2001-09-29 / Columnists

Sprayview Sticks & Stones

By Environmental Reporter Bernard Blum

By Environmental Reporter Bernard Blum

The terrorist attack at the World Trade Center has brought public attention to the fact that dust is an environmental threat. Small particles, called "particulate matter," are generated by the fires, the explosions and the building collapses. They can also come, however, from airplane and automobile exhausts, construction sites, power plant stacks and the like. These have worried public health experts for years.

The experts claim that death rates from lung and heart disease rise with greater concentrations of this particulate matter in the air we breathe. Also a concern is heavy metals, carcinogenic chemicals such as dioxin, bacteria, viruses, pollen, animal dander and the materials used in automobile break linings.

Tests on human volunteers show changes in normal heart rate and rhythm when these particulates were in high concentration. The heart was less able to vary their heart rate, experts claim, because the particulate matter gets into the heart muscle and reduces the blood flow to the heart, thereby reducing the heart rate.

Particulates have the same effect on test animals – mice and dogs – and even dust storms have been proposed as affecting coral reef growth from the viruses and bacteria in dust.

It is not possible to avoid dust from an unexpected terrorist attack nor any biological agents that might be included for evil impact. Under normal circumstances, however, it is not advisable to exercise (including jogging) behind dirty exhausts from cars or trucks. Likewise, it is not advisable to tailgate any vehicle while running or exercising in any way.

Using air filters in homes and businesses is an approach to keep from suffering that kind of pollution, as is using houseplants and vegetation, which naturally filter dust and other pollutants.

An aircraft passing overhead reportedly is the same as the combined exhaust of several thousand autos, so dust around airports is hard to avoid when we are outdoors. What can we do? Should we all wear filters? Perhaps we should.

Hopefully, those who suffered smoke inhalation problems or from dust generated by explosions and building collapse will be properly treated for the degree of exposure that they suffered in this tragic event at times televised live to homes all over the world. Prayers must go out to all the victims and their families.

All environmentalists, however, should consider the levels of particulates to be of major concern and Department Of Health levels should encompass all of the materials mentioned above.

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