San Joaquin Valley residents, myself included, suffer from fine particulate pollution (PM 2.5). Levels of this type of pollutant are higher here than anywhere else in the nation. The failure to attain the federal health standards for PM 2.5 costs billions in resultant work and school absences, direct health related expenses and premature death.
Of particular concern in the Southern end of the Central Valley is a fine particulate called ammonium nitrate. This is a secondary particulate formed from milk factory ammonia emissions and NOx from the burning of fuel in cars, trucks, and boilers, etc. This toxic stuff forms mostly during our cool, moist winters. Ammonium nitrate can be as much as two-thirds of the total PM 2.5 in Kern County during the winter and well over half the problem in Fresno County as well.
A recent study published by Environmental Health in 2011 showed dramatic increases in premature births related directly to ammonium nitrate exposure. The study was done in Los Angeles. A less than 2 parts per billion increase in ammonium nitrate levels increased premature birth rates by over 20%. Levels in the SJV are so high that it is possible ammonium nitrate could be increasing premature birth rates here by as much as 100%. In other words, ammonium nitrate in our air is literally killing babies since being born prematurely carries significantly higher mortality risks.
link to study Air Toxics and Preterm Birth
Besides premature birth, many other health effects are known from exposure to ammonium nitrate and the other fine particulates which are small enough to enter the blood stream and even the brain. Each new study has increased the certainty of these negative effects.
In light of the serious and undisputed health issues related to ammonium nitrate it is very disturbing and rather disgusting to see our Air Board putting out recent statements which downplay ammonium nitrate as a pollutant of concern.
A statement from a June 2011 PM 2.5 progress report: June 2011 Air Board Agenda Item
“…the Valley’s ambient PM 2.5 concentrations are predominately secondary ammonium nitrate, which does not impact public health as much as other types of PM 2.5.”
And, in January 2012 the following statement was made in the 2011 Annual Report to the community: 2011 Annual Report
“Ammonium nitrate is estimated to compose about 40% of the Valley’s total PM2.5 concentrations, but it is generally regarded as having relatively low toxicity.”
Really? When it kills babies it is considered relatively low in toxicity?
The obvious conclusion from these statements is that the Air Board does not wish to control ammonia emissions from dairies so they find it prudent to lie to the public with these subtle and incorrect statements about the relative health risks attributable to ammonium nitrate. The problem, of course, is that babies are dying and will continue to die as a consequence. It is time the Air Board stops pretending their actions do not harm public health.