Often, when we think of respiratory exposure to disability-causing toxins, we are imagining fumes in the air. These fumes from jet fuel, oil fires, exhaust or other exposure routes we’ve talked about can certainly affect your health in a very serious manner. However, often there are tiny particles in the air that can do some severe damage to your lungs and even other organs. Fine and Ultrafine particles are so small, you wouldn’t notice them at all, but they could cause serious respiratory problems, or severely worsen existing lung, brain or heart problems. These particles are so small, they can go deep in the lungs, find their way into your bloodstream, and even spread to the brain and heart!
Ultrafine particle exposure can happen in many different ways. Two major routes of exposure for veterans would be the combustion of fuels like diesel and especially jet fuel and oil well fires, burn pits, or other fires. An air quality report in 2014 found that high levels of ultrafine particles could be causing health problems for people living up to 10 miles away from airports in the US, particularly large airports like LAX. If people living 10 miles away from an airport are at risk, imagine families living on an Air Force base, or spending your entire workday on a runway, surrounded by jet fuel exhaust!
Ultrafine particles are fairly obvious side effects of fires. Whether it’s plastics, wood, or oil, the smoke from burn pits and oil well fires exposed many, many veterans to large doses of ultrafine particles.
The research on ultrafine particle exposure is still fairly new. Studies have been performed that show decreased lung function, more severe symptoms, and an increase in death for those with pre-existing cardiac problems, lung problems, and COPD. While there needs to be much, much more research done with regards to the health effects of these particles, it has been shown that they cause oxidative stress, provoke an inflammatory response, increase blood pressure, and altered immune response-all of which are connected to a whole host of diseases from asthma to cardiovascular disease to Parkinson’s!
Ultrafine particles are only one small piece of the puzzle. For more information, see Hill & Ponton’s other posts on JP-4, Oil Well Fires, and Burn Pits.