Air Quality Issues Due to Particle Pollution with John Balmes, MD

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This segment of the latest Lungcast episode featured a discussion over the ALA’s State of the Air Report and the impacts of particle pollution.

Around 40% of US citizens now reside in a region with unhealthy air pollution levels and the American Lung Association (ALA) added to these statistics in its 2024 State of the Air report when it gave a failing grade for ≥1 measure of pollution in the air.

These environmental issues, their impact on lung health, and the biggest causes were all topics of conversation in the recent episode of Lungcast. During the episode, ALA chief medical officer Albert Rizzo, MD, spoke about this year’s State of the Air Report with John Balmes, MD, a professor of medicine emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco.

Balmes also serves as professor of environmental health sciences emeritus for the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. Early on in the interview, Balmes was asked about the reasons for particle pollution and its disproportionate effect on certain cities.

“There are several reasons for why particle pollution is worse in many of the cities that the report covers,” Balmes explained. “I'll start with wildfires, because I live in California and Northern California, where we've had a lot of experience with wildfires and this has been widely publicized. All the progress that we've made in recent years with the Clean Air Act enforcement and reducing particle pollution from the usual sources, like diesel trucks, coal fired power plants, have been almost eliminated. The benefit has almost been eliminated by the incredible increase in particle pollution from wildfire smoke.”

Balmes added that winds pushed Canadian wildfire smoke toward the East Coast over the past year, contributing to some of the harmful impacts. Later, Rizzo pointed out that the main particle pollution is PM 2.5, asking Balmes to describe some of these health effects and comment on what populations may be at most risk for these effects.

“These particles, when inhaled, make it down into the deep lung and a fraction of those fine particles includes even smaller particles called ultra fine particles which can go across the alveolar capillary membrane between the air sacs and the bloodstream and then circulate around the body,” Balmes said. “These fine particles cause problems for people with lung disease, especially people with asthma, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbations, which can occur from inhalation to PM2.5…They also can get to the brain, as there is now evidence that PM2.5 Pollution is associated with risk of dementia.”

Lungcast is a monthly respiratory news podcast series hosted by Al Rizzo, MD, chief medical officer of the ALA, and produced by HCPLive. To learn more, view the full video segment posted above.

Subscribe to Lungcast on Spotify here, or listen to the episode below.

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