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Public Health/environmental health


hi ,i have a question about the white smoke that is being released by industrial buildings into the air.we live in boston ma and while i was in quincy center yesterday,that is a suburb of boston i noticed lots of white smoke coming from some of the buildings a little bit be honest im not too sure if they are oil refineries or chemical plants but i am wondering why these buildings are located so close to residential areas and as this smoke is in the air we are breathing is it hazardous to me and my family,thank you so much for your help

Hi Michelle,

Thank you so much for your question. Any time you live in a large city or metropolitan area there is always the likelihood that air quality will not be the best. This is due to the amounts of vehicle emissions, industrial discharges, residential heating and cooling systems, etc. Weather can also play a role, especially if wind currents are minimal and do not carry pollutants away from a specific area or if precipitation is low (rain and snow can actually help to clean the air). Pollution levels may increase at certain times of the year as well. Certain pollutants may be seen at higher levels in particular areas depending on the types of industries, what they manufacture or use, and the amounts of discharge they release. During colder times of the year, the white smoke that is seen often contains a fair amount of steam or, in some cases, may be just purely steam.

Many factories or factory districts pre-date modern residential areas. These factories may have been some distance from residential areas in the past but as times change, older factories and buildings are either torn down or converted to living spaces or new spaces for retail and other businesses.

I would suggest contacting the local environmental protection agency for the area to find out what these factories are and what amount and kind of discharge they are allowed each year and if they are in compliance with these allowances. The maximum amount of allowed discharge can differ from company to company and it is designed to keep the environment and inhabitants as safe as possible. They can also give you up-to-date information on air quality measurements for your area. The Air Quality Index is often given by local, regional, and national weather reports as well. This information is helpful, especially if individuals have health conditions that are affected (i.e. asthma, allergies, etc.).

Other factors may exist in that the genetic makeup and physiological processes of individuals can differ. Air quality may have detrimental effects for some people but not others. A good example of this is people that smoke throughout their lifetimes and never develop certain cancers associated with smoking versus people who have never smoked or been exposed to secondhand smoke who do develop these cancers. The optimum situation is to have minimal to no exposure to air pollution but in today’s industrialized and mechanized world it is difficult to completely avoid.
Something else that is good to know is the air quality within the home and even at the office or other indoor work environment. This can often be worse than the outdoor air quality even if the space is perfectly clean. Air quality in this case can be affected by: cleaning products; cooking; smoking; heating and cooling; low fresh air exchange and dirty ventilation systems; dander (both human and animal); dust and dust mites; chemicals used to manufacture items such as furniture, carpeting, clothing, paint, and other building materials; and also the presence of radon and carbon monoxide.

I hope this helps and I wish you all the best. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

Dr. Ann

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Ann Herring MacLeod-Lambert


Categories of questions would include: Epidemiology (Humans and Animals), Disease transmission, Zoonotic diseases (diseases transmitted from animals to humans), Epizootic diseases (epidemic diseases in animals), Enzootic diseases (endemic diseases in animals), Precautions to use to avoid disease transmission and infection, Standard diagnostic and treatment protocols in use for infectious diseases (humans and animals), Health implications, Biosecurity (humans, animals, products, facilities), Precautions and risks for travel, Food safety, Environmental health.


Over 25 years of experience in veterinary medicine and science. I have worked in veterinary practice, served 10 years as a state veterinary epidemiologist and pathologist (livestock, equine, food safety, biosecurity), performed wildlife disease research, worked as a consultant, and provided educational presentations and materials for organizations and individuals. My specialties are zoonotic, enzootic, and epizootic diseases.

Degrees in Veterinary Medical Science, Biology, and a PhD (ABD) in Public Health Epidemiology (Veterinary and Human).

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