A surge in major wildfire events in the U.S. West as a consequence of climate change will expose tens of millions of Americans to high levels of air pollution in the coming decades, according to a new Yale-led study conducted with collaborators from Harvard.
More than 1 million people died from dirty air in one year, according to World Health Organisation
China is the world’s deadliest country for outdoor air pollution, according to analysis by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The UN agency has previously warned that tiny particulates from cars, power plants and other sources are killing 3 million people worldwide each year.
For the first time the WHO has broken down that figure to a country-by-country level. It reveals that of the worst three nations, more than 1 million people died from dirty air in China in 2012, at least 600,000 in India and more than 140,000 in Russia.
At 25th out of 184 countries with data, the UK ranks worse than France, with 16,355 deaths in 2012 versus 10,954, but not as poorly as Germany at 26,160, which has more industry and 16 million more people. Australia had 94 deaths and 38,043 died in the US that year from particulate pollution.
Maria Neria, director of the WHO’s public health and the environment department, told the Guardian: “Countries are confronted with the reality of better data. Now we have the figures of how many citizens are dying from air pollution. What we are learning is, this is very bad. Now there are no excuses for not taking action.”
Gavin Shaddick, who led the international team that put together the data, said: “Globally, air pollution presents a major risk to public health and a substantial number of lives could be saved if levels of air pollution were reduced.”
Sixteen scientists from eight international institutions worked with WHO on the analysis, which gathered data from 3,000 locations, using pollution monitors on the ground, modelling and satellite readings.
They looked at exposure to tiny particulates 2.5 microns in size, known as PM2.5s, which penetrate the lungs and are the air pollutant most strongly associated with an increased risk of death. “The real driver of ill health is ultra-fine particles, 2.5s – they have the ability to permeate the membrane of the lungs and enter our blood system,” said Shaddick, who is based at the University of Bath. “Increasingly there is an understanding that there are not just respiratory diseases but cardiovascular ones associated with PM2.5s.”
In the UK more than 90% of the population lives in areas with levels of PM2.5s above the WHO’s air-quality limits of 10 micrograms per cubic metre for the annual mean. The government is in the high court on 18 and 19 October facing a legal challenge by environmental law group ClientEarth, which says ministers’ clean-up plans for another pollutant – nitrogen dioxide – are inadequate.
Globally, 92% of the population breathes air that breaches WHO limits but the world map of deaths caused by PM2.5s changes when looked at per capita. When ranked by the number of deaths for every 100,000 people, Ukraine jumps to the top of the list at 120.
It is followed by eastern European and former Soviet states, and Russia itself, probably due to a legacy of heavy industry in the region. China drops down to 10th, at 76 per 100,000, and India falls to 27th, with 49 per 100,000.
Most of the air pollution comes from cars, coal-fired plants and waste burning but not all of it is created by humans. Dust storms in places close to deserts also contribute to dirty air, explaining partly why Iran is at 16th highest for total deaths, at 26,000 a year.
Most of the total deaths worldwide – two out of three – occur in south-east Asia and the western Pacific, which includes China, Vietnam, Japan, Australia, South Korea and small Pacific island states.
Shaddick said: “We might think of [pollution in] Beijing as being very high, but when you fill in the gaps between the big [Chinese] cities, [air pollution in] regions [is] remarkably high compared to the WHO limits [10 grams per cubic metre for the annual mean], up in the 50s and 60s. That’s something we in the west can’t even comprehend. That was probably a bit of a shock [to me].”
The Pacific states of Brunei Darussalam, Fiji and Vanuatu have the lowest number of deaths from air pollution, the WHO found.
Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris and chair-elect of a network of cities combating climate change, said: “Fighting pollution is one of my top priorities as mayor of Paris. It is a vital public health issue and all mayors should take on their responsibility to deliver bold actions.”
The city of Paris voted on Monday to ban cars along a stretch of the river Seine to cut pollution, defeating a minority rightwing opposition.
Hidalgo added: “I have said it before and am saying it again: we cannot negotiate with Parisians’ health.”
Neira said Canada and Scandinavian countries deserved praise for curbing air pollution and singled out France too. “France is taking a lot of action, Paris is taking aggressive measures: aggressive in the good sense. [It] maybe unpopular because it’s for the health of people but they are putting some restrictions on individuals. We all need to understand this is a matter of public health,” she said.
Childhood cancer is very rare — but not as rare as it used to be.
New figures show rates have increased by 40% over the last 16 years in Britain.
It’s a worrying trend, not least because it’s unclear why it’s happening.
However, it’s thought a significant proportion of the extra cases may be linked to changes in lifestyle and environment, for both children and parents.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organisation, has classified outdoor air pollution as a cancer-causing agent, saying it causes lung cancer and is linked to bladder cancer.
“The air we breathe is filled with cancer-causing substances,” says Dr Kurt Straif of the IARC.
“Outdoor air pollution is not only a major environmental risk to health in general, it is the most important environmental cancer killer, due to the large number of people exposed.”
The main artificial sources of outdoor air pollution are transportation, stationary power generation, industrial and agricultural emissions, and residential heating and cooking, notes the IARC.
Professor Denis Henshaw, a specialist in children’s cancer believes around 30% of childhood cancer in urban areas is linked with air pollution.
In 2014, the Childhood Leukaemia International Consortium (CLIC) found that when parents are exposed to pesticides during pregnancy or conception, there was an increased risk of leukaemia for their child.
This risk applies to both the mother and the father, whose sperm may be affected.
Radiation is known to increase cancer risk in children and adults, and children who have radiotherapy for cancer have a slightly increased risk of developing another cancer later.
Henshaw says data suggests 5% of childhood leukaemia is linked to radon, a radioactive gas found naturally in the ground.
It diffuses into open air and isn’t a health hazard outside, but a house can trap radon gas.
However, researchers say studies show there may only be a weak link between indoor levels of radon gas and the risk of childhood leukaemia.
The IARC classes electromagnetic fields (EMF), of the type associated with our electricity supply, as ‘possibly carcinogenic’ to humans, based on studies that reported an approximate doubling of leukaemia risk for children exposed at average levels above 0.3 – 0.4 microtesla.
However, no conclusive link has been found between EMF and cancer.
Studies suggest carcinogens from a mother’s diet can cross the placenta into an unborn baby’s bloodstream, and Henshaw, says some of the carcinogens could come from processed meats and burned barbecue meats eaten by pregnant women.
Eating a healthy diet full of fruit and vegetables is important for all the family, including pregnant women and children, says Henshaw.
In addition, an Australian study found mothers who took folate and iron supplements during pregnancy had more than a 60% reduced risk of their children developing leukaemia.
Sending children to day care in infancy may have a protective effect against leukaemia, too.
“The theory is that children are exposed to common infections from mixing with other children, and this strengthens their immune system,” explains Henshaw.
Research shows air pollution damages and prematurely ages skin
Lung and heart diseases have long been linked to air pollution, but the effects on skin are now beginning to be understood.
Air pollution, especially in large and heavily polluted cities, is causing skin damage, according to emerging research.
In urban areas most air pollution comes from vehicle exhaust. Among the pollutants in this exhaust are tiny particles called PMs, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and chemicals like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
From eczema and hives to accelerating wrinkles and age spots, air pollution is being linked to damage to the body’s largest organ. However, scientists also say that some common skin routines may also be making the problem worse.
“With traffic pollution emerging as the single most toxic substance for skin, the dream of perfect skin is over for those living and working in traffic-polluted areas unless they take steps to protect their skin right now,” Dr. Mervyn Patterson, a cosmetic doctor at Woodford Medical clinics in the UK, said in an interview with The Guardian.
Jean Krutmann, MD, is the director at the Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine in Germany. He and colleagues completed a study of over 1,800 people in Germany and China that showed when air pollution increased so did age spots on the patients’ cheeks.
“It is not a problem that is limited to China or India–we have it in Paris, in London, wherever you have larger urban agglomerations you have it,” Dr. Krutman said in a press release. “In Europe everywhere is so densely populated and the particles are being distributed by the wind, so it is very difficult to escape from the problem.”
The study was reported in May in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.
Pollutants are able to pass through the skin, and once in the body cause inflammation. These pollutants can increase melanocytes (the cells that create pigment in the skin), make blood vessels grow larger and trigger the enzymes that reabsorb damaged collagen. Collagen is one of the supporting structures of the skin. The enzymes can remove so much that skin begins to sag and wrinkle.
Researchers are now looking for ways to protect the skin from air pollution. Some have added vitamin B3 to skin care products as it can help heal damaged skin. Others are looking at different molecules or chemicals that may protect the skin from damage in the first place.
Researchers also noted that some of the things people do in their quest for smoother skin add to air pollution’s effects, like retinoids, glycolic acid and skin scrubs.
“You can also put on a very nice physical shield in the form of good quality mineral makeup. That produces an effect like a protective mesh and probably has some trapping effect, protecting against the initial penetration of particles,” Dr. Patterson said. “But you also need always to try to remove that shield in the evening, washing the slate clean every night.”
Concerns over air pollution in the city centre means Cardiff will hold its first car-free day on Thursday.
But only Park Place in Cathays will be closed to all traffic until 00:00 BST on Friday.
It will become a street market and host a transport exhibition giving information on sustainable travel.
While all commuters will be encouraged to leave their cars at home in a move designed to combat air pollution, no other areas will be closed off.
Jane Lorimer, director of cycle charity Sustrans Cymru said it was a “positive first step”.
Councillors backed plans to ban cars in the city centre for one day each year, to cut air pollution, last October.
But cabinet member Ramesh Patel said it would be “grossly irresponsible” to widen the area before the first plan had been reviewed.
He added: “With the new bus interchange developing, a cycling strategy being produced, planned investment in our railways and future plans for the metro, sustainable transport is a major priority for the council.
“Making walking, cycling and public transport more attractive and viable options for commuters and residents are integral to Cardiff’s continued development and achieving our aspiration to become Europe’s most liveable capital city.”
Car-free days already take place in Delhi, Paris and London.
It is claimed air pollution is linked to tens of thousands of deaths in the UK annually.
Authorities from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have rejected recent research on the number of early deaths caused by last year’s fires
Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean authorities have dismissed research that suggested smoky haze from catastrophic forest fires in Indonesia last year caused 100,000 deaths. Some even contend the haze caused no serious health problems, but experts say those assertions contradict well-established science.
Last year’s fires in Sumatra and the Indonesian part of Borneo were the worst since 1997, burning about 261,000 hectares of forests and peatland and sending haze across the region for weeks. Many were deliberately set by companies to clear land for palm oil and pulpwood plantations.
The study in the journal Environmental Research Letters by Harvard and Columbia researchers estimated the amount of health-threatening fine particles, often referred to as PM2.5, released by the fires that burned from July to October and tracked their spread across south-east Asia using satellite observations.
In Indonesia, a spokesman for the country’s disaster mitigation agency said the research “could be baseless or they have the wrong information”. Indonesia officially counted 24 deaths from the haze including people killed fighting the fires.
Singapore’s Ministry of Health said short-term exposure to haze will generally not cause serious health problems. The study was “not reflective of the actual situation”, it said, and the overall death rate hadn’t changed last year.
In Malaysia, health minister Subramaniam Sathasivam said officials are still studying the research, which is “computer-generated, not based on hard data”. “People have died but to what extent the haze contributed to it, it’s hard to say,” he said. “If an 80-year-old fellow with high blood pressure, diabetes, heart problem and exposure to haze died, what did he die of? This is a hell of a difficult question to answer.”
The dry season fires are an annual irritant in Indonesia’s relations with its neighbours Singapore and Malaysia and the finding of a huge public health burden has the potential to worsen those strains. The 2015 burning season, which was worsened by El Niño’s dry conditions, also tainted Indonesia’s reputation globally by releasing a vast amount of atmosphere-warming carbon.
The Indonesian government has stepped up efforts to prosecute companies and individuals who set fires and also strengthened its fire-fighting response. This year’s fires have affected a smaller area in large part due to unseasonal rains.
Jamal Hisham Hashim, research fellow with the International Institute for Global Health in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, said governments should not dismiss the study even if the estimated deaths are arguable.
He said decades of air pollution research that followed London’s killer smog in 1952 has established the relationship between fine particulate matter and premature deaths, particularly in people with existing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
“The pollution level that occurred during the haze is severe enough to cause premature deaths. That is indisputable,” he said. “The study is a wake-up call. We need to be shaken; we have become too complacent with the haze.”
Joel Schwartz, an author of the study who is regarded by his peers as one of the world’s top experts on the health effects of air pollution, said authorities in the affected countries have not offered any details of how they reached conclusions critical of the study.
During the haze, Malaysia suffered air pollution at 10 times the level that the World Health Organization says causes premature deaths, he said, while Singapore’s claim that short-term exposure does not have serious effects is factually incorrect.
The Singaporean statement that its death rate was unchanged from 2014 did not demonstrate anything, Schwartz said, due to a worldwide trend for declining mortality. The study’s premise is that deaths are higher than what they would be without the haze rather than a comparison to a particular year, he said.
Separately, Singapore’s health ministry did not respond to a question on why heart disease and pneumonia, both of which can be brought to fatal conclusion by fine particle exposure, had increased as a percentage of deaths in 2015.
Malaysia, meanwhile, does not measure PM2.5 in its air pollution index but has been planning to from next year.
Half a dozen scientists with expertise in air pollution who reviewed the study for the Associated Press said its methodology was sound and its conclusions reasonable. Some cautioned that the estimates of 91,600 deaths in Indonesia, another 6,500 in Malaysia and 2,200 in Singapore are invariably uncertain because aspects of the modelling rely on assumptions and the actual figures could be higher or lower.
The study considered only the health impact on adults and restricts itself to the effects of fine particles rather than all toxins that would be in the smoke.
Philip Hopke, director of the Center for Air Resources Engineering and Science at New York state’s Clarkson University, said air pollution studies have to overcome several challenges because “no one who gets sick or dies comes to the doctor or hospital with a clear label that says airborne particles or ozone did this.” Another problem is the studies typically assume that fine particles are the sole cause of illness or death but smoke from fires contains ozone and a variety of volatile compounds that would also affect health.
“A major event like occurred here is extremely likely to have caused adverse health outcomes in terms of both sickness and deaths,” he said.
California on Monday moved to restrict air pollutants from sources as diverse as diesel trucks and cow flatulence, the latest of several efforts in the most populous U.S. state to reduce emissions leading to climate change.
Under a bill signed Monday by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, the state will cut emissions of methane from dairy cows and other animals by 40 percent and black carbon from diesel trucks and other sources by 50 percent. The bill also mandates the state to reduce emissions of fluorinated gases, or hydrofluorocarbons used in refrigeration.
The measure comes on the heels of several climate-change bills signed in recent weeks by Brown, including one that by 2030 will mandate an overall reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below the level released in 1990.
“We’re protecting people’s lungs, their health by cutting out a poisonous chemical that comes out of diesel trucks,” Brown said at a signing ceremony in the Los Angeles suburb of Long Beach, where trucks at the nation’s largest port complex spew particulate matter, including black carbon, along clogged freeways, contributing to high rates of asthma and other conditions in some of the region’s poorest areas.
“It goes from some machine, into the air and into your lungs,” Brown said.
The pollutants targeted in the bill signed Monday differ from carbon dioxide and other pollutants associated with global warming in that they remain in the atmosphere a relatively short time. However, these emissions have heat-trapping effects, so reducing their presence can help fight climate change, Brown said.
In addition to black carbon, which comes from trucks as well as the burning of organic material and other sources, the bill also requires reductions in hydrofluorocarbons, used in refrigeration and to power aerosol products.
It would also require the state’s dairy industry, which produces 20 percent of the country’s milk, to find a way to reduce methane produced by cow flatulence and manure.
One technology for doing that is known as a methane digester, which turns the gas into usable fuel. Such equipment is expensive, however, which worries the state’s dairy farmers.
“This mandated 40 percent reduction in methane and 50 percent reduction in anthropogenic black carbon gas represents a direct assault on California’s dairy industry and will hurt manufacturing,” a small-business group, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said in a news release.
But Brown said the mandates will lead the state to develop better technology and boost the economy.
Living building facades do more than look good, they make the air good and they make urbanites feelgood. At least, that’s the finding of a new report from global engineering firm Arup.
The company reported a series of studies exploring the impact of plant-covered building elements on air quality, acoustics, temperatures, energy use, and general quality of life.
Poor air quality is a growing concern for city-dwellers, where air pollution accounts for millions of premature deaths every year. Arup created a sophisticated computer model to calculate the flow of air through different types of cityscapes, examining how pollution might be impacted by green facades.
“Green façades can result in local reductions in concentrations of particulate matter, typically between 10 and 20%,” wrote Martin Pauli, a senior architect at Arup. The study found that different plant species also created different affects, with pine and birch plants outperforming other species in combating air pollution during winter months.
Plant-covered buildings also makes streetscapes noticeably quieter, according to the report, as living materials are more sound-absorptive than the hard stone, metal, and glass of many urban structures. Increasing the amount of green roofs and living walls has the potential to cut acoustic noise by 10 decibels—making the street sound roughly half as noisy.
Green plantings on buildings have also been known to regulate internal temperatures, cutting the cost of heating and cooling. But green facades also have a dramatic impact on reducing the temperatures of former heat islands by up to 50 degrees (10°C).
Diesel cars by Fiat, Suzuki and Renault among makers emitting up to fifteen times European standard for nitrogen oxide
A year on from the “Dieselgate” scandal that engulfed Volkswagen, damning new research reveals that all major diesel car brands, including Fiat, Vauxhall and Suzuki, are selling models that emit far higher levels of pollution than the shamed German carmaker.
The car industry has faced fierce scrutiny since the US government ordered Volkswagen to recall almost 500,000 cars in 2015 after discovering it had installed illegal software on its diesel vehicles to cheat emissions tests. But a new in-depth study by campaign group Transport & Environment (T&E) found not one brand complies with the latest “Euro 6” air pollution limits when driven on the road and that Volkswagen is far from being the worst offender.
“We’ve had this focus on Volkswagen as a ‘dirty carmaker’ but when you look at the emissions of other manufacturers you find there are no really clean carmakers,” says Greg Archer, clean vehicles director at T&E. “Volkswagen is not the carmaker producing the diesel cars with highest nitrogen oxides emissions and the failure to investigate other companies brings disgrace on the European regulatory system.”
T&E analysed emissions test data from around 230 diesel car models to rank the worst performing car brands based on their emissions in real-world driving conditions. Fiat and Suzuki (which use Fiat engines) top the list with their newest diesels, designed to meet Euro 6 requirements, spewing out 15 times the NOx limit; while Renault-Nissan vehicle emissions were judged to be more than 14 times higher. General Motors’ brands Opel-Vauxhall also fared badly with emissions found to be 10 times higher than permitted levels.
The new models are not breaking the law and the manufacturers say they comply with all current regulations. But cars are are able to be on the road because of the difference between emissions produced in lab tests and real on-road driving situations.
Since September 2015 new diesel cars have had to comply with a new European exhaust emissions standard called Euro 6 which set a limit of 0.08g per km. The new rules heralded a significant reduction from the previous “Euro 5” standard which allowed 0.18g per km. NOx pollution is considered to be a serious public health risk, causing the early deaths of 23,500 people a year in the UK alone.
The report – which also drew on data from investigations conducted by the British, French and German governments, as well as a large public database – surprisingly found Volkswagen to be selling among the cleanest diesel vehicles under the Euro 6 rules. Archer says this was not, however, evidence of the carmaker “learning its lesson” as these models were available before last year’s scandal broke. The Dieselgate engines were mostly of the previous Euro 5 era which were sold between 2011 and 2015.
T&E estimates that there are 29m “dirty” diesel cars and vans on Europe’s roads – a number that is still growing – with 4.3m of them being driven in the UK. The group classify a car as “dirty” if emissions are more than three times over the relevant NOx limit. Archer argues that a mass recall of dirty Euro 5 and 6 vehicles is required given the average lifetime of a car is 17 years. “Software upgrades could easily be implemented to ensure the exhaust systems operate in normal driving conditions as the law clearly states,” heargues.
For Euro 5 vehicles, the five worst performing companies were, in order of the highest emissions: Renault (including Dacia), Land Rover, Hyundai, Opel/Vauxhall (including Chevrolet) and Nissan. For current Euro 6 cars a different pattern emerges. The worst performers are: Fiat (including Alfa Romeo) and Suzuki (to whom Fiat supply engines), Renault (including Nissan, Dacia and Infiniti), Opel/Vauxhall, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz.
Last month French investigators said they had found that a large number of diesel cars emitted much higher levels of pollution than their European manufacturers claim. According to the independent committee’s report, around a third of the 86 diesel vehicles tested produced levels of NOx well above European limits. The results echo similar findings in tests by the UK’s Department for Transport.
In a statement Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) said an internal review had confirmed that its diesel engine applications complied with emissions regulation. It added: “The EU is working towards the adoption of a new testing procedure to bring it closer to what one would expect under real driving conditions. FCA supports these efforts and welcomes the introduction of new regulations which should provide clarity for customers and the industry.”
Mike Hawes, chief executive of the UK trade body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said the tests conducted by various governments had consistently shown the tested vehicles to be legal. “The differences between official laboratory tests and those performed in the ‘real world’ are well known, and industry acknowledges the need for fundamental reform,” he added.
A spokesperson for Hyndai said the company meets all current regulatory standards: “New Euro 6 cars are built using the best available technology to comply with these regulations and they produce less NOx emissions than their predecessors. Hyundai Motor takes environmental compliance extremely seriously and is committed to meeting forthcoming
new targets and to significantly improving the environmental performance of its vehicles.”
Renault, Opel/Vauxhall, Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover and Nissan did not respond to requests for comment on the report.
The EU has tightened emissions regulations and from September 2017 diesels that emit more than double the lab limit for NOx on the road will be banned from sale. Hawes added that next year’s introduction of an on-road Real Driving Emissions (RDE) test, as well as tougher lab tests, would help to provide consumers with the “reassurance that manufacturers are delivering on air quality”.
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