Chronic inflammation in the lungs can cause respiratory symptoms in children or a deadly response in older adults. For individuals with cardiovascular conditions, lung inflammation can increase heart rate. This puts additional stress on the lungs and heart and can lead to heart attacks and stroke.
The Environmental Protection Agency set health-based standards for fine particulates in 1997 and began wide enforcement in 1999. But the standards do not take into account new research on the composition of the particulate mixture or the toxicity of its components.
Some states are taking matters into their own hands. A bill in the New York State Senate would require that most heating oils meet refining standards for ultra-low sulfur fuel.
Though this legislation would reduce particulates, it would not cover the heavier, residual heating oil used in 10 percent of buildings in New York City. Compared to other heating fuels, residual heating oil emits disproportionately high levels of heavy metals and other pollutants.
“Over the past year the City has been evaluating several options to further reduce pollutants from the burning of residual oil,” said Carter Strickland, senior policy advisor for air and water at the New York City Mayor’s Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability.
According to Meredith Franklin, an environmental health scientist at the University of Chicago, a greater understanding of the sources of particles, as well as the body’s response, are necessary to create effective public health policy.
“The more you know about the cause of health effects, the more you can target certain sources and really do something about it,” Franklin said.
This article originally ran at Environmental Health News, a news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.