Cache Valley’s bad air quality has a correlation with numerous cardiovascular diseases, and unless people take action, the connection will continue to increase, according to a Utah State University professor.
Roger Coulombe, a professor of toxicology, used cigarette smoke as a benchmark for comparing a person’s risk to PM2.5, particles that affect Cache Valley’s air quality and are dangerous because of their small size. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention said health impacts of secondhand smoke include coronary heart diseases, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and damage to blood vessels, health impacts that can be associated with poor air quality as well. Although cigarette smoke is more potent, the effects bear many similarities, Coulombe said.
“When we’re at 35 micrograms (per cubic meter of particulate matter in the air), that’s like being in a household with someone who is smoking one pack of cigarettes a day,” Coulombe said.
During a lecture series on air quality Jan. 20 at Logan’s City Hall, Coulombe cited a study from a few years ago when he and a group exposed human lung cells to PM2.5 on filter disks. When they looked at patterns in the genes, they noticed PM2.5 is not cytotoxic, meaning it only modestly kills cells; it also leads to inflammatory proteins to help mount a response in the body’s defense mechanisms.
Coulombe said in later studies, the group dislodged particles from stainless steel disks, sonicated them off and made a dilution to expose cells. Exposing the cells to a concentration of PMs in the air, Coulombe said, is similar to what people are exposed to in the environment.
In 2014, World Health Organization released data for a study on urban air quality for 1600 cities in 91 countries conducted from 2008 to 2013. Delhi was found to have the highest concentration of PM10 with 275 to 300 micrograms per cubic meter. Coulombe said researchers have come to realize PM2.5, which is smaller in diameter, has a more significant impact on health in comparison to PM10, as it can get directly lodged in a person’s lungs.
“We are fairly confident that this Cache Valley PM2.5 is on par with some pretty famous 2.5 from around the world,” Coulombe said.
The second highest scoring city in the World Health Organization’s study was Karachi, Pakistan, which was found to have roughly 275 micrograms per cubic meter of PM10.
“We’re (Utah is) behind the curve in terms of doing a lot of public health research, whereas in a place like L.A. and eastern cities that have been studying this for 15 to 20 years,” Coulombe said. “There’s a lot more public health data associated with the studies. We have particles from other parts to use as a benchmark comparing to Utah.”
High ranking values of PM2.5 in the United States, according to airnow.gov, as of Monday afternoon included Susquehanna Valley, PA, with 106 micrograms per cubic meter and North Pole, AK, with 170 micrograms per cubic meter. Logan had 26 micrograms per cubic meter at the time.
Data have the capability to show varied levels of PM2.5 in cities, but Utah Division of Air Quality toxicologist Steve Packham said there is no direct data that provides any evidence for PM2.5 as causing lung-related health impacts.
“Using statistical scientific methods, associations have been found between PM2.5 and the number of health outcomes, for examples, the number of hospitalization, number of emergencies, number of absences in school,” Packham said.
He continued, “We don’t have enough data to say PM2.5 is causing the health effects that we’re attributing to it.”
Coulombe, in contrast, said direct evidence for air quality and health impacts is the etymology data from looking at translational studies where professionals took what they learned in the laboratory and brought them out into the human population, monitoring peoples’ responses to air pollution.
“People responded in ways consistent to what we saw in human lung cells,” Coulombe said.
Coulombe said they also conducted evidence based on estimation, calculating roughly $25 million in health costs associated with adverse effects from air pollution, found in a winter season.
To reduce PM2.5 would directly correlate with an increase in health benefits, Coulombe said. He compared a picture of Jan. 20, 2011 with a picture from Jan. 7, 2011, saying “I would rather live in a Cache Valley that looks like this (Jan. 20), than here (Jan. 7).”
Unless action is taken to better the air quality, Cache Valley residents will continue to experience health impacts, he said.
“One way to look at this is having clean air and taking action could be a family value,” Coulombe said. “So the health of our children can be a family value, and we can get behind that because we like to call ourselves a family friendly, child-friendly state.”