Money Wise--Healthcare and Your Car

When you drive your car, surely safety is a concern, so you wear you seatbelt and drive defensively. But a new study by the Environmental Protection Agency might just give you something else to think about.

We all know about pollutants in the air, but according to the study, you may be exposed to air pollution inside your vehicle. EPA scientists are studying state Highway Patrol Troopers in North Carolina to determine exposure to air pollutants inside our cars, and whether these may be affecting our health.

The study is providing valuable information on specific areas where people are being exposed the most to particulate matter or PM. "PMs are tiny particles which can cause heart problems and death in the elderly," explained EPA's Ron Williams.

Particulate matter is emitted from cars, coal-fired power plants and industry; and is regulated by the EPA. To measure PM, scientists monitored the air in patrol cars, at the side of roads and at locations throughout the community. "We wanted to know where drivers were being exposed the most to PM particles and other air pollutants while driving," said the agency's Bob Devlin. "We found that PM was lowest in the cars, although we also found other air toxics from gasoline inside these vehicles."

Scientists also conducted tests to measure the cardiovascular health of state troopers and found signs of cardiovascular stress. "We monitored young healthy state troopers before, during and after a typical nine-hour shift," said Devlin. "We found that exposure to particles caused small changes in the ability of the heart to beat in proper rhythm; in addition there were changes in the blood which can potentially lead to the formation of blood clots, which are known to cause heart attacks. The changes were more strongly associated with PM found inside cars than with PM found outside."

While this did not pose a health threat to these young healthy troopers, they could be of potential concern to elderly people with heart disease. Studies like these are helping the EPA protect the public from air pollutants. EPA is also providing information in your local paper, TV and radio on the quality of the air you area through daily forecasts for particle pollution in more than 100 cities across the country, giving the public an additional tool to protect their health every day.

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Reported by: Dmitra Denmark, ddenmark@wtoc.com