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PM2.5 air pollution claims 160,000 lives in five cities Delhi, Mexico and São Paulo are the cities with the highest death tolls, new research finds


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Air pollution linked to high blood pressure in children; other studies address air quality and the heart

A meta-analysis of 14 air pollution studies from around the world found that exposure to high levels of air pollutants during childhood increases the likelihood of high blood pressure in children and adolescents, and their risk for high blood pressure as adults. The study is published in a special issue on air pollution in the Journal of the American Heart Association, an open access journal of the American Heart Association.

Other studies look at: the effects of diesel exhaust on the muscle sympathetic nerve; the impact of pollutants on high blood pressure; rates of hospital readmission for heart failure among those exposed to high levels of ambient air pollution; and risk of stroke and heart attack after long-term exposure to high levels of particulate matter. The studies include health outcomes of people who were exposed to pollutants in the United States, China and Europe.

High blood pressure during childhood and adolescence is a risk factor for hypertension and heart disease in adulthood. Studies on air pollution and blood pressure in adolescents and children, however, have produced inconsistent conclusions. This systematic review and meta-analysis pooled information from 14 studies focused on the association between air pollution and blood pressure in youth. The large analysis included data for more than 350,000 children and adolescents (mean ages 5.4 to 12.7 years of age).

“Our analysis is the first to closely examine previous research to assess both the quality and magnitude of the associations between air pollution and blood pressure values among children and adolescents,” said lead study author Yao Lu, M.D., Ph.D., professor of the Clinical Research Center at the Third Xiangya Hospital at Central South University in Changsha, China, and professor in the department of life science and medicine at King’s College London. “The findings provide evidence of a positive association between short- and long-term exposure to certain environmental air pollutants and blood pressure in children and adolescents.”

The analysis included 14 studies published through September 6, 2020, exploring the impact of long-term exposure (?30 days) and/or short-term exposure (<30 days) of ambient air pollution on blood pressure levels of adolescents and/or children in China and/or countries in Europe.

The studies were divided into groups based upon length of exposure to air pollution and by composition of air pollutants, specifically nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter with diameter ?10 ?m or ?2.5 ?m. (The majority of research linking heart disease with particulate matter focuses on particle matter mass, which is categorized by aerodynamic diameter — ?m or PM.) Fine particles are defined as PM2.5 and larger; coarse particles are defined at PM10; and the concentrations of particulate matter are typically measured in their mass per volume of air (?g/m3).

The meta-analysis concluded:

– Short-term exposure to PM10 was significantly associated with elevated systolic blood pressure in youth (the top number on a blood pressure reading).

– Periods of long-term exposure to PM2.5, PM10 and nitrogen dioxide were also associated with elevated systolic blood pressure levels.

– Higher diastolic blood pressure levels (the bottom number on a blood pressure reading) were associated with long-term exposure to PM2.5 and PM10.

“To reduce the impact of environmental pollution on blood pressure in children and adolescents, efforts should be made to reduce their exposure to environmental pollutants,” said Lu. “Additionally, it is also very important to routinely measure blood pressure in children and adolescents, which can help us identify individuals with elevated blood pressure early.”

The results of the analysis are limited to the studies included, and they did not include data on possible interactions between different pollutants, therefore, the results are not generalizable to all populations. Additionally, the analysis included the most common and more widely studied pollutants vs. air pollutants confirmed to have heart health impact, of which there are fewer studies.

The study was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China; Hunan Youth Talent Project; the Natural Science Foundation of Hunan Province; and the Fundamental Research Funds for Central Universities of Central South University.

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Materials provided by American Heart Association. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Air pollution linked to high blood pressure in children; other studies address air quality and the heart — ScienceDaily
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Air pollution spikes may impair older men’s thinking, study finds

Even short, temporary increases in airborne particles can damage brain health, research suggests

Temporary rises in air pollution may impair memory and thinking in older men, according to research that indicates even short-term spikes in airborne particles can be harmful to brain health.

Scientists found that the men’s cognitive performance fell following rises in air pollution during the month before testing, even when peak levels remained below safety thresholds for toxic air set by the World Health Organization and national regulators.

The findings build on growing evidence that exposure to fine particulate matter in the air, largely from road vehicles and industry, is harmful not only to the heart and lungs, but also to delicate neural tissues in the brain.

Researchers in the US and China compiled multiple cognitive test scores from nearly 1,000 men living in the Greater Boston area and checked them against local levels of PM2.5s – airborne particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres across. The men involved in the study were white and had an average age of 69.

Writing in Nature Aging, the scientists describe how higher levels of PM2.5s up to four weeks before testing were linked to poorer cognitive performance on tasks ranging from word memory to number recall and verbal fluency. The effect was clear even when concentrations of PM2.5s stayed below 10 micrograms per cubic metre, the WHO guideline level which is routinely breached in London and many other cities.

Intriguingly, the study found evidence that test scores were less affected by short-term rises in air pollution if the men were taking aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, known as NSAIDs. “Our study indicates that short-term air pollution exposure may be related to short-term alterations in cognitive function and that NSAIDs may modify this relationship,” the authors write. According to one line of thinking, such painkillers may help by reducing inflammation that is triggered by fine particles getting into the brain.

While the WHO says levels of PM2.5s should not exceed an annual mean of 10 micrograms per cubic metre, the UK has adopted a higher limit of 25 micrograms per cubic metre. The government’s air quality index regards PM2.5 levels below 35 micrograms per cubic metre as “low”.

Last month, Philip Barlow, the inner south London coroner who concluded that air pollution was a cause of the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, said the UK must adopt lower legally binding levels for particulate air pollution.

The impact of toxic air on respiratory and cardiovascular health is well-established and evidence for damage to the brain is mounting. Studies have linked air pollution to reduced intelligence and dementia. In February, work led by Prof Jamie Pearce at Edinburgh University found that exposure to air pollution in childhood was linked to poorer thinking skills in later life.

“The findings really stress the impact that air pollution is having on human health,” said Dr Joanne Ryan, head of biological neuropsychiatry and dementia research at Monash University in Melbourne, who was not involved in the latest work. “The importance of this study is that the findings align with a potential causal link of air pollution on brain function and they suggest that it is not just the very high levels of prolonged pollution that are concerning. The study found that even relatively low levels of air pollution can negatively impact cognitive function, and over possibly short periods of time.”

“This work confirms that there is a link between air pollution and how well the ageing brain works,” said Andrea Baccarelli, a senior author on the study and professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University in New York. “These shorter-term effects are reversible: when air pollution clears, our brain reboots and starts working back to its original level. However, multiple occurrences of these higher exposures cause permanent damage.

“Our findings do not suggest yet that all older people should be on anti-inflammatory drugs, because these are medications with side-effects we cannot take lightly,” he added. “More holistically, reducing inflammation through a healthy diet, such as more fruit, vegetables, and fibre, or having regular physical exercise, can go a long way not only to make us generally healthier but also to make us more resilient against environmental threats such as air pollution.”

Air pollution spikes may impair older men’s thinking, study finds | Air pollution | The Guardian
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Study links childhood air pollution exposure to poorer mental health

Research found that those who grow up amid heavy traffic pollution have higher rates of mental illness by age 18

Children and young people who grow up amid heavy traffic-related air pollution have higher rates of mental illness by the time they are 18, new research has found.

There is a link between exposure to nitrogen oxides and particulate matter in childhood and the development of disorders such as anxiety and depression, the academics said.

The findings are from a 25-year-long joint British/American study of 2,039 children – all twins – born in England and Wales during 1994 and 1995, whose mental health was assessed at 18.

“These results collectively suggest that youths persistently exposed to moderate levels of nitrogen oxide air pollution may experience greater overall liability to psychiatric illness by young adulthood”, the authors concluded.

The link between air pollution and risk of mental illness is “modest” but real, they added. The association was also “a liability independent of other individual, family and neighbourhood influences on mental health”, such as poverty and family history of mental disorder.

Dr Helen Fisher, the study’s co-author, said: “This study has demonstrated that children growing up in our biggest cities face a greater risk of mental illness due to higher levels of traffic.

“While we might like to think of our towns and cities as green and open spaces, it’s clear that there is a hidden danger that many will not have even considered.”

Fisher was the principal investigator of the study at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, which also involved Duke University in the US.

Participants’ mental health was measured when they were 18 using an assessment of symptoms for ten common psychiatric disorders, such as ADHD, anxiety and alcohol dependence. That was used to calculate a measure of their mental health called the psychopathology factor or p-factor. Those with a higher p-factor score displayed more of those symptoms.

The researchers found that those who had the highest exposure to nitrogen oxides scored 2.62 points higher on the general psychopathology score than their peers in the bottom three quartiles. Those exposed to the most particulate matter scored 2.04 points more than their peers.

Andy Bell, deputy chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health thinktank, said: “We know from research that our mental health is determined by the lives we lead, the environments we’re in and our experiences from our early years onwards. A child’s mental health is influenced by many factors, including their home, school, community and neighbourhood.

“We know that poverty, racism, trauma and exclusion are major risks to mental health. As today’s research shows, our physical environment matters too, and making places safer, cleaner and healthier to live in will have lifelong benefits.”

Pollution has already been identified as an aggravating factor for poor heart and lung health and ailments of the central nervous system, and also as a risk for mental illness. Nine out of ten people worldwide are exposed to high levels of pollution, according to the World Health Organization.

Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, said that while the study did show an association between traffic fumes and mental ill-heath, “what they can’t do is to show that it’s the high air pollution that actually causes the poorer mental health.”

Study links childhood air pollution exposure to poorer mental health | Air pollution | The Guardian
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Aerosols overtake cars as source of smog pollutant, research suggests

Household aerosols – including deodorants, air fresheners and furniture polish – have overtaken cars as a source of polluting smog chemicals in the UK, research suggests.

The study led to calls for people to use roll-on deodorant  and hair gel, with small lifestyle changes potentially leading to large changes in air quality.

Researchers looked into the emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are less damaging than chlorofluorocarbons that they replaced in the 1980s but can cause photochemical smog when combined with nitrogen oxide in sunlight.

Making just small changes in what we buy could have a major impact on both outdoor and indoor air quality, and have relatively little impact on our lives” – Professor Alastair Lewis

They found that while vehicles were responsible for most VOC emissions into the 2000s, the use of catalytic converters on vehicles and fuel vapour recovery at filling stations has led to a rapid decline.

Conversely, the global amount of VOCs emitted from aerosols every year is rising as lower and middle-income economies grow and people in these countries increase their consumption.

The world’s population now uses more than 25 billion cans per year and this is estimated to lead to the release of 1.3 million tonnes of VOC air pollution annually, and could rise to 2.2 million tonnes by 2050.

The paper, published in Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene, said the UK emitted around 60,000 tonnes of VOCs from aerosols in 2017, around double the amount from cars running on petrol.

Professor Alastair Lewis, a Director of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, said: “Virtually all aerosol based consumer products can be delivered in non-aerosol form, for example as dry or roll-on deodorants, bars of polish not spray.

“Making just small changes in what we buy could have a major impact on both outdoor and indoor air quality, and have relatively little impact on our lives.”

93% The percentage of current aerosol emissions by mass which are VOCs

The University of York academic added: “The widespread switching of aerosol propellant with non-VOC alternatives would lead to potentially meaningful reductions in surface ozone.

“Given the contribution of VOCs to ground-level pollution, international policy revision is required and the continued support of VOCs as a preferred replacement for halocarbons is potentially not sustainable for aerosol products longer term.”

VOCs are currently used in around 93% of all aerosols, the study said, with researchers calling for the use of less damaging nitrogen as a propellant and wider awareness of how polluting VOCs can be.

Professor Lewis said: “Labelling of consumer products as high VOC emitting – and clearly linking this to poor indoor and outdoor air quality – may drive change away from aerosols to their alternatives, as has been seen previously with the successful labelling of paints and varnishes.”

Aerosols overtake cars as source of smog pollutant, research suggests – The Irish News
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Greece taken to court over Thessaloniki air pollution

Greece is being taken to task by the European Commission for failing to curb consistently high air pollution levels in the northern port city of Thessaloniki.

According to an announcement on Monday, the country is being referred to the European Court after failing to address concerns expressed in two letters from the Commission regarding the air quality in Thessaloniki, which has been consistently below acceptable levels every year, except 2013, since 2005. 

The Commission first issued a warning in 2009 and repeated it in 2013, it said. 

By “systematically and consistently exceeding the limit values for PM10 concentrations as regards the daily limit value since 2005” in Thessaloniki, Greece, according to the announcement, has “failed to fulfill its obligations” to minimize harmful effects on human health and the environment as a whole.

Greece taken to court over Thessaloniki air pollution | eKathimerini.com
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Wall of sand engulfs Chinese town

A towering wall of sand rushed over factories and apartment blocks in northwestern China’s Gansu province as seasonal sandstorms barrelled across the country, causing air pollution and traffic accidents.

Aerial images as it struck showed an apocalyptic scene as a billowing cloud of yellow dust smothered Gansu’s Linze county on Sunday.

State media CCTV reported multiple car accidents in the province caused by low visibility, while meteorologists have warned people to stay indoors and keep windows shut with more storms expected across northern China on Tuesday.

China suffers from enormous dust storms each spring that lift sand from the Gobi desert and dump it onto cities as far away as Shandong on the eastern coast.

A sandstorm that pushed air pollution levels off the charts hit Beijing in March, turning the sky a dark yellow and forcing airlines to cancel hundreds of flights.

It was the worst sandstorm in a decade to hit the capital, which has pinned hopes of rebuilding a natural barrier to such phenomena on intensive tree replanting in stripped forest areas, also known as the “green great wall”.

Beijing said last year it expected fewer and weaker sandstorms to hit northern China due to the reforestation efforts.

Wall of sand engulfs Chinese town – France 24
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Chinese air pollution data was altered, statistical analysis suggests

Official Chinese air pollution data has previously shown evidence of manipulation when compared with data from US embassies in the same cities. The Chinese government has already taken action against the local officials involved, but now an independent statistical analysis shows the extent of the manipulation.

Jesse Turiel at Harvard University and Robert Kaufmann at Boston University looked at data from official Chinese monitoring stations as well as readings collected by US embassies in five cities: Beijing, Shenyang, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu. They found that there were regular divergences in the amount of PM2.5, a size of particulate with proven links to lung cancer, asthma and heart disease, recorded by Chinese and US stations.

The researchers looked at data from between 2015 and 2017, at which point the US stopped collecting data. They noticed a statistically unlikely amount of days on which pollution levels were just below the limit imposed by China’s “blue sky” policy, which created an index for each city where results at 100 or above were deemed too high and results 99 or below were acceptable.

“What that encouraged therefore, was any days that were close to 100 you’d just report 99, 98, 97,” says Turiel. “You could see this in the data. There was a very obvious bubble right below 100 and a very low proportion right at 100. People will use creative methods if they can get away with it.”

The divergences were 40 per cent more frequent than would be expected by chance, and 63 per cent of the discrepancies saw the Chinese data lower than the US readings. It was also more common to see misreporting on the days with the worst pollution, which is when the worst associated health effects are found.

Although these data discrepancies have been noted before, the pair’s work is the first time a robust statistical analysis has ruled out the possibility of it happening by chance.

The Chinese environment ministry announced in 2017 that 1140 officials were “held to account” for violating pollution rules after inspections the prior year. In early 2018 it said that it had caught officials from seven cities manipulating data.

Turiel doesn’t know whether crackdowns have stopped the problem, and US embassy data is no longer available to check. There is, however, evidence to suggest that air quality in Chinese cities improved during the period of the study.  The US data shows that annual concentrations of PM2.5 fell by more than 25 per cent between 2013 and 2017.

Turiel and Kaufmann believe that their statistical approach could be used by governments to spot fraud within local government and guide enforcement.

Chinese air pollution data was altered, statistical analysis suggests | New Scientist
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Four in 10 Americans live in counties with unhealthy air pollution levels

  1. Fairbanks, Alaska, Los Angeles and California cities get F rating
  2. American Lung Association tracks particle and ozone pollution

New research from the American Lung Association finds that more than four in 10 people – a whopping 135 million in the US – live in counties with unhealthy levels of particle or ozone pollution.

In their 22nd annual “State of the Air” report, released on Wednesday, the group examined federal data on the two most widespread types of air pollution to create a comprehensive overview of toxic air across the country. The annual air quality “report card” identifies the parts of the country with the most polluted air, and gives them a letter grade (from A to F). This year, it also found that people of color were three times as likely to live in the nation’s most polluted places.

“It’s important for people to know the quality of the air they breathe,” says Katherine Pruitt, national senior director for policy at the American Lung Association. “We feel there are way more people compared to last year living in unhealthy places for particle pollution.”

For their analysis, researchers examined data collected by federal, state, and local and tribal governments from 2017, 2018, and 2019 – the three years with the most recent quality-assured air pollution data. The most widespread outdoor air pollutants, ozone pollution and particle pollution, were analyzed.

Cities with the worst, year-round particle pollution include Fairbanks, Alaska, and a slew of cities in California, including Los Angeles and Bakersfield. “California has, unfortunately, always struggled at the top of all of our lists,” Pruitt says.

That might be surprising, considering California is known as an environmental leader when compared with other states. But the state has ideal conditions for bad air with lots of shipping, trucking and mountain ranges that create bowls where air pollution can be trapped. She adds that a key reason for the increase in air pollution was climate-change-fueled wildfires. “It’s like a perfect storm for air pollution.”

There are other ways a warming world is dirtying up the air. Ozone, commonly known as smog, is created when a combination of tailpipe, power plant and other health-harming emissions bake in sunlight and heat. “As the climate is starting to warm, we’re starting to see that the ozone is more likely to form,” Pruitt says, leading to more high ozone days, which leads to more adverse health consequences. Breathing polluted air for long periods of time can damage a person’s lungs and make it more difficult to fight respiratory disease, for instance.

The report’s findings – 135 million people live with dirty air – seem to be a slight improvement over last year, where 150 million people in the US were found to live in counties that flunked their air grade.

“Last year’s report was really quite bad,” Pruitt says. This year’s report did not look at data from 2017 to 2019, but the last three reports included the year 2016, “the hottest year on record. Getting rid of that really hot year, we had fewer places that had Fs for ozone compared to last year.”

This year’s state of the air report does not include 2020, when the pandemic idled swaths of the economy and consequently helped slash emissions. “We won’t know the impact of the pandemic on the air quality itself until our report next year,” Pruitt says, “It’s looking a lot more complicated than people thought it was last at this time. But we do know that people living in more polluted places are more likely to have bad outcomes from Covid-19.”

But Pruitt also points out that some trends are positive – thanks in part to the Clean Air Act, the principal piece of legislation responsible for reducing air pollution in the US since its passing in 1963. “It’s been subject to the vagaries of politics over the last 50 years,” Pruitt says. “We need to keep it intact.” Still, she adds, air quality standards for ozone and particle pollution are not strong enough to protect public health. The Trump administration relaxed the current standards.

“We’re asking the Biden administration to go back and re-evaluate those standards,” Pruitt says. “Because we believe they need to be strengthened.”

Four in 10 Americans live in counties with unhealthy air pollution levels | US news | The Guardian

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