Madison residents are breathing in more aerosol pollutants than they may be aware of, even though Madison’s air quality currently meets Environmental Protection Agency standards, experts say.
Research finds particulate matter made up of soot emitted by trucks, cars and coal-based factories is contributing to incidence of lung cancer.
Large metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and New York City have the highest particulate-matter levels. Madison does not exceed EPA air standards, but pollutants in the air may put residents in danger.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources currently monitors three air pollutants in Madison: particulate matter, carbon monoxide and ozone. Particulate matter is one of the biggest causes of lung cancer.
Larry Bruss, chief of the ozone section in the DNR’s Bureau of Air Management, said ozone proliferation is the greatest current threat to Wisconsin’s air quality.
Ozone, a naturally occurring gas needed in the atmosphere to block ultraviolet rays, causes air pollution when it concentrates on the ground. The gas is produced by chemical reactions in the burning of coal, gasoline and other fuels.
Wisconsin borders Lake Michigan, which acts as a trap to keep ozone on the ground.
“You have big cities full of people, and the influence of lake meteorology to exacerbate this problem of ozone ground levels,” Bruss said.
Bruss said eight counties in southeastern Wisconsin are currently exceeding the EPA standards for attainable ozone levels.
To minimize pollutant emissions, the DNR is requesting fuel-reformulated cars, motor-vehicle emissions testing and continuous monitoring of five major coal factories in southeastern Wisconsin.
Erhard Jones, air management director of the Institute for Environmental Studies at UW-Madison, said Madison residents currently live in a clean-air environment.
“One of the perks to living in Madison is you have clean air to breath and clean water to drink,” said Joeres.
Two factories currently operating in Madison meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
Particulate matter, Joeres said, is a proven health threat. Brigham Young and New York Universities linked long exposure to particulate matter to deaths due to lung cancer. People living in high-concentration areas are 16 percent more at risk to die of lung cancer, the study said.
“The danger with these particles is you cannot see them, and they can get deep into your lungs,” Joeres said.
Joeres said he is concerned citizens have no way of knowing they are breathing in harmful chemicals, because they are invisible to the human eye.
“My worry is if we keep growing the way we are and technology for vehicles does not keep up, we will see an increase in air pollution in Madison,” he said.
Dr. Ashvin Patel, a cardiologist at Madison’s Veterans Hospital, said elderly patients with chronic lung disease are most at risk to be affected by air quality.
“Anything that affects the quality of oxygen in the body will affect the heart,” Patel said.
Pollutants and emissions in the air can precipitate heart attacks and heart failures due to blocks in the respiratory tract. Levels of carbon monoxide are proven to cause chest pains and assist in heart attacks, Patel said.
“It is hard to trace what pollutants directly affect health and lung disease because there are millions in the air, but the association can be made between the two,” he said.