All posts by CleanAirNow Staff

Particulate matter air pollution kills elderly even at EPA’s “safe” levels

A new study of over 60 million American seniors recently shows that long-term exposure to particulate matter air pollution raises the risk of premature death of people over 65 years of age, even at levels well below U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards.

In urban areas, diesel exhaust is one of the main sources of particulate matter, along with coal-fired power plants.

“We are now providing bulletproof evidence that we breathing harmful air.  It is very strong compelling evidence that currently, the safety standards are not safe enough.”  Francesca Dominici,  co-director of the Harvard Data Science Initiative.

The study, “Air Pollution and Mortality in the Medicare Population”, published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the risks of premature death were highest in men, low-income elders, and blacks, with blacks having mortality risks three times higher than the general population.

The study authors reported that lowering particulate matter air pollution in the U.S. by just 1 microgram per cubic meter would save 12,000 lives per year.  The current EPA annual average health standard for P.M. 2.5 is 12 micrograms per cubic meter.

Joel Schwartz, Harvard University professor of environmental epidemiology and the study’s senior author said “This study shows that although we think air quality in the United States is good enough to protect our citizens, in fact we need to lower pollution levels even further.”

To learn more, check out the excellent NPR audio news report or other references below.

U.S. Air Pollution Still Kills Thousands Every Year, Study Concludes, NPR Audio

 Study: Even Low-Level Air Pollution Kills the Elderly, Medpage Today

60-Million-Strong Study Shows Clear Link Between Exposure To Air Pollution & Premature Death, CleanTechnica

Air Pollution and Mortality in the Medicare Population, New England Journal of Medicine

New Harvard Study: There is No “Safe Level” of Exposure to Smog or Particulate Matter. Downwinders at risk

Flint Hills Burns Cause Unhealthy Air in Manhattan KS

 Prescribed fire smoke in Manhattan, Kansas, March 29, 2014. (Source: Wildfire Today)

Portable air pollution monitors deployed this spring by the Kansas Sierra Club and members of the CleanAirNow Coalition indicate that the health of Manhattan residents is at risk during the Flint Hills burning season. Manhattan, home to Kansas State University, is the largest population center in Kansas directly in the path of smoke moving north.

The monitors showed PM2.5 fine particle levels well above the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) on April 7 and April 11, 2017. The results were consistent with levels measured in Lincoln, Nebraska the next day.

This wholesale burning has caused exceedances of the NAAQS for PM2.5 and/or ozone at monitors in Lincoln or Omaha, Nebraska this year and in each of the previous three years. There are no continuous PM2.5 monitors between Kansas City, Ks. and the Cedar Bluff Reservoir monitor near Hays, a distance of some 280 miles, capable of monitoring a northerly moving smoke plume in Kansas.

“Short-term exposure to particulate matter air pollution can be deadly. It can trigger asthma attacks, and has been linked to strokes, heart attacks, and other serious health effects,” says Eric Kirkendall, Director of the Diesel Health Project and member of the CleanAirNow coalition.

“A lot of people in this town and at the University are at risk,” says Manhattan resident and host of one of the monitors, Carol Barta. “We need a study of the cases seen at hospitals & clinics in Manhattan and elsewhere on heavy burn days like we recently experienced.”

Big Burn in the Flint Hills, April 11, 2017

The groups are calling for KDHE to improve their ineffective 2010 Smoke Management Plan and to install continuous PM2.5 monitors to assess the health risks to small town and rural residents near the Flint Hills. They note that, unlike Kansas, Oklahoma has installed ten continuous PM2.5 particle monitors throughout the state connected to EPA’s AirNow alert system.

“State officials and stakeholders in the Flint Hills seem to think this problem will go away if they ignore it long enough,” says KSU Professor and Sierra Club member, Scott Smith. “We think that the good people of Kansas can get together with officials and fix it.”

The full report on the monitoring project may be found on the  Kansas Sierra Club website.  

CleanAirNow holds first membership meeting

The CleanAirNow coalition held its first membership meeting on March 2. at the Community Health Coalition of Wyandotte County.

After planning for over a year, we were happy to reach this point.  Members  from the Kansas City area and other cities attended the meeting in person, by phone, and by video conference.

 During the meeting, we reviewed and discussed the mission and goals of CleanAirNow, reviewed work now underway or planned, and discussed future initiatives.

Work underway includes the analysis of lab results from recent air pollution monitoring in Kansas City, Kansas, and preparations for air pollution training, which begins soon.

We also talked about the air pollution workshop we are planning to hold in a few months, and the potential of implementing the IVAN environmental reporting system  in the KC region.

 As our last step, we voted for our representative to the national Moving Forward Network.  Eric Kirkendall will be our representative for at least a few months, until we elect someone else from CleanAirNow.





New report says BNSF yard and maintenance shop operations are the likely cause of diesel exhaust air pollution buildups in Argentine

The Diesel Health Project issued a new report this week that uses air pollution and weather data from the Argentine Village Green monitoring station and other sources to confirm that two sections of the BNSF rail yard are the likely source of frequent buildups of diesel exhaust air pollution in the Argentine neighborhood. These two sections are the neck of the classification yard, where old switch engines are used, and the Locomotive Maintenance Inspection Terminal (pictured below) which is used for load testing large numbers of locomotives.

BNSF Argentine Locomotive Maintenance Inspection Terminal
BNSF Argentine
Locomotive Maintenance Inspection Terminal

This study, conducted by Craig Volland, Air Quality Chair of the Kansas Sierra Club, was a follow-up to our 2015 study which  found dangerous levels of elemental carbon, a marker for diesel exhaust,  in several locations near  the BNSF Locomotive Repair Facility, where locomotives are load tested (photo above), and identified the likely source as locomotives being tested at the facility.

pm-image-air-alliance-houstonThe carbon particles in diesel exhaust are dangerous because they are typically coated with 30 or more toxins, and when inhaled, the smaller particles enter our bodies, along with their toxins.

Diesel exhaust is a known carcinogen, is known to cause many other diseases (see graphic below) and has been linked to many others.

Source: Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center
Source: Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center


A full copy of the report can be viewed below or downloaded here.  For more information, including the database used for the analysis, please email


Diesel Health Project Holds Clean Air Open House in Kansas City, Kansas

The Diesel Health Project held a Clean Air Open House last Thursday, May 26, at the Argentine Community Center.  Despite a tornado warning and a torrential rainfall of almost 4 inches that night, the  turnout was good.

We had a fun and informative Clean Air Open House, in partnership with seven great organizations that work in Wyandotte County and participated in the evening with tables, information sharing, and more.

  • Children’s Mercy Hospital
  • Climate + Energy
  • Community Health Council of Wyandotte County
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Historic Northeast-Midtown Association
  • NAACP, KCK Chapter
  • Kansas Sierra Club

Here are a few snapshots of the evening.

This Fall, the Diesel Health Project will offer training on the health risks of diesel exhaust air pollution and how people can protect themselves and their community.  If you or your organization would be interested in us giving the training at your location or event, please contact Eric Kirkendall at 785-550-3408 or

With thanks to everyone who made the evening possible, including wonderful Kansas City, Kansas Parks and Recreation staff; the amazing folks who run the fine Argentine Community Center; Elaine Giessel and Eric Aldape, who planned the event; our main speakers Richard Mabion and Leticia DeCaigny; the staff of Region 7 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the volunteers and folks who hosted tables, spoke, and helped in many other ways.

And thank you Luis Aparacio for many of the photographs.

Diesel Health Project represented at Kanza Sierra Club event

The Kanza Group of the Sierra Club  held their annual fundraiser and auction last month.  Eric Kirkendall, director of the Diesel Health Project,  attended and staffed an information table.

Richard Voss, who has been helping the Diesel Health Project by building an Arduino-based particulate matter monitor, displayed that very fascinating device.

Elaine at Sierra Club


The evening was MC’d by Elaine Giessel, vice-chair of the Kansas Chapter of the Sierra Club.


Dr. Christopher J. Anderson, Research Assistant Professor at Iowa State University, and Assistant Director of the Iowa State University Climate Science Program was the guest speaker of the evening.  His presentation, “How Kansas Could Benefit from the Paris Climate Agreement” was excellent.

He emphasized how implementation of the agreement could substantially slow down the pace  of global warming.  He said he expects the impact of climate change on the Kansas City area to include increasing temperatures, more heavy rains and an increase in annual precipitation.

This was a fun evening, with wonderful food cooked by Sierra Club members, beers and wines from Kansas breweries and wineries, and a huge silent auction that included art, books,  items for the home and outdoors, and much much more.

Diesel Health Project in D.C.

Last week, the Diesel Health Project of Kansas City participated in the Moving Forward Network’s petition to reduce toxic diesel health exhaust pollution near ports and rail yards in Washington, D.C. Representatives from various states across the country from Kansas to California all met in Washington to gain attention, and awareness of this ongoing problem. During our trip to Washington, members of our team spoke with several different EPA organizations, where we described the harsh public health impacts as well as the overall pollution.

The main focus of the Diesel Health Project and other organizations focus was to directly reach out to Gina McCarthy, the EPA Administrator. Many of the community coordinators, such as Leticia DeCaigny, who is our very own coordinator at the Diesel Health Project believe that McCarthy does care about the problem, but the issue we are now facing is whether or not she is going to take action. Leticia is a large advocate for both the Diesel Health Project, and public health and safety in general, “After my 8-year old son died of cancer, I wanted to devote myself to reducing the incidence of childhood illness and to improve the quality of life for all”. Leticia went on to say that two things that motive her and other members of the Diesel Health Project to travel to Washington D.C. and become active in the campaign is to eliminate diesel emissions in the Kansas City area, and for others who face similar problems in sea and inland ports all over America.

Richard Mabion interviews Diesel Health Project members on KKFI Community Radio

Kansas City, Kansas environmental justice activist Richard Mabion recently interviewed Leticia DeCaigny and Eric Kirkendall on KKFI community radio about the  history and involvement of the Moving Forward Network’s zero emissions campaign and the work of the Diesel Health Project in Kansas City, Kansas.

Diesel Health Project Lead Community Organizer Richard Mabion conducts interview on KKFI.
Diesel Health Project Lead Community Organizer Richard Mabion conducts interview on KKFI.

Both groups are working on reducing air pollution, particularly diesel exhaust, from freight facilities such as ports and rail yards.  Diesel exhaust is a known carcinogen, and is linked to cardiovascular disease, asthma, dementia, and a number of other diseases. 

DeCaigny, who grew up in the Argentine/Turner area, said she was unaware of the health problems of diesel exhaust until the Moving Forward Network hosted a toxic tour of areas around the BNSF Argentine Rail Yard,

DeCaigny said that monitoring she and other members of the Argentine Turner Good Neighbor Committee conducted found levels of diesel exhaust high enough to hospitalize a person a few days after exposure.  Mabion said that at one location the pollution levels were so high that they could be fatal.

Diesel Health Project Program Manager Eric Kirkendall prepares for interview.
Diesel Health Project Program Manager Eric Kirkendallco prepares for interview.

The interview provided information on the recent progress of both groups, similar issues across the country, and ways community members can get involved, such as by visiting the Zero Emissions Now campaign website and signing the petition.

Click here to listen to an abridged version of the interview.

By Ananda Bhatia, Diesel Health Project

DHP team attends EPA Grant Training

DHP Community Health Director Eric Aldape
DHP Community Health Director Eric Aldape in EPA EJ grant training class’.

On Feb. 15 and 16, members of the Diesel Health Project team had EPA Environmental Justice Small Grants Training. The training included the requirements for their recently awarded grant, rules and regulations, and spending requirements.

“I think most important for me [to learn] was how to work effectively with the EPA folks it’s important to manage our grant properly,” DHP co-founder Eric Kirkendall said. “Meeting and getting to know the EPA EJ team was a plus.”

On the first day, the group – awardees from several cities in EPA Region 7 – attended a virtual training workshop at an EPA facility, where they shared information on their project and the progress they had made.

The second day of training, at EPA Regional Headquarters, began with a good session on the history of environmental justice and best practices and challenges of grants management.

At mid-day, Special guest Judge Arney Bland spoke before class attendees and EPA employees  about environmental justice and civil rights.  Afterward, EPA hosted a panel session including Diesel Health Project and other awardees.  To cap off an excellent event, EPA Environmental Justice Program Manager Althea Moses presented awards to DHP co-founder Richard Mabion and National Environmental Justice Advisory Committee chair Margaret May.

The day ended with more virtual training, where EPA experts presented on topics such as other grant programs and tools and techniques to use for grant management.

“They really reiterated that the EPA goal is to help us do a good job,” Kirkendall said. “They want us to succeed, so shared very useful information on what it takes to do that.”

By Ananda Bhatia, Diesel Health Project