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There are two gymnastics club facilities in Belmont, California (San Mateo Gymnastics & Tumble Town) that are directly next to a fiberglass factory (Peterson Products) emitting potentially harmful styrene contaminants into the air that are exceeding what the CDC and ATSDR consider protective of children. There are also homes next to the factory as well as another kids' facility across the street (Pump It Up). The website is a compilation of the findings regarding this issue, the air testing results provided by the County in the summer of 2007, as well as expert responses received, including from the CDC. In fact, Peterson Products was ranked 3rd in 2002 (most recent data) for most polluting in San Mateo County. Why were the permits for the kids gymnastics clubs/facilities issued?

CDC-INFO (Center for Disease Control) advises the MRL standard for styrene set by ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry) for kids' safety and health, which is 260 micrograms per cubic meter, translating to about 60ppb. Air testing results direct from the County reveal levels which are multiples of this standard, reaching as high as 333ppb - 500 ppb (half a ppm) according to Dirk Jensen from San Mateo County Environmental Health:
"concentrations I got were ranging from about a few ppb to maybe...around 150...I might have gotten a couple hits up around a couple hundred ppb...Still nothing that was exceeding exposure limit for an 8-hour work day. ...I was getting about a third to a half of... a ppm" (7/24/07)

On 7/25/07 Dirk Jensen disclosed air readings around 150,160 ppb, noting "it's definitely more concentrated as you get closer to the corner of the gymnastics building by the roll-up door" and also "up and down Karen Rd". He also noted that inside Peterson Products "the workers are wearing respirators...definitely levels above the permissible exposure limit in the work area of the production shop". It is a very highly industrial fiberglass factory, there is no doubt about that. However, Dirk considered the factory emissions as more of a nuisance odor because they are below OSHA's 100 ppm styrene limit in a 8-hour work day, 40-hour work week for workers, and he was not aware of any other standard set for children or the general public.
*check the Inspection Data section on the Health Risks page f
or more San Mateo County Environmental Health inspection data

As Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility (GBPSR) note, "Workplace standards are typically not intended to be protective for the general population AND many are not protective for workers." In another email from NRDCinfo's senior scientist Gina Solomon, regarding environmental standards, "Most also are set for adults, not children. The Hazardous Ambient Air Standard for styrene is 512 micrograms (µg)/m3 [~120 ppb]. There are concerns about whether that standard is adequate...".

Is California behind Texas in regards to protecting the public from pollutants? Texas has two standards in play for styrene; short term exposure level of one hour at 91.8 ppb, long term level (average exposure level during a year) at 9.18 ppb (source: Global Community Monitor).

How toxic is styrene? Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classify styrene as a possible human carcinogen. Styrene is rapidly metabolized to styrene oxide in the body - styrene oxide is an established mutagen and carcinogen, and it's believed to be the reason for the toxicity of styrene. (source EPA , CCOHS ). Other health risks include: increased risk of leukemia and lymphoma, effects on the CNS (Central Nervous System), with symptoms such as headache, fatigue, weakness, depression, CNS dysfunction (reaction time, memory, visuomotor speed and accuracy, intellectual function), and hearing loss, peripheral neuropathy (a condition of the nervous system that usually begins in the hands and/or feet with symptoms of numbness, tingling, burning and/or weakness), minor effects on some kidney enzyme functions and on the blood, eye and mucous membrane irritation, dizziness, and even death due to respiratory system paralysis. (source: EPA )

Kids are even more at risk and more vulnerable to exposures because: 1) Children weigh less than adults, resulting in higher doses of chemical exposure relative to body weight, 2) The developing bodily systems of children can suffer permanent damage if toxic exposures occur during critical growth stages, 3) Children have a breathing zone lower to the ground, 4) Children consume three times as much air per pound of body weight as an adult, drink three times as much water and eat three times as much food and thus are more susceptible to the effects of toxic chemicals (source: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) , CDC-INFO, VPIRG ). What makes it even worse, is that the kids are playing and exercising around these pollutants: From the American Lung Association: "...when we exercise in polluted air, we increase our contact with the pollutants, and increase our vulnerability to health damage", due to breathing rates increasing by up to ten times that at rest, and that "when we exercise heavily, we breathe mostly through the mouth, bypassing the body's first line of defense against pollution, the nose."

It is important to note that, just because you can't smell it, it doesn't mean that it's not there - what does it mean if you are smelling the styrene odor? According to EPA / TTN, the odor threshold (the lowest concentration point at which you can smell it) for styrene is 0.32 parts per million (ppm), 320 ppb - that is over 5 times greater than the 60 ppb standard for kids (source EPA/TTN). "Its odor is sweet at very low concentrations, but becomes sharp and disagreeable at higher concentrations" (source dhs).

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