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Smoke-Filled Cars: New Fodder for the Next Clean Air Fight

New research from investigators at Harvard University measured secondhand tobacco smoke in cars and found pollution levels //that are likely hazardous to children.

“The levels were above the threshold for what’s considered unhealthy for sensitive groups — people like children and the elderly — as determined by the Environmental Protection Agency,” said lead study author Vaughan Rees, Ph.D., a research associate at the Harvard School of Public Health.

During 45 driving trials, the researchers strapped a pollution monitor into a child-safety seat, and then asked a smoker-volunteer to light up at different times along the near hour-long route. The road tests were conducted under two different ventilation conditions: all car windows rolled down, then with just the driver’s side window cracked about two inches.

“Common sense tells you if you smoke in a pretty confined space, such as a car, without ventilation, there’s going to be a lot of secondhand smoke which is potentially dangerous,” said Rees.

He added, “Before this study we had no idea what sorts of levels of secondhand smoke were generated. And we had no way of comparing that with other studies that have looked at secondhand smoke levels in other indoor environments like bars and restaurants.”

The study appears in the November issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

PM 2.5 is one often-used gauge of air quality, which reports the amount of “particulate matter” or particle pollution in the air that is 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller. The smaller the particles, the easier it is for pollution to pass through the nose and throat and penetrate into the lungs.

According to the U.S. Environmental Agency’s Air Quality Index, 24-hour exposure to PM 2.5 greater than 40 micrograms per cubic meter is unhealthy for sensitive people — which can include children, older people and people with certain medical conditions. PM 2.5
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