A major research interest of mine is how we handle agricultural needs and demands while maintaining compliance with the federal air quality standards for the country. Research that we do at the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (WCAHS) in collaboration with the Air Quality Research Center at the University of California, Davis, proposes new and novel methods to determine from where particulate matter (PM) arises. We are especially interested in whether different sources of air pollution (e.g., produced by farming, industry, traffic) cause different health effects because current air pollution regulations treat all emissions equally.
The fundamental question is whether some sources of air pollution are more toxic than others, and thus pose a greater risk. For example, do sea spray and diesel exhaust have the same toxicity? Most likely not, but the current mass-based National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) treats them the same. If possible, wouldn’t it be a more efficient and appropriate strategy to regulate air pollution sources based on the toxicity of their emissions? This would certainly reduce costs to both industry and the consumer. These are questions WCAHS is trying to address.
A new sampling technique that measures size and composition of particles in real-time has been developed and successfully used by WCAHS to collect PM from the atmosphere. Particle size and composition are the most reliable indicators of the source of PM. We conducted two experiments in Fresno, CA, during the winter and summer seasons. PM was identified as coming from vehicles, cooking, residential heating, agriculture, and the atmosphere. Now that we have collected the PM, the individual source particles can be used to test their toxicity based on pulmonary and cardiovascular endpoints.
You can check out this and other information in the 2013 WCAHS Summer Newsletter.
Kent E. Pinkerton, PhD
Director, Center for Health and the Environment, UC Davis
Associate Director, Western Center for Agricultural Health & Safety at UC Davis