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Coachella: Great Music, Terrible Air

The 2011 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival starts today in Indio, California.  Over 75,000 tragically hip festival goers have arrived at the Date Capital of the World for what has become, just over a decade since its first installment, one of the most popular music festivals in the country. For one crazy weekend, artists ranging from the Arcade Fire to the Chemical Brothers to Duran Duran to Kanye West will lull mostly affluent concert-goers into drug-assisted culture-stupor.  But the Death From Above 1979 reunion and the Creators Project won’t be the only thing melting brains at Coachella.

In 2000, scientists at the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and the University of California – San Francisco published the results of a ten year study of air pollution in the Coachella Valley. Unlike cities on the East Coast, a majority of the air pollution in the valley was made up of "coarse" particles, which measure between 2.5 and 10 micrometers each, and typically come from dust kicked up by natural or artificial means. (Air pollution in East Coast urban areas is mostly "fine" particles, less than 2.5 micrometers each, from vehicle exhausts, smoking, power plants, and so forth.) the "coarse fraction" in Indio averaged 55%, but climbed as high as 90% during "wind events." As for health risks, "analysis of 10 years of mortality data in the Coachella Valley indicates associations between cardiovascular-specific mortality and [overall air pollution] and coarse particles." Neither measurement was linked to the "control" mortality rate, leaving the authors to suggest the association "was likely to have been causal." The association between overall pollution and cardiovascular disease was as strong in the Coachella Valley as in studies from "numerous urban areas" around the country. If Interpol and David Lynch’s collaboration on a “visual juxtaposition of the seen and the unseen,” or crowds full of people like this don’t leave you breathless, the coarse particles just might. But really, that's just a risk worth taking.