked across the 8 and back with me, for an early morning Tai Chi session at a house in Del Cerro. By myself I usually run across, so our walk lengthened the time I spent in the exhaust-filled air.

In addition, on the evening news—which my grandma watches and I sometimes overhear—on October 31, 2005, the newswoman was cheerfully reporting on a new study: more people die from heart attacks when the air is bad. She advised us to stay indoors, not to exercise near traffic, and to run the air conditioner and keep our windows closed.

Now, in California, you may have heard, because of the increase in gas prices around the times of the hurricanes, some legislators wanted to reduce state motor fuel quality requirements.

Returning to the news reporter, she noted that it is the diesel emissions that are the worst.

In my neighborhood we have many who like to drive massive pickup trucks, of which many are diesel and chortle and spew breath-taking black particles as they climb the hill to Del Cerro.

George Monbiot has picked up on this sickness that it is the carfree, the walkers and cyclists, who pay the most with their health for the desires of their depredatory fellow-citizens to burn prehistoric plants in modern times in his editorial on Passive Driving.

The cars are killing us.


And as the AHA points out, air pollution is not just the vehicle emissions, but also "tire fragmentation and road dust."

So I had this in mind the last time I ran across the Interstate 8 overpass as fast as I could, trying not to breathe too hard. My friend and I had talked about wearing respirators in part as a statement. I definitely resented suggesting to the car-drivers that I could be healthy and quick in spite of breathing their exhaust.


There is the legislative, political campaign approach. In the meantime, for those who wish to stay alive as long as possible while the car-users kill off themselves, each other, and the rest of the world, here's what I've found on personal protection:

  • I Can Breathe! Air Filter Face Masks. The testimonials are encouraging:
    A bus or a garbage truck belches a huge cloud of black smoke right in my face and I don't smell anything.
    That was about Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Bush was just lauding Taiwan as a model of democracy. Adrien Bledstein, whose company this is, says, "I love winter in Chicago (except for ice)." I've been daydreaming about moving back to NYC . . . or going further south. I like the honeycomb beige lace design, but I may just get the gray.
  • She also links to another page with a more imposing-looking mask, that is an NIOSH P100 rated respirator, for about the same price ($22).
  • Adrien has advice for athletes:
    For exertion in urban air pollution combined with high humidity and heat, runners and bicyclists may want to have a second filter along in case the first becomes saturated. After exercising, hang the filters to dry before reusing. For indoor or outdoor exercise, the Silk Comfort Mask is the lightest mask and clears the air of particles, such as pollen, dust and larger molds.
  • Info on her carbon filter. (there's a lot hidden away on her site)
  • She also links to a page on perfumes. I've made a pdf of this to print out and show to my grandma (the one I live with), who on special occasions wears so much perfume she fumigates.
  • Also, I came across something about the filtering effect of using a wet cloth to breathe through to protect oneself from smoke inhalation. Apparently it can keep you alive a few seconds longer if you have to escape from a smoke-filled building.
  • Adrien also links to Rating Guide to Environmentally Healthy Metro Areas by Robert S. Weinhold.

So it looks like I have some options to help me get across the interstate to buy healthy food and visit the lake and mountains without feeling I have to sacrifice my lungs or heart (more than they are already being sacrificed) to do so.

My next project is to get the noxious, noisy two-stroke gocarts that campus staff putt incessantly around the campus in replaced with electric ones.

Colin Leath <>    

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