Originally appeared in Artvoice on November 1st, 2012

Plans are in the works for further monitoring of ultrafine particulates around the Peace Bridge.

A monitoring program for fine particulates was recently begun at the Peace Bridge, but ultrafine particulates seem to be more the culprit relative to high asthma rates and possibly other health effects in the surrounding area.

Fine particles are in the micrometer range (10-6 meters), ultrafines are in the nanometer range (10-9 meters). A size differential from the size of bacteria to the size of an individual virus, or width of a DNA strand.

Based on his extensive studies of air quality and asthma, including numerous studies in the Peace Bridge area, epidemiologist Dr. Jamson Llwebuga-Mukasa has said he considers ultrafine particles a more significant causal factor for asthma than fine particles.

The fine particle monitoring is being conducted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Partly in response to a recent “white paper” issued by the state on air quality and asthma issues in the Peace Bridge area, Dr. Bill Scheider, of the UB Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, School of Public Health and Health Professions, said he plans to conduct ultrafine monitoring in the area, similar to the ultrafine monitoring performed for previous studies by Dr. John Spengler and Dr. Llwebuga-Mukasa, which concluded that bridge truck emissions were responsible in part for the high asthma numbers in the Peace Bridge area. Scheider said the data he collects will be used for comparison with the previous data, and correlation with the current DEC program data. He said his timetable for getting his monitoring program underway was still indefinite.

Scheider was staunchly critical of the white paper, which he reviewed at the request of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York. Scheider wrote that “the logic and interpretation of statistics in the white paper is deeply flawed and in some cases the white paper misrepresents available information so badly that the motivations behind the paper must be questioned.”

Scheider specifically rebutted multiple statements in the white paper, and toward the end of his paper provided a “special note about ultrafine particulates.” He said that “a particularly disturbing part of the…white paper is the way it dismisses the impact of ultrafine particulates on the grounds that no standardized methods exist for measuring them, and their health effects are not well established.”

In a recent public meeting on Peace Bridge area air quality and asthma, DEC Regional Air Pollution Control Engineer Al Carlacci agreed that ultrafine particulates impact human health, and said that “where you have vehicle traffic, you have ultrafine particulates,” but said the DEC does not currently monitor for ultrafines because there is no EPA standard on unacceptable ultrafine particulate concentrations.

Carlacci said EPA is expected to begin mandating that state agencies, such as the DEC, perform ultrafine monitoring beginning in 2014, preliminary to development of an EPA standard that could occur no sooner than 1016. (Or not occur at all. Scheider noted in his review of the white paper that assumed current and future improvements to air quality based in part on tougher emissions standards and other regulations depend on regulation enforcement. And “a conservative Republican President and Congress could again limit the EPA’s regulatory power, as occurred under President George W. Bush, and even attempt to abolish the agency.” Abolishing the EPA was a talking point in the Republican primary debates.)

Scheider also took issue with the white paper statement that “local data shows that poverty, race, and socioeconomic factors (not geographic location) have the greatest correlation to asthma related hospital visits” in the City of Buffalo. He said “the white paper attempts to associate poverty and ethnicity with emergency department visits and hospital admission rates…It is important to ask, what is it about poverty or Hispanic or African-American ethnicity that would lead to higher emergency department and hospital admission rates?”

Scheider wrote that “to dismiss or understate the potential health impact on the Lower West Side community of UFPs generated by truck traffic on the bridge is unconscionable and unacceptable! To allow the community to be exposed to UFP is essentially subjecting thousands of people to an experiment to which they never consented!”

Scheider’s review of the white paper includes a list of his recommendations “to help protect the health of residents living on Buffalo’s Lower West Side.” These include to “perform a health impact study using an independent consultant” and follow the impact study’s recommendations relative to “modification of Peace Bridge expansion plans” and other potential Peace Bridge developments. Another of his recommendations was to “include community representatives with voting rights on planning boards or committees involved with changes in the Peace Bridge, the plaza, and access roads and expressways.”