Rubber gloves, bad smells and soot have something in common: They could be hazardous to your health.
Those seemingly incongruous factors were among topics discussed at the second Colloquium on Particulate Air Pollution and Health in Park City Wednesday through Friday.Nearly 100 scholarly papers were presented during the three-day conference hosted by the University of Utah's Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health. Epidemiologists, environmental scientists and government regulators were among a collection of experts nationwide who discussed, questioned and debated their peers' work.
Exposure to natural rubber products such as surgical gloves can cause allergic reactions. The prevalence and severity of latex allergy has increased the past 15 years, especially among health-care providers and hospital patients.
The connection to air pollution and the rest of us? Tires. Radial tires are the largest use for natural rubber.
Ann Miguel, a Caltech environmental engineer, and three colleagues said deteriorating tire tread is a widespread source of allergens. Dust from the rubber hitting the road settles on freeways and becomes airborne. Miguel's conclusion: Tire grit from heavy urban traffic could be a factor in causing latex allergy and asthma symptoms.
Given Dr. Allen R. Hirsch's paper presented at the conference, anywhere near burning tires is the last place a person would want to be. If unseen particles in the smoke don't get you, the caustic odor will. Hirsch's studies the past 10 years, including one for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, show bad smells effect emotions, behavior and health.
Annoyance, depression, nausea, coughing, vomiting, headaches, shallow breathing, insomnia and appetite loss were attributed to livestock waste in one study. And in another, traffic accidents increased on days when malodorous air pollution was high, indicating people drive more aggressively in a polluted atmosphere, according to Hirsch's paper.
The meeting of the minds in Park City focused on exploring the health impacts of air pollution, primarily particulate matter or PM10 - smaller than 10 microns in diameter. A micron is one millionth of a meter.
Recent studies found that health is adversely effected with even small increases of PM10 levels in the air. Particulates are tiny bits of soot or dust that get caught in the lungs. Burning of wood, diesel and other fuels, industrial plants and agriculture are sources of particulate pollution.
People daily encounter pollution at home, work or shopping. William E. Wilson, chief scientist for the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, said outdoor and indoor exposure, including cigarette smoke and cooking, account for nearly two-thirds of the particulates people come in contact with. The rest is the mysterious "personal cloud," the particles people carry around with them. How it's all linked to health problems is the subject of intense research.
Many unanswered questions exist. Who's most at risk? What components of PM10 are responsible for respiratory problems? What's the relationship between outdoor and indoor pollution?
The EPA is currently trying to decide whether to ratchet down the PM10 standard to even smaller particles, PM2.5. Utah and Salt Lake counties have exceeded EPA standards for PM10 in the past. Tighter regulations would be tough to meet, especially in Utah Valley.