The amounts of tiny -- but potentially harmful -- air particles from diesel emissions tend to double at the Bridge of Americas during peak traffic hours, according to a study by experts at the University of Texas at El Paso.
The nationally known Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology in January published the UTEP study, titled "Ultrafine particle levels at an international port of entry between the US and Mexico: Exposure implications for users, workers, and neighbors."
"Normally, our lungs act as filters for airborne particles, but these smaller particles travel deeper within our lungs," said Hector Olvera, a research assistant professor at UTEP who conducted the study. "Nanoparticles like UFPs are so
small they can reach our bloodstream. Other studies have shown that after entering the bloodstream, they end up in our brain, liver, bone marrow and kidneys."
The emissions may be most harmful to border agents working near and around the port, to workers on both sides of the bridge, to people who live near it and to students who attend schools nearby. Olvera said that above-normal levels of emissions may be found at the Chamizal National Memorial and Bowie High School.
Every day people can be seen jogging or walking through the Chamizal park next to Bowie High.
Chamizal National Memorial's acting superintendent, Jerome Flood, said he could not comment now because his office is not familiar with the study.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Roger Maier said the health and safety of the agency's agents is "of utmost importance. An El Paso-based CBP safety officer read the abstract and points out that the study was based on outdoor ambient air monitoring, not personal monitoring specific to sampling strategies dictated by OSHA standards to determine actual employee exposure to specific contaminants."
Maier added that "none of the studies that have been conducted at area ports over the
years concerning exposure to carbon monoxide have documented over-exposures to (carbon monoxide) 50 ppm (parts per million) based on a time-weighted average of eight hours for those employees wearing personal air monitors. In order to obtain exposure data, similar personal testing would need to be conducted for the contaminant discussed in the abstract."
Maier said the CBP does not have control over other agencies on either side of the border that, with their inspection procedures, may contribute to worsening traffic congestion at the bridge.
Renee de Santos, spokeswoman for the El Paso Independent School District, said no one at UTEP notified the district about the air pollution study results. Consequently, the district has not had a chance to review the data.
"We are obviously very concerned about the implications Dr. Olvera's study raises," De Santos said. "The safety and well-being of our students and staff is a priority. The district relies heavily on the city's Department of Public Health and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for information on air quality issues that may affect our campuses."
Last year, the World Health Organization established that diesel emissions are cancer-causing pollutants. Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency characterizes diesel emissions as "likely" cancer-causing pollutants.
The EPA has set standards for safe levels of particulates PM-10 and PM-2.5, which are larger than ultrafine particles. For example, PMs are measured in micrometers, so a PM-10 is the size of 10 micrometers (1 micrometer equals 1 millionth of a meter).
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