Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Air Pollution Impacts From Wildfire Impacts

What is curious here is not how high the pollution levels were - pollution levels can be much, much higher in places like Fairbanks - or how long a period - they can last much, much longer in places like Fairbanks - but how they seem to detect an effect with such a small sample size. Disturbing, if the study can be taken at face value:
The research, conducted by UC Davis and the California Air Resources Board, found that rhesus macaque monkeys born at the university’s Primate Research Center in the summer of 2008 – an unusually intense fire season – had depressed immune systems compared with those born a year later.

...During late June 2008, PM 2.5 levels spiked at ARB measuring stations in Davis and Woodland, not far from the primate research center, said Lisa Miller, professor of veterinary medicine at UC Davis and a researcher at the primate center. Smoke had drifted into the Central Valley from more than 2,000 fires ignited by lightning strikes. More than 1.2 million acres burned.

“In 2008, monitoring locations had readings of 75 micrograms per cubic meter for a 24-hour period,” said Miller. “That is extremely high.”

The current national standard for safety is less than half that amount. Additionally, wildfire smoke also causes higher ozone levels, which are linked to asthma, lower birth weights and heart problems.

The effect of that particulate matter was measured on 50 monkeys – 25 that were born in 2008 and 25 in the mostly quiet fire season of 2009. Use of the primates is seen as a crucial model for establishing the effects of toxins and environmental effects on humans.

The young monkeys, which live outdoors at the primate center, were between 1 and 3 months old when they were examined. Researchers took blood samples and did lung function studies. “The idea behind this is that if we detected any changes in the animals this information might translate as a biomarker that can be used for kids,” said Miller, whose specialty is childhood respiratory diseases.

The outcome proved surprising, Miller said. Conventional medical wisdom says that smoke and other irritants cause immune systems to kick into high gear. This study, however, found the opposite.

“When we took blood samples and put them in a tissue culture dish and treated that culture with a mimic of an infectious organism, we found that the blood from animals exposed to wildfire smoke responded in a reduced manner when compared to the control group from 2009,” said Miller. “That means the ability of the animals to respond to a real pathogen was reduced.”

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