University of Texas at El Paso
An air pollution study carried out at the international Bridge of the Americas by Hector Olvera, PhD, a research assistant professor at the University of Texas at El Paso’s Center for Environmental Resource Management and Hispanic Health Disparities Research Center, has been published in a journal affiliated with the prestigious publication Nature.
“During my time as a student at UTEP, I was crossing the bridge every day,” Olvera said. “I am an environmental engineer, so the concern was obvious, and I have always wondered how harmful pollution at the port of entry is.”
For the study, he measured the concentration of diesel-emitted ultrafine particles, or UFPs, in the area, which are considered carcinogens by the World Health Organization and likely carcinogens by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“The smaller the particles, their deeper penetration within our lungs,” Olvera said. “Nanoparticles are so small they can reach our bloodstream, and some studies have shown that they may end up in our brain, liver, kidneys, and bone marrow.”
The results showed that particle concentrations doubled the estimated normal during peak hours of traffic, and remained at least above local background levels at all other times. Peak exposure levels in the area were comparable to the severest occupational exposure settings, such as where soldering and welding occur.
The study suggests that the above normal UFP levels are expected within distances of 400 meters from the crossing, which include Chamizal National Park and Bowie High School.
“You want to avoid exposure,” Olvera said. “I would avoid peak hours of traffic and cross very early in the morning or late in the evening if you need to.”
Other tips include crossing with vehicle windows closed, keeping the air conditioner running, and crossing on Sundays when commercial traffic is absent and UFP concentrations are at their lowest.
In another recent study, Olvera found that children run a much higher risk of exposure to UFPs than adults, and children with asthma run an even greater risk.
The official research team was made up of Olvera; former students Veronica Guerrero and Mario Lopez; UTEP Professor of Civil Engineering Wen-Whai Li, Ph.D.; and Humberto Garcia, Ph.D., professor of environmental engineering at the Instituto Technologico de Monterrey.
The journal article, titled “Ultrafine particle levels at an International port of entry between the U.S. and Mexico: Exposure implications for users, workers, and neighbors,” was released in Nature’s Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology on Jan 16.
Olvera said his next step will be to determine El Paso’s background pollution levels to understand exactly how harmful the levels at the border crossing are. He is also measuring diesel-emitted ultrafine particles at I-10 and I-54, which he says at certain points are higher than the pollution at the Bridge of the Americas.