Air Quality at Nishi is Very Poor and Unfit for Breathing by Children and Expectant Mothers

Following are summaries or copies of recent papers/articles discussing the causes of poor air quality at Nishi and the impacts it will have on susceptible populations.

Pollution at Nishi site makes it unfit for residents

By Tom Cahill - Special to The Davis Enterprise - February 12, 2016

Early childhood education. Day care. Services for the elderly. Cold weather shelters … I’m sure that the leaders of bankrupt Flint, Mich., had all sorts of plans for the money saved by going from the more expensive water of Detroit to the cheaper source, the Flint River.

I truly hope that no one knew of the hazards the more acidic water of the Flint River would have on the old lead pipes in the city. I truly hope that no one knew how easy and cheap it would be to add materials to the water to mitigate the impact. I really hope it was ignorance, because if it was deliberate, it was criminal, and people should be in prison!

Housing for students. Bike access to the city. Parks and open space. Money for Davis city coffers (maybe …) I’m sure the leaders of Davis have all sorts of plans for the money earned by developing the Nishi Gateway project. The space is ideal for research, high-tech industry and the like.

But can you really think anyone in their right mind would like to live there? Miserable access through a congested business area; constant noise from cars, trucks and trains; and the stink of air pollution? But regrettably, the proposed Nishi project includes a lot of residential development, both rented and for purchase.

Most important, Nishi runs directly into the new knowledge of the threat of freeways on human health. I worked hard to get lead out of California gasoline in the 1970s (for which my program was shut down by then-Gov.Ronald Reagan). But with the help of Gov. Jerry Brown during his first term, we triumphed, and the world followed.

In that triumph we let our guard down on other highway impacts, We have always known that diesel exhaust causes cancer, and provides about two-thirds of all the cancer threat from all the Proposition 65 toxic air contaminants in California. We have long known that a very small number of cars, perhaps one in 10, somehow avoids our smog check systems and provides about two-thirds of the pollution of all cars combined.

But beginning in the late 1990s, new threats were discovered. It became clear that children living near freeways permanently lost lung capacity — a lot of lung capacity. Abundant data showed enhanced asthma from living near freeways. And then there was Volkswagen gaming the system for years.

We discovered in 1997 that Bakersfield residents had lots of early heart attacks, about a 60-percent higher rate of lethal heart attacks than in Davis. In 2007, we showed the cause was ultra-fine metals from the brakes of cars and trucks on the Interstate 5 Grapevine grade and the Tehachapi Pass.

Sacramento is also somewhat impacted from its tight freeway network, and also has enhanced heart attack rates. And in 2010, researchers, including some at the UC Davis MIND Institute, published results showing that getting pregnant with 1,020 feet of a freeway enhances your chances of having an autistic child by 86 percent.

Based upon all these published peer-reviewed studies, we conclude that Nishi is an almost “perfect storm” of freeway impacts — an upwind freeway with heavy traffic and a high truck admixture, with massive braking and acceleration directly upwind of Nishi, an over-crossing that pitches pollutants across the entire venue, a berm to help trap winter pollution on site during stagnation periods, and trains accelerating as they go west.

The Ascent environmental company doing the Davis environmental impact report, said that impacts from air pollution were “… Significant and Unavoidable” (4.3-33) …” I presented these data to the Davis Planning Commission in detail last October. I have forwarded all this information routinely to the City Council.

In terms of potential mitigation, I have also forwarded to the developer and city the information on filtration of ultra-fine metals, the same protocols I am using with the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. However, these protocols have never been proven in realistic buildings with active residents. The open spaces are great, but there is no way to mitigate air pollution impacts there, which are worse if you exercise and breathe through your mouth.

Trees eventually will help, as we saw a factor of 2 mitigation of ultra-fine metals in Land Park east of I-5 in 2010, but it will take decades for the trees to grow to adequate size. So even with these efforts, the Nishi Gateway site is unfit for residential use.

Eventually, the state will have to address the problems of gross-emitting cars, three-axle diesels, metal additives in motor oil and diesel fuel, and ultra-fine metals from brake drums and pads. In the interim, people should not be encouraged to live in an area rife with invisible but dangerous ultra-fine pollutants. We can’t get away with using fixes like the bottled water as they are doing in Flint.

Nishi is a great site for research and light industry, and even these buildings should have enhanced air-cleaning systems. Keep it at that. If Nishi goes on the ballot with its current residential component, everybody in Davis should know what we are doing to future residents of Nishi. Thus, unlike Flint, no one can claim ignorance as a defense.

Note: While most of these materials are in the city of Davis EIR, I will post further references and materials on my DELTA Group website,

— Tom Cahill, a resident of Davis since 1967, is a UC Davis professor emeritus of physics and atmospheric sciences and head of DELTA Group. His first work on Sacramento Valley air pollution was in 1973 and continues to the present.

How Prenatal Pollution Exposure Can Lead to Behavior Problems in Children

by Alice Park - Time Magazine - March 17, 2016

The air that expecting moms breathe can have lasting effects on their children, and the latest study details how.

It's no secret that polluted air - from cigarette smoke, cars and burning heating oil - can have a negative impact on our health. But there's even stronger evidence now about how that air pollution can affect even growing babies in the womb.

In a study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, researchers led by Amy Margolis at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health looked for connections between how much exposure an expectant mother has to levels of a primary air pollutant, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and measurements of children's behavior and emotional states from age three to 11 years. In previous studies, the group showed that higher levels of maternal PAHs at birth were linked to higher rates of anxiety, depression and attention disorders in children at age six and seven years.

In the current study, which follows the same group of children until age 11, the researchers focused on finding an explanation for the connection between PAHs and behavioral issues. They evaluated the children on a standard test of emotional self regulation that captures aggression, impulsiveness, and intensity of emotions. Other studies have linked this ability to self regulate to social competence and the ability to interact with others, a fundamental aspect of many emotional and social behaviors.

Among the 462 children monitored, those whose mothers showed higher levels of PAH at delivery (an indicator of PAH levels during pregnancy), were less likely to regulate their behaviors and emotions at age 9 and 11 than those whose mothers showed lower levels of the pollutant.

In normal development, children gradually gain the ability to control their emotions and behaviors, learning how to delay gratification, for example, and manage their emotions and not always act on impulse. But the study showed that children whose mothers had higher levels of PAHs during pregnancy didn't experience this normal trajectory of emotional and social development, which could lead to more high risk behaviors during adolescence, including drug abuse and aggression and violence. Abnormal self-regulation can also lay a foundation for problems in attention and socialization.

"There is a significant association directly between PAH exposure and poorer social competence," says Frederica Perera, a co-author of the study from Columbia.

She and her co-authors believe that the PAHs may be reducing the amount of white matter in the brain; white matter is a measure of how extensive the brain's nerve network is, and PAH exposure has been linked to compromised connections in areas of the brain associated with behavior and emotion.

Such exposure, however, can be reduced, and some of it is within people's control. Recent policies to improve air quality in the areas of New York City where the study participants live, for example, are already having an effect. The study, which involves mother-child pairs in northern Manhattan and the south Bronx, is ongoing, and new mothers joining the study are already showing lower levels of PAHs than mothers in the original group. The researchers will continue to follow the original population of children as well, to monitor how long term the effects of the prenatal PAH exposure might be.

But even without policy changes, "the exposures [to PAHs] are preventable," says Perera. Families can take action to reduce air pollution in their own homes by reducing exposure to cigarette smoke, avoiding wood-burning fireplaces in confined areas, and making sure that cooking areas are well ventilated to reduce filling the home with smoke from burned or charred food.