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Joel Schwartz, Heavy Metal Pollutants and Ultrafine Particulates

The Reagan Administration, thinking that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had gone too far, wanted to reconsider the elimination of lead in gasoline. In the 1930's it was found that the addition of tetraethyl lead to gasoline improved the performance of gasoline. Only in the 1970's did people consider the impact on human health of the lead being injected into the atmosphere. Lead is a heavy metal that does not get eliminated from plant and animal tissue and consequently gets concentrated in the higher levels of the food chain.

The EPA requested one of its analysts do a study and prepare a report on the economic costs of the elimination of lead as an additive to gasoline. The analyst was Joel Schwartz who had been trained as a physicist. Schwartz's analysis concluded that although there would be $100 million a year in savings from the retaining leaded gasoline there would be ten times that amount, $1 billion per year, in additional health costs. On the basis of Schwartz's study the Reagan Administration allowed the scheduled reduction in leaded gasoline to procede.

Schwartz went on to study the effect of particulate pollution on health. He did this by statistically relating the history of particulate pollution levels to mortality and hospitalization associated with respiratory problems and diseases. In his statistical study he also included other variables which might also affect respiratory health.

What developed out of Schwartz's study was that danger of particulate pollution does not lie exclusively or ever predominantly with the larger, visible particulates. His study revealed that ultrafine particulates, ones with a diameter of 0.1 of a micron or less, may be more dangerous because they pass through the body's membranes directly into the blood stream. The ultrafine particulates were not subject to EPA regulations but were perhaps the most significant health hazard.

In the course of his work Schwartz did one study on the association of deaths and particulate pollution in Steubenville, Ohio, a steel mill town. He found deaths from pneumonia, lung disease and heart attacks rose along with the level of particulate pollution even when the levels were deemed safe by EPA standards. Schwartz's studies led him into a collaborattion with Douglas Dockery of the School of Public Health of Harvard University. Eventually Joel Schwartz left the EPA to join Dockery at Harvard in the School of Public Health.

In 1996 EPA proposed the regulation of fine particulate emissions, including of course electrical power generating plants.

(To be continued.)

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