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Air Pollution Effects and Mental Health Impacts

by / Thursday, 30 November 2017 / Published in Environmental Testing

Air Pollution Effects and Mental Health

The link between the effects of air pollution on cardiovascular health and lung diseases like asthma are well established, but a new study finds high levels of particulates in the air pollution effects mental health. The negative effects may be attributed to behavior changes of people living in polluted areas, such as spending less time outside, or leading more sedentary lifestyles which can lead to psychological stress or social isolation.

The effects of air pollution on individual psychological distress  and free summary article

While pollution consists of many components, this study focused on measurements of fine particulate matter, which is produced by car engines, wildfires, fireplaces and wood stoves, and power plants fueled by coal or natural gas. Fine particulate matter (particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter or PM2.5) is easily inhaled, can be absorbed into the bloodstream and is considered of greater risk than larger particles.

Monitoring Air Pollution Effects

The heavy Bay Area commute traffic, truck traffic, industry, and oil refineries all contribute to elevated PM2.5 and other pollutants. There are numerous resources to help identify when exterior pollution levels are elevated so that we can limit out exposure.

Sites that display data from monitoring:

Airnow.Gov   AND  EPA Air Quality Monitoring   AND   BAAQMD   AND Refinery specific emissions

The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) developed CalEnviroScreen 3.0 to help identify communities disproportionately burdened by multiple sources of pollution and with population characteristics that make them more sensitive to pollution. Pollution burden as calculated by Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment OEHHA

Air Pollution Effects Higher Inside Your Car Than Outdoors

A 2017 study measured air pollution levels inside cars during morning commutes in downtown Atlanta, GA.  The levels measured were up to twice as the roadside sensors. The study measured PM2.5 and oxidative byproducts of PM2.5.

The chemical composition of exhaust apparently changes very quickly, so roadside sensors may not accurately convey the real exposure. Additionally, sunshine heats pavement which causes updrafts that bring pollution higher into the air, to drivers’ breathing zones.

Here is a study measuring car IAQ in during rush hour and Free summary article

Effects of Air Pollution on Mental Health

Oakland Map displays the varying levels of carbon black measured by a Google Street View vehicle equipped with air monitoring equipment.

Another effort to quantify the exposure to pollutants not represented by stationary air monitors was a partnership between the Environmental Defense Fund and Google Street

View cars. In select cities, the street view cars were equipped with air monitoring equipment to measure black carbon, nitric oxide, and nitrogen dioxide concentrations.

The map of Oakland demonstrates how pockets of higher pollution form. The data was collected during the day on weekdays, and sampled each road an average of 30 times.

Environmental Defense Fund Air Quality Maps

Here this Oakland Map displays the varying levels of carbon black measured by a Google Street View vehicle equipped with air monitoring equipment.


How to Protect Yourself From Rush Hour Air Pollution

While you are driving, you can protect yourself to a degree by keeping windows closed and the ventilation off while idling at stop lights and stuck in stop and go traffic.  Another study looked at particulate concentrations in three size ranges (PM10, PM 2.5, and PM1.) that entered the cabin of vehicles driving in stop and go traffic. The course particles (PM10 – PM 2.5) are assumed to come from road abrasion and tire and brake wear while PM 2.5 and smaller are assumed to come from vehicle emissions.

The study found that the most effective way to keep particulate pollution out of the vehicle was to turn off the ventilation fan and close windows while delayed in traffic.  Car ventilation systems were typically much more effective at removing the larger particles from the air than the finer, PM 2.5 particulates, thereby allowing fine particles in to the cabin even if windows were closed but fan on. They did find having the fan on recirculate prevented pulling the particulates into the car when in traffic delays.

Here is a Study Measuring Particulate Matter at Traffic Intersections and Free summary article

For information on how proximity to roadways impacts indoor air quality in our homes, see this blog on Indoor Air Pollution Near Busy Roads.

For more information on indoor air quality or to schedule an assessment for your home or office contact us here.  


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