ISO Working Group: Making sense of air monitoring (Part 1)

Repost from the Benicia Herald

Making sense of air monitoring (Part 1)

By the Benicia ISO Working Group, June 15, 2018

Most of the time, you cannot see dirty air – for example you can’t see particulates.  We know that particulates increase the age-specific mortality risk, particularly from cardiovascular causes. In fact, epidemiological studies suggest public health officials are underestimating the effect of acute pollution exposure on mortality and health outcomes.  Other health Issues include those created by oxides of nitrogen, which affect respiratory conditions causing inflammation of the airways – this is often seen as asthma in children and adults.

Every once in a while, we can actually see dirty air such as the May 5, 2017 near catastrophic power loss at Valero and several days and weeks of black smoke.  Each type of air pollution has major public health effects.

According to a California State University study in 2008 and subsequent studies by researchers on the cost of air pollution, dirty air in 2008 dollars cost California $28 billion.  Some have noted that It may be tempting to think California can’t afford to clean up, but, in fact, dirty air is like a $28 billion lead balloon on our economy.  Imagine what could be done if that $28 billion was being spent productively.

The Cal State study applies to Benicia in many ways because it studied two regions with very similar traffic, heavy-duty diesel truck and marine exhaust combined with refineries like those along the Strait including Valero that dominate our region, adding tons of pollutants to the air we breathe every day.

The cost of air pollution in dollars is directly related to premature death, hospitalizations and respiratory symptoms, limiting a person’s normal daily activity and increasing school absences and loss of workday. The $28 billion cost in 2008 reflects the impact these health problems have on the economy. Inflation and little progress on reducing air pollution suggests the costs are much higher now.

Making sense of air monitoring goes hand in hand with public health data.  We don’t have this information.  Each year, the life- and health-threatening levels of pollution cause the following adverse health effects for the two air basins studied by CSU:

* Premature deaths among those age 30 and older: 3,812
* Premature deaths in infants: 13
* New cases of adult onset chronic bronchitis: 1,950
* Days of reduced activity in adults: 3,517,720
* Hospital admissions: 2,760
* Asthma attacks: 141,370
* Days of school absence: 1,259,840
* Cases of acute bronchitis in children: 16,110
* Lost days of work: 466,880
* Days of respiratory symptoms in children: 2,078,300
* Emergency room visits: 2,800

In a March 2018 report prepared by the Solano County Department of Health (SCDH), we learned that Benicia has a higher rate of emergency room visits for asthma than Californians as a whole. The numbers are startling: in Benicia, 202.13 per 10,000 individuals went to the emergency room for asthma in 2011-13. The rate for California was 148.86 per 10,000. (SCDH source: California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.)

The same report showed statistics on hospital admissions due to asthma: Benicia 81.08 per 10,000 compared to California at 70.55. Rates for emergency room visits for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and mortality from chronic lower respiratory disease (CLRD) were similarly higher in Benicia than statewide. Air pollution and asthma are contributing factors to these lung diseases.  We need to know what exactly is in our air.  Air monitoring for Benicia makes sense.

In Parts 2 and 3, we will take a look at air monitoring in Benicia and the good reasons for Benicia to adopt an Industrial Safety Ordinance.

Benicia ISO Working Group