Coal Ash Wednesday: Think of the children

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Because exposure to coal ash can be devastating to them:

Experimental research has demonstrated that fine and ultrafine particulate matter can pass directly through the nasal olfactory pathway into the circulatory system to the brain.18,19 In addition, research has shown when air pollution is cleared from the lungs it can enter the gut and exit the body via the gastrointestinal tract.20

Chronic exposure to air pollution and particulate matter has been found to cause chronic inflammation and elevated levels of cytokines throughout the body and brain.18,19 In addition, some of the metals in fly ash are neurotoxins,21-24 and exposure to neurotoxic heavy metals during rapid growth in the early stages of life can disrupt developmental processes and result in neurological dysfunction.17,24

Normally I would remove those reference numbers to make the reading easier, but it's good to occasionally give a nod to legitimate research. There's so much industry-funded nonsense out there (a lot of) people can't tell the difference anymore. Prior to the Clean Smokestacks Act of 2002, a heinous amount of the fly ash produced by coal combustion was escaping into the air, literally blanketing the state. But even with the new scrubbers in place these days, particulate matter from coal burning is still polluting our skies. And children are especially vulnerable:

The prevalence of difficulty falling asleep (64% exposed vs 38% nonexposed, P = .007), frequent night awakenings (69% exposed vs 32% nonexposed, P

Exposure to coal ash particles could affect both the respiratory and mental health of children. Borcherding et al conducted experimental studies that demonstrated the potential for coal ash particles to promote growth of pathogenic bacteria capable of causing respiratory infections.31 In addition, ADHD, autism, behavioral problems, and decreased cognitive function have been associated with exposure to some of the metals found in coal ash, including arsenic, lead, mercury, manganese, and cadmium.21-23,32-34 Children’s exposure to metals and particulate matter, both prenatal and postnatal, can disrupt normal brain development leading to functional impairments.35

Recent studies have also found a significant association between elevated levels of particulate matter in air pollution and disorders of sleep initiation and maintenance in children, as well as an increased prevalence of habitual snoring.36,37 Children with sleep problems can develop chronic illnesses and life-long problems. Sleep may be vital in the regulation of emotions and metabolism, as well as critical to memory, brain development, and learning.38 Furthermore, inadequate sleep may predispose children to obesity, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions, while adequate sleep may improve function of the immune system and reduce risk of infection.39

This NIH study specifically targeted sleeping problems in children, which may seem one of the "lesser" dangers from coal ash. But aside from the health issues that sleep disruption can cause, it also has a profound impact on academic performance, which in turn can limit a child's future economic prospects.

And this is as good a time as any to remind you of recent studies showing increased COVID 19 death rates associated with fine particulate air pollution:

One recent study found that even small increases in fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, have had an outsized effect in the US. An increase of just 1 microgram per cubic metre corresponded to a 15% increase in Covid-19 deaths, according to the researchers, led by Xiao Wu and Rachel Nethery at the at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

"The evidence we have is pretty clear that people who have been living in places that are more polluted over time, that they are more likely to die from coronavirus." – Aaron Bernstein

These are not the first studies to highlight a substantial link between air pollution levels and deaths from viral diseases. A 2003 study found that patients with Sars, a respiratory virus closely related to Covid-19, were 84% more likely to die if they lived in areas with high levels of pollution.

The moral of this story: The sooner we cycle completely away from burning coal for energy needs, the better.

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