Last summer East Boston Olin College students, Taylor Sheneman and Christine Dimke, under the direction of their professor Scott Hersey installed instruments that have been measuring a wide array of pollutants caused by fossil fuels emanating from highways and Logan International Airport.
The pilot program is a collaboration between Olin, East Boston’s AIR Inc., Eastie’s airport mitigation advocacy group and Aerodyne, the manufacturer of the ARISense air quality measuring technology.
The pilot program and other environmental issues sparked renewed interest in environmental justice for a group of Eastie mothers.
Led by Sonja Tenglad and Julia Burrell an East Boston chapter of the national Mothers Out Front movement has been formed. Mothers Out Front encourages mothers across the nation to fight for meaningful environmental mitigation to ensure a liveable climate for children.
Mothers Out Front will partner with Olin College and AIR Inc. on Tuesday, October 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the East Boston YMCA Ashley Street site (54 Ashley St.) to host a community education event outlining Professor Hersey and the Olin students’ findings.
“The problems we face, and what Mothers Out Front and AIR Inc are doing to tackle these issues head on and to give parents ways to protect their children,” said Mothers Out Front in a statement. “The news keeps flooding in on the harmful effects that air pollution has on people, especially children. These problems are linked to mental and physical development alike. The data is staggering: children in heavily polluted areas of East Boston are 3-4 times more likely to experience symptoms of asthma than kids in surrounding neighborhoods, and twice as likely to experience symptoms of COPD. These issues will only worsen as the airport expands and air and car traffic increases.”
Last week, Hersey was featured in an article by WGBH showcasing the work that he and his team at Olin College have done to understand local air pollution in Eastie and its surrounding communities.
According to the WGBH article the equipment Hersey and his Olin students used found a type of air pollution that, “can lead to heart attacks and strokes and is contaminating homes and schools near highways in Eastie.”
Hersey told WGBH that it’s not just vehicles that are contaminating Eastie, but planes flying in and out of Logan Airport are releasing harmful air pollution, and it’s impacting surrounding communities.
“Just behind us, you know, a dozen feet, is a line of houses. This is a massive residential area,” Hersey told WGBH as he stood on Bayswater Street in Eastie. “And a couple hundred meters in front of us is this line of taxiing aircraft that’s emitting a lot of gas phase pollutants and ultrafine particles.”
Like cars, jets burn fuel and release harmful ultrafine particles that are so small they are absorbed right into the bloodstream and can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
In 2013 the East Boston Times reported that the neighborhood’s “Godmother of Environmental Justice”, the late Mary Ellen Welch, had for decades tried to force Massport to measure ultrafine particles or PMs.
Welch long argued that the airport’s runway and roadside operations pose too much of an environmental impact on the neighborhood not to be considered when Massport files environmental impact statements or operations reports.
PMs from car exhaust and jet aircraft has been shown to cause a wide array of adverse health impacts.
The large number of deaths and other health problems associated with particulate pollution was first demonstrated in the early 1970s and has been reproduced many times since. PM pollution is estimated to cause 22,000-52,000 deaths per year in the United States and 200,000 deaths per year in Europe.
The effects of inhaling particulate matter that have been widely studied in humans and animals now include asthma, lung cancer, cardiovascular issues, birth defects, and premature death. The size of the particle is a main determinant of where in the respiratory tract the particle will come to rest when inhaled. Because of their small size, particles on the order of 10 micrometers or less (PM10) can penetrate the deepest part of the lungs such as the bronchioles or alveoli. Larger particles are generally filtered in the nose and throat via cilia and mucus, but particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometers, PM10, can settle in the bronchi and lungs and cause health problems.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that inhaling PM2.5 leads to high plaque deposits in the arteries causing cardiovascular problems. Researchers suggest that even short-term exposure at elevated concentrations could significantly contribute to heart disease and concluded that traffic exhaust is the single most serious preventable cause of heart attack in the general public and is the cause of 7.4 percent of all heart attacks in the world.