Home > Environment, Health > High Black Carbon Levels in Chicago Neighborhoods

High Black Carbon Levels in Chicago Neighborhoods

April 24, 2011

The American Lung Association and the EPA have estimated that soot pollution causes more than 4,700 premature deaths annually in just nine major American cities.

-Clean Air Systems

I live in San Diego on a very busy street. The road carries thousands of cars and trucks everyday. I close my windows that face the street. Every so often I open them and along the window channel is very fine black soot. I wipe it out with a dampened paper towel. It is very nasty stuff. It is black carbon soot and very bad for one’s health. Now in a NY Times Chicago section an article today reports:

In nearly 100 hours of spot testing in early April — near dense residential areas, schools and parks in both working-class and wealthier neighborhoods — tests revealed elevated levels of black carbon. Testing for black carbon is a common way to determine levels of diesel exhaust, which is linked to higher risks of cancer, heart disease and lung disease and is also known to worsen allergies and asthma.

Experts said the tests indicated troubling levels of diesel pollution in Little Village, Lincoln Park, Ukrainian Village, Wicker Park, Pilsen and other areas.

“Some of the results may be of concern for potential health effects in exposed individuals, particularly in sensitive subpopulations such as children and elderly,” said Serap Erdal, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Diesel emissions contain a relatively high proportion of very fine particles, scientists say, which are especially harmful because they can penetrate deeply into the lungs and even into the bloodstream. The emissions also contain toxic metals and carcinogenic hydrocarbons.

“There’s suspicion that diesel is a lot more toxic than other types of particulate matter because of the things it’s enriched with,” said Scott Fruin, an assistant research professor of environmental health at the University of Southern California.

The Clean Air Task Force, a public health advocacy group, estimates that in the Chicago metropolitan area, particulates from diesel emissions cause 723 premature deaths, 1,125 heart attacks and 28,201 asthma attacks each year.

Read entire article, click here

“In 1998, California identified diesel exhaust particulate matter (PM) as a toxic air contaminant based on its potential to cause cancer, premature death, and other health problems. Diesel engines also contribute to California’s fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) air quality problems. Those most vulnerable are children whose lungs are still developing and the elderly who may have other serious health problems.”

From the CARB website. For more information from CARB,
visit http://www.arb.ca.gov/research/diesel/diesel-health.htm

Related: Clean Air Systems
A complex mixture of solid and liquid material, diesel particulate matter (PM) is made up of carbon particles, hydrocarbons and inorganics. Also referred to as soot, black carbon, black smoke and fine particle pollution, PM is a component of diesel exhaust emitted by on-road and off-road diesel vehicles such as trucks, buses, automobiles, construction equipment, ships, trains and mining vehicles. Other sources of diesel emissions are stationary power generators, water pumps, and portable gen sets. A result of incomplete combustion during the burning of diesel fuel, fine particles in PM have recently been found to cause considerable health damage.

The American Lung Association and the EPA have estimated that soot pollution causes more than 4,700 premature deaths annually in just nine major American cities.

Properties of Diesel Particulate Matter:

* Complex chemical and physical composition
* Particles vary in size
* Large particles appear as soot or black smoke
* Reduces visability
* Major health hazard to humans

Health Impact of Diesel Particulate Matter:

* Inflammation of lung tissue
* Asthma attacks
* Bronchitis
* Emphysema
* Premature births
* Stroke
* High blood pressure
* Atherosclerosis
* Heart attack
* Premature Death

Environmental Impact of Diesel Particulate Matter:

* Contributes to smog
* Reduces visibility
* Absorbs sunlight causing global climate forcing (weather changes)
* May affect local climate changes
* Contributes to global warming


  1. Kaitlin
    April 24, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    Just wondering where you live in San Diego. I live in Pacific Beach on a pretty busy street and have just started noticing black soot along all of the windows that face the street, including my bedroom. I closed the windows for awhile and cleaned everything off, and just opened them back up again for a day and already the window sills are lined with black soot again.

    Any suggestions on what to do–should I just keep the windows closed? I don’t want to be breathing this stuff in all the time. I imagine I breathe it in just being outside.

  2. April 25, 2011 at 2:32 am

    Allied Gardens; i use a couple room filters from Honeywell that i purchased at Costco; i open a window in any given room and place one so that it pulls air from the room and vents it towards the window; i run it for a few hours periodically; it cleans out the pollutants as best possible; i have wood floors and clean those regularly; i have dogs, so i am vigilant in removing fur; i swap my pillow cases every week;

    What i have noticed is since the two big fires here there is a higher level of particulates; there are reports that California’s bird population has dropped 60% as a result of the large fires over the last 8 years; i have lost all my sparrows, many finches, and only recently have doves returned to my backyard; thanks for stopping by;

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