Question: What type of health issues are associated with inhalation of ultrafine particles?

liz is asking a question about air-quality
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by liz | August 04, 2017 13:55 | #14718

What type of health issues are associated with inhalation of ultrafine particles?

Background story:

This question comes from community members in Pennsylvania who are concerned about the long term health effects of inhalation of a dehydrated waste product coming from an abattoir (slaughterhouse). This waste product consists mostly of particulates smaller than PM2.5 (ultrafines) and also includes calcium and heavy metals, and has a listed pH of 12.4-12.8. See

Some community members have been inhaling this product for 31 months, others for as long as 43 months. They are observing health effects amongst their neighbors, and are starting to keep records, but don't want to jump to conclusions. There are a set of interrelated questions:

  • Are these are related to the nearby industrial animal processing facility?
  • What we might expect the health effects for our community to be?
  • How we should document these health effects?
  • Are there steps we should be taking to protect our health?

NB, Previously, this community has inquired specifically about calcium and received very helpful answers:


Here are some helpful databases to look for information.

Information specific to any individual, community, or workplace would require a systematic and detailed assessment about history, context, other patterns over geography and time of the exposures and health co-occurring health concerns. This helps determine what can or should be prioritized. This type of needs assessment usually requires financial support to complete in a meaningful way.

It may also help to let us know the specific goals for using the information? Multiple health outcomes could be plausibly linked to supporting scientific literature from research in other contexts, but the strength of supporting those associations are relevant to this situation may require some extra work and detail. Some initial helpful questions may include: Have employees or workers most commonly exposed expressed concerns about their health or the application process as well? Are there health providers or public health officials who have (without prompting) noted suspicious patterns that come up in their routine clinical practice?

Public labs has some crowdsourcing tools they are partnering to develop to share and map exposures and health outcomes that may be helpful to this community moving forward.

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One of the most difficult advocacy projects is obtaining wholesale health-related information from a community. For good reason, people protect their privacy on health-related matters. In order to obtain a large enough sample and gather meaningful information for a survey, you need to ask questions regarding pre-existing conditions, age, years lived at residence, occupation, reproductive health questions - it is really sensitive stuff. Then there is linking environmental data to health-related complaints. It makes a lot of sense that cases tort cases are handled by attorneys who can assure the community of privacy via attorney/client privilege.

In my community, we have used informal and confidential surveys (partially prepared with advice from a volunteer professional), door-to-door canvassing -- which requires a lot of one-on-one time, sitting down with the neighbor, going through the questions one at a time, if they are willing. To some effect, they have been useful and we have submitted the pie charts, etc. to planning officials, as well as including the data in a civil rights complaint. So, their community should definitely try to obtain as much data as possible, knocking on doors, etc.

Fine particulates are not good for your health, obviously. The main issue in my community is issues with breathing, asthma - also, studies show that the risk of breast and lung cancer is elevated when people inhale fine particulates.

My advice would be to try to gather as much environmental information as possible, finding low-cost methods, sampling on worst-case scenario days for starters - checking wind speed and direction since fine particulate levels change drastically depending on those factors.

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