To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Los Angeles neighborhoods show striking differences in transit-related air pollution


By Alison Hewitt, December 15, 2013

Los Angeles, California - UCLA researchers pitted four Los Angeles neighborhoods head-to-head to compare their air pollution levels and found that while more affluent neighborhoods generally fared better, the Mar Vista community near the Santa Monica Airport scored worse for ultrafine particle pollutants than freeway-laced downtown and Boyle Heights and far worse than neighboring portions of West Los Angeles.

Researchers used an emissions-free electric vehicle filled with instruments to measure real-time air pollutant concentrations in residential areas of Boyle Heights, downtown, West Los Angeles and the Mar Vista neighborhood known as North Westdale. During typical daytime weather patterns, the North Westdale community is immediately downwind of the Santa Monica Airport.

Large differences were observed among these communities during summer afternoons that featured very similar meteorology. Noxious particulate concentrations in the North Westdale neighborhood were highest, followed by Boyle Heights and then downtown Los Angeles; neighborhoods in West Los Angeles had the lowest pollutant levels.

The findings are published in December issue of the journal Atmospheric Environment.
Professor Suzanne Paulson of UCLA's Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Department and the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability headed the study, working with Arthur Winer, professor emeritus at UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health. The fieldwork was led by Wonsik Choi, a postgraduate researcher in Paulson's lab.

"The North Westdale neighborhood is heavily impacted by aircraft activities at Santa Monica Airport," Paulson said. "It has exceptionally high levels of ultrafine particles when aircraft are active, possibly among the highest concentrations of any neighborhood in the Los Angeles area.

"Boyle Heights is particularly impacted by roadway pollution," she said. "It is nearly surrounded by freeways and crisscrossed by major arterial roads. These streets carry a large number of high-emitting older vehicles, and its neighborhoods are characterized by short blocks with abundant stop signs, causing frequent emission spikes from accelerating of vehicles."

The UCLA research expanded on previous studies by revealing differences at the neighborhood level instead of regional levels and by focusing on freshly emitted pollutants instead of smog and ozone. Exposure to these pollutants has been linked to increases in asthma, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, low birth weight, pre-term births and other ailments, the researchers noted.
The researchers found the most striking neighborhood differences in the levels of ultrafine particles, the tiniest airborne particles (less than 0.1 microns in diameter), but the neighborhoods showed many of the same trends with other "tailpipe" pollutants. In contrast, there were not significant differences among neighborhoods in the amount of "traditional" pollutants routinely measured by air agencies, such as fine particulate matter known as "PM2.5" (less than 2.5 microns in diameter).

But tailpipe emissions are not the only source of tiny particles, Paulson noted.

"In Boyle Heights, and to a lesser degree downtown, there are additional ultrafine particles that are not freshly released from vehicles but instead form in sunlight-driven smog processes and are ultimately the result of pollution blown in from upwind areas to the west," she said.

Air quality is also an environmental justice issue, with poorer neighborhoods more likely to face greater pollution, said Winer.

"Despite substantial improvements in regional air quality, cleaner air remains a highly desirable amenity in Southern California," he said.

The researchers also uncovered a noticeable drop in ultrafine particle concentrations between 2008 and 2011 in West Los Angeles, which may be attributable to the region's wealth.

"The decrease in ultrafine particles between 2008 and 2011 in the West Los Angeles area was dramatic," Choi said. "Affluent West Los Angeles experiences rapid turnover of the vehicle fleet, resulting in a higher proportion of newer vehicles with cleaner engines and better fuel efficiency."

Combination of physical and psychosocial stressors during fetal development magnifies the effect of each exposure


December 15, 2013

Maternal psychological distress combined with exposure to air pollution during pregnancy have an adverse impact on the child’s behavioral development, according to researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health.

The study, which appears in the journal Pediatrics, reports that maternal demoralization, a measure of psychological distress capable of affecting a mother’s ability to cope with stressful situations, was linked with a number of behavioral problems, including anxiety, depression, attention problems, rule-breaking, externalizing problems, and aggressive behavior. The effects of demoralization were greatest among children with higher levels of prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in air pollution.

“This study shows that the combination of physical and psychosocial stressors during fetal development magnifies the effect of each exposure,” says lead author Frederica Perera, DrPH, PhD, director of the Center. “The findings are of concern because attention problems and anxiety and depression have been shown to affect peer relationships, academic performance, and future well- being of children.”

The paper is the first to assess the interaction between PAH, combustion-related pollutants measured in air the mother breathed during pregnancy, and maternal demoralization on a variety of behavioral problems in childhood.

PAH are air pollutants generated by combustion sources such as motor vehicles, coal-fired power plants, residential heating and tobacco smoke. In Krakow, Poland, where the study took place, as in many areas worldwide, coal burning is an important air pollution source. Although Krakow has relatively high ambient concentrations of PAH from coal-burning and vehicle emissions, levels are within the range seen in many other urban areas worldwide. “Air pollution exposure is ubiquitous and often co-occurs with socioeconomic disadvantage and maternal psychological distress,” notes Dr. Perera.

Researchers, led by Dr. Perera and Wieslaw Jedrychowski, MD, PhD, from the University of Krakow, followed 248 mother-child pairs from pregnancy through 9 years of age. Personal air sampling was completed during pregnancy to estimate prenatal PAH exposure. Behavioral problems were assessed using the Child Behavioral Checklist, a set of questions to which mothers responded about their child’s behavior. Maternal demoralization has been correlated with socioeconomic factors such as material hardship. Levels of maternal demoralization were ascertained by a questionnaire during the second trimester.

Relationships between prenatal air pollution and behavioral or cognitive problems in childhood have previously been observed in the Center’s Mothers & Newborns study in New York City and in the Polish cohort. This new study builds upon prior findings to examine the joint impact of maternal psychological distress and air pollution on behavioral problems.

Understanding the interactions between the social and physical environment will help to explain health disparities and create interventions to prevent health and developmental problems in children. Notes Dr. Perera, “The findings support policy interventions to reduce air pollution exposure in urban areas as well as programs to screen women early in pregnancy to identify those in need of psychological or material support.”

The Green Way: Your next car should be electric


By Steve Scauzillo, December 14, 2013

Forget those giant red bows on those gas-guzzling Lexus cages. Buy an electric car this Christmas. Besides, aren’t gasoline-powered cars passe?

The future is here, and it’s a race between cars powered by natural gas, battery/electric, and hydrogen. Gasoline cars? They are going the way of the horseless carriage.

And if you don’t believe me, fine. I’m talking about experts and scientists.

When I met Bob Lutz, one of the living legends in the automobile industry, at the recent L.A. Auto Show, he had this to say about the future of automobiles: “The electrification of vehicles is definitely coming,” said Lutz, the father of the Chevrolet Volt, an all-electric car that has a gas-powered motor that re-charges the batteries and extends the car’s range to that of a gasoline-powered car.

Full disclosure: I leased a 2013 Volt in May. I drive to work and to Orange County, where I teach a journalism class, on 99 percent battery power. In the 6,000 miles I’ve put on the car, I’ve only filled up the 9.5-gallon gas tank twice, and once was in San Diego.

Lutz sees battery electric, or electric plug-in hybrids, or the Volt — a more advanced hybrid that can get 40 miles per battery charge and plugs into any electrical outlet in a home, office or garage just like your cell phone charger — as the next generation of alternative-fueled cars. The hydrogen-powered car is coming, but the infrastructure is not there yet.

Currently, there are nine hydrogen stations in all of California. Nine. While everyone generally can find a socket to plug in their BEV or plug-in hybrid. I like to “fill up” at night when electric rates are less. My electric bill was $87 in October and $93 in November — the bump due more to the use of electric heaters during the cold snap. I cut up my gasoline credit cards. Don’t need them anymore.
The Volt? I leased it for $217 a month. I put down $2,500 but got a rebate from the state for $1,500. My out-of-pocket cost for the car was $1,000. And my monthly bill is lower than when I owned a gasoline-powered car. I’m also saving $150 to $200 a month on fuel.

Most people don’t realize that BEVs and advanced extended-range battery cars such as the Volt, or the Ford C-Max or Fusion Energi, are out there. They are not in the future. They are now. I saw an advertisement in our newspaper to lease a C-Max for $159 a month.

The Union of Concerned Scientists and the Consumers Union released a survey Wednesday that said 42 percent of those who responded and owned cars — about 45 million households — were ready and able to drive a Volt or a plug-in hybrid. About half of those households could use an all battery-electric vehicle, such as the Nissan Leaf.

“Consumers who might be shopping for a new vehicle this holiday season may be surprised to learn that an electric vehicle could be a good fit for their household,” said Josh Goldman, analyst with the UCS Clean Vehicles Program.

The survey found that 70 percent of the drivers drive less than 60 miles on a weekday, well within the range of an all battery-electric car. The rest can drive a Volt, which switches to the gas tank to power the electric drive train when the battery charge is zero.

Lastly, the scientists calculated if everyone who could switch to an all-electric or a plug-in extended range car did so, the nation would save 15 billion gallons of gasoline each year. By the way, that is more than what was used in the state during 2012.

Here’s the best part: The planet would save 89 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year. That is the equivalent of removing 14 million of today’s gasoline-powered cars from the road in a year.

The message is simple: Have a garage, or have a plug, and most of you can save the planet. And cut up your gasoline credit cards.

Let’s put a big green bow on that.

Road crew 'abducts' motorists in tunnels


By Eric Heyl, December 14, 2013

Held hostage by PennDOT? 

Sounds preposterous. The state Transportation Department deals in road construction, not sudden abduction. 

But what happened to more than 20 motorists on Thursday usually occurs only to tourists who make the ill-advised decision to venture off Mexico's main highways. Their journeys were abruptly interrupted not by banditos, but by PennDOT workers who greatly overstepped the authority they didn't possess to begin with. 

The drivers were traveling through the Fort Pitt Tunnels when their vehicles were commandeered by a PennDOT truck and herded into a maintenance area immediately outside the tunnel. They were told they were forbidden to leave. 

“We were all just taken aback by what was going on,” Carissa Mendez, 26, of Aliquippa told WPXI-TV. “There was no law enforcement there, and we were all held in this area. We were blocked in on each side by PennDOT trucks.” 

The PennDOT workers accused their prisoners of running a light at the tunnel entrance that had turned red to halt traffic and enable them to remove ice accumulations inside the tunnels. 

That the motorists insisted the light had switched from red to green did not appease their captors. The motorists were told they were being detained until the state police arrived to issue them citations.
The hostages spent about an hour in captivity, even though PennDOT has no authority to confine anyone, regardless of their alleged disregard of the motor vehicle code. That power rests with the police, not some guys in trucks knocking down icicles with shovels. 

PennDOT spokesman Steve Cowan acknowledged that fact on Friday, saying the employees' actions “went against our policy. We are not to detain any motorists.” 

Cowan said PennDOT is continuing to investigate what caused the traffic signal at the tunnel entrance to apparently malfunction. 

“Whether it was a system failure or a human error, we're not certain at this point, But we want to get to the bottom of this,” he said. 

Cowan wouldn't reveal whether the workers had been disciplined, saying he can't discuss a personnel matter.

“But we are discussing this matter internally, and we take it very seriously,” he said. “We made a mistake we shouldn't have made, and we apologize for any inconvenience we caused.” 

The apology probably is a good idea. Under section 2903 of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, the second-degree misdemeanor of false imprisonment occurs when someone knowingly restrains another person unlawfully so as to interfere substantially with their liberty. 

I'm no legal expert. But if someone forced me off the road and unlawfully held me against my will for an hour, I'd certainly consider my liberty to be compromised. I'd believe myself to be falsely imprisoned. 

Perhaps those ridiculously overzealous workers shouldn't just be fearing punishment by PennDOT. Perhaps they should be fearing arrest. 

Wouldn't that be ironic? They'd be taken into custody for taking people into custody.