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CBS 2 Investigation: Air Quality on Metra Passenger Cars Has Alarmingly High Levels of Particulate Matter Harmful to Health

Mon May 05 2014 6:31 am
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CBS 2 Chicago investigator Dave Savini interviews scientists measuring air quality on Metra trains and found high particulate levels.

CBS 2 Chicago investigator Dave Savini and scientist from conducted two types of investigations of the air that Metra commuters breathe.

First the investigation highlights the thick exhaust and fumes that fill Union Station’s cavern where train boarding occurs. Investigators discovered that fumes seep into the Metra passenger cars. Investigators also found vents and walls covered with soot and debris from air circulating inside the passenger cars.

Researchers from the Illinois Institute of Technology test air quality by detecting ultra-fine particles that can be respiratory hazards. The researchers showed a reading of 406,626 particles per cubic centimeter.

Inhalable particles are Particulate Matter (PM) that penetrate no further than the bronchi and are filtered out by the cilia.

Thoracic particles are Particulate Matter (PM) that penetrate right into terminal bronchioles.

Respirable Particles are Particulate Matter (PM) that can penetrate to alveoli (respire) and reach the circulatory system.

Investigators found higher particulate exposure levels on outbound trains, which are pulled by the locomotive with the passenger cars trailing. Lower levels were found on inbound trains, which are pushed by the locomotive from the rear of the passenger cars. Ultrafine particles were about 17 times higher on outbound trains compared to inbound trains. PM 2.5 particles (fine particles) were about 100 times higher.

Particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers tend to penetrate into the gas exchange regions of the lung, and ultrafine (UFPs) or very small particles (< 100 nanometers or < 0.1 micron) may pass as respirable particles through the lungs and into blood circulation to affect other organs. According to study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2002 fine particles PM2.5 leads to high plaque deposits in arteries, causing vascular inflammation and atherosclerosis — a hardening of the arteries that reduces elasticity, which can lead to heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems. Exposure to ultrafine particles (UFPs), even if particle components are not very toxic, may cause oxidative stress, inflammatory mediator release, and could induce lung disease and other systemic effects. Oxidative stress involves a situation where the physiological system of the body is overcome by particles at a level that is difficult for the body to detoxify the reactive intermediates and/or repair the resulting damage. Second, Chris Palenik, a researcher at Microtrace, found the composition of the particles included iron or steel -- supported by the demonstration that a magnet moved the particles. Dr. Bob Cohen of Northwest University said the findings need to be addressed.

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100 nanometers = .1 microns (click to confirm/check your own calculation)

1 micron = 1 micrometer (click to confirm/check your own calculation)

NIOSH-Approved N95 Particulate Filtering Facepiece Respirators filter at least 95 percent of airborne particles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The masks below are included to show an image of a NIOSH-Approved N95 Particulate Filtering Facepiece Respirator …

See also …
Pope, C Arden; et al. (2002). Cancer, cardiopulmonary mortality, and long-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution. J. Amer. Med. Assoc. 287 (9): 1132–1141

Qian Y1, Willeke K, Grinshpun SA, Donnelly J, Coffey CC. Performance of N95 respirators: filtration efficiency for airborne microbial and inert particles. Am Ind Hyg Assoc J. 1998 Feb;59(2):128-32.

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