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Sitting in traffic for just 2 hours can lead to brain damage

Breathing in diesel exhaust fumes while sitting in traffic could be disastrous for your brain, a new neuroscience study warns. A team at the University of British Columbia says brain scans show increased impairments in brain function after exposure to traffic pollution. In fact, signs of decreased brain function can start to appear in as little as two hours.

The study focused on a person’s functional connectivity — a measure that tests how well different brain regions interact with one another. According to the study authors, this is the first controlled experiment to show evidence of humans showing altered brain network connectivity as a result of air pollution exposure.

“For many decades, scientists thought the brain may be protected from the harmful effects of air pollution,” says Chris Carlsten, a professor and head of respiratory medicine and the Canada Research Chair in occupational and environmental lung disease at UBC, in a university release. “This study, which is the first of its kind in the world, provides fresh evidence supporting a connection between air pollution and cognition.”

The team briefly exposed 25 healthy adults to either diesel exhaust or filtered air in a lab. They used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure their brain activity before and after each exposure. One of the areas they looked at for possible changes is the brain’s default mode network (DMN). The DMN includes several brain regions connected together that play a part in people’s internal thoughts and memories. The fMRI scans show that people exposed to diesel exhaust have lower DMN activity compared to the air-filtered group.

“We know that altered functional connectivity in the DMN has been associated with reduced cognitive performance and symptoms of depression, so it’s concerning to see traffic pollution interrupting these same networks,” explains study first author Jodie Gawryluk, a psychology professor at the University of Victoria. “While more research is needed to fully understand the functional impacts of these changes, it’s possible that they may impair people’s thinking or ability to work.”

The good news is that the neurological effects from diesel exhaust were temporary. Every person exposed to air pollution had their brain activity return to normal. However, the study authors speculate that long-term exposure, like sitting in gridlock traffic every day, may cause more permanent damage. While we don’t know how much car exhaust could cause long-lasting brain damage, Dr. Carlsten says it’s better to minimize any exposure in the first place.

fMRI shows decreased functional connectivity in the brain following exposure to traffic pollution. (Credit: University of British Columbia)

“People may want to think twice the next time they’re stuck in traffic with the windows rolled down,” says Dr. Carlsten. “It’s important to ensure that your car’s air filter is in good working order, and if you’re walking or biking down a busy street, consider diverting to a less busy route.”

The study is published in Environmental Health.

Sitting in traffic for just 2 hours can lead to brain damage – Study Finds
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Air pollution warning for Bangkok

Unsafe levels of fine dust are forecast for the capital city from Tuesday to Friday due to stagnant air and extensive burn-off in Cambodia.

A high pressure systems from China would cover the country and cause stagnant air which would result in the accumulation of dust particles that could reach unsafe levels from Jan 31-Feb 3, Bangkok Governor Chadchart Sittipunt said on Monday.

“There are more hotspots due to biomass burn-off in Cambodia. Northeasterly winds are blowing the dust of burnt biomass to the Gulf of Thailand but on Feb 1 and 2 the wind direction will change. The easterly wind will bring more biomass dust to Bangkok,” Mr Chadchart said.

He advised people in the city to wear face masks when outdoors, but to try to avoid outdoor activities.

From Tuesday to Friday, businesses and employees should work from home where possible, to avoid the  pollution, the governor said.

The Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency reported 771 hotspots in Thailand, 1,996 in Cambodia, 683 in Laos, 647 in Myanmar, 384 in Vietnam and one in Malaylia on Sunday.

Air pollution warning for Bangkok
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Bangkok air pollution prompts advice to work from home

Thai capital’s already bad air made worse by forest fires and burning on farms

People in Bangkok have been advised to work from home and wear face masks due to air pollution that has worsened to unhealthy levels.

Officials urged people to use public transport rather than private cars for commuting, and said the authorities would seek to reduce sources of pollution such as outdoor burning and construction activities. Face masks would be distributed to vulnerable people, Bangkok authorities said.

The Bangkok governor, Chadchart Sittipunt, said pollution was expected to rise on Thursday but it did not require schools to be closed. “I would like to ask people to be prepared by checking the pollution level before planning a trip. The BMA [Bangkok Metropolitan Administration] and pollution department will control the sources of the dust and ask for cooperation from activities that generates dust such as construction sites or truck transportation,” he said.

If the situation worsened, he added, limitations on transport would be considered.

Agricultural burning and forest fires are a major cause of air pollution in Thailand between December and April, especially in the north-west. Pollution from these fires also affects Bangkok, which already struggles with bad air due to its factories, construction and traffic.

On Thursday morning, PM2.5 levels reached 63.2µg/m³ (micrograms per cubic metre), according to the Swiss air quality company IQAir – far higher than the WHO annual air quality guideline of 5µg/m³. Areas of Samut Songkhram, south-west of Bangkok, and Lampang, in the north, ranked worst in Thailand.

Dr Opas Karnkawinpong, the permanent secretary in the health ministry, said this week that all provincial public health services would monitor the situation and that emergency centres would be opened in provinces experiencing high levels of pollution for more than three consecutive days.

The number of patients experiencing pollution-related health problems more than doubled to nearly 213,000 this week, from about 96,000 last week, Opas said. Most were experiencing respiratory tract problems as well as symptoms such as dermatitis or eye inflammation.

Chadchart said the situation would be monitored closely throughout February and was expected to be better in March.

Bangkok air pollution prompts advice to work from home | Thailand | The Guardian
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Jet engine lubrication oils are a major source of ultrafine particles

Ultrafine particles form during combustion processes, for example when wood or biomass is burned, as well as in power and industrial plants. Alongside road traffic, large airports are a major source of these ultrafine particles, which are less than 100 millionths of a millimetre (100 nanometres) in size. Because they are so small, they can penetrate deep into the lower respiratory tract, overcome the air-blood barrier and, depending on their composition, cause inflammatory reactions in the tissue, for example. What’s more, ultrafine particles are suspected of being capable of triggering cardiovascular diseases.

Since several years, the Hessian Agency for Nature Conservation, Environment and Geology (HLNUG) has been measuring the number and size of ultrafine particles at various air monitoring stations in the vicinity of Frankfurt International Airport, for example in the Frankfurt suburb of Schwanheim and in Raunheim. Last year, scientists led by Professor Alexander Vogel at Goethe University Frankfurt analysed the chemical composition of the ultrafine particles and came across a group of organic compounds which, according to their chemical fingerprints, originated from aircraft lubrication oils.

The research team has now corroborated this finding by means of further chemical measurements of the ultrafine particles: the particles originated to a significant degree from synthetic jet oils and were particularly prevalent in the smallest particle classes, i.e. particles 10 to 18 nanometres in size. Such lubrication oils can enter the exhaust plume of an aircraft’s engines, for example through vents where nanometre-sized oil droplets and gaseous oil vapours are not fully retained.

In laboratory experiments, the researchers also succeeded in reproducing the formation of ultrafine particles from lubrication oils. To this end, a common engine lubrication oil was first evaporated at around 300 °C in a hot gas stream, which simulated the exhaust plume of an aircraft engine, and subsequently cooled down. The number-size distribution of the freshly formed particles was then measured.

Alexander Vogel, Professor for Atmospheric Environmental Analytics at the Institute for Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences of Goethe University Frankfurt, explains: “When the oil vapour cools down, the gaseous synthetic esters are supersaturated and form the nuclei for new particles that can then grow fast to around 10 nanometres in size. These particles, as our experiments indicate, constitute a large fraction of the ultrafine particles produced by aircraft engines. The previous assumption that ultrafine particles originate primarily from sulphur and aromatic compounds in kerosene is evidently incomplete. According to our findings, lowering lubrication oil emissions from jet engines holds significant potential for reducing ultrafine particles.”

The experiments show that the formation of ultrafine particles in jet engines is not confined to the combustion of kerosene alone. Potential mitigation measures should take this into consideration. This means that using low-sulphur kerosene or switching to sustainable aviation fuel cannot eliminate all the pollution caused by ultrafine particles.

A comprehensive scientific study by the Federal State of Hesse, which will start in 2023, will examine pollution from ultrafine particles and their impact on health. In this context, the results from the current study can help to identify airport-specific particles and derive possible mitigation measures.

Story Source:Materials provided by Goethe University Frankfurt. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Jet engine lubrication oils are a major source of ultrafine particles — ScienceDaily
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Gas stoves have given 650,000 U.S. children asthma, study finds

Gas stoves are responsible for 12.7% of U.S. childhood asthma cases, a new study in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health has found. That proportion is much higher in states such as Illinois (21.1%), California (20.1%) and New York (18.8%), where gas stoves are more prevalent.

“When the gas stove is turned on, and when it’s burning at that hot temperature, it releases a number of air pollutants,” Brady Seals, a co-author of the study and the carbon-free buildings manager at the energy policy think tank RMI, told Yahoo News. “So these are things like particulate matter, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, along with others. So, for example, nitrogen dioxide is a known respiratory irritant. And the EPA, in 2016, said that short-term exposure to NO2 causes respiratory effects like asthma attacks.”

The study was based on a meta-analysis from 2013 on the correlation between gas stoves and childhood asthma, which found that living in a home with a gas stove corresponds to a 42% higher chance of current childhood asthma. Combining that with data on the prevalence of gas stoves, which are present in 35% of U.S. homes, the researchers estimated how many more childhood asthma cases exist because of their presence. As a result, the researchers found that 650,000 American children have asthma because of gas stoves in their home.

The new study follows other research showing gas stoves are harmful to indoor air quality. In 2020, UCLA public health researchers commissioned by the Sierra Club found that 90% of homes have unhealthy levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution after cooking with gas for one hour. A 2020 study by RMI found homes with gas stoves have 50% to over 400% higher nitrogen dioxide concentrations than homes with electric stoves. When burned, gas also emits harmful substances, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen.

In addition to the indoor air pollution at issue in this study, home gas use also contributes to outdoor air pollution, another primary driver of asthma. The same toxins that harm children’s lungs while they are indoors contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, also known as smog, which is toxic. In 2019, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimated that ozone is responsible for 11% of deaths from chronic respiratory disease. And natural gas is mostly methane, which is also an ingredient in smog formation.

Methane is also a very powerful greenhouse gas, accounting for 11% of planet-warming emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Global warming also worsens air pollution, as hotter weather contributes to smog formation.

Increasingly, cities looking to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions are banning the installation of gas appliances in new construction. Liberal bastions such as Berkeley, Calif., San Francisco, Seattle and New York City have adopted such measures.

Researchers are also discovering that gas stoves and ovens may pollute indoor air when they’re not even in use. A January 2021 study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that gas stoves and ovens frequently leak, and it estimated that in the U.S. their leaked methane emissions are equivalent to the carbon emissions of half a million cars.

The UCLA study estimated that in California alone, if all residential gas appliances were transitioned to clean-energy electric appliances, the reduction of particulate pollution and nitrogen oxides would result in 354 fewer annual deaths and an even greater reduction in bronchitis.

The researchers in the newest study recommend two approaches to reducing indoor pollution from gas stoves: either improving ventilation or replacing them with clean alternatives such as electric stoves. They lean heavily towards the latter.

“Notably, ventilation is associated with the reduction, but not elimination, of childhood asthma risk,” they write.

Even many stoves with range hoods, they note, do not vent outdoors — which defeats the purpose — and people often forget to turn their vents on.

Last month, eight senators and 12 members of the House of Representatives, all Democrats, signed a letter to the Consumer Product Safety Commission to take action to protect consumers from gas stove pollution. The letter did not call for banning gas stoves, but instead asking for regulation to require ventilation and performance standards to limit leakage. CPSC Commissioner Richard Trumka Jr. said in a subsequent webinar that a ban on gas stoves would be a “real possibility.”

Gas stoves have given 650,000 U.S. children asthma, study finds
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UK study adds to evidence of air pollution link to long-term illness

Research found greater chances of multiple chronic illnesses in people living in polluted areas

Are the impacts from air pollution hiding in plain sight in the everyday aliments that so many of us suffer from? A new study, the largest of its kind, found that people living in polluted areas were more likely to have more than one long-term illness. Researchers looked at more than 360,000 people aged between 40 and 69 who had health data in the UK Biobank. They found greater chances of multiple neurological, respiratory, cardiovascular and common mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, even having allowed for differences in income. These long-term problems affect people’s lives and place big burdens on our economy and health services.

Earlier this month the UK government announced a target for the worst particle pollution in England in 2040. It means that England plans to meet the 2005 World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines in 18 years’ time, 35 years after the guidelines were set. The new health study found an extra 20% chance of multiple long-term illnesses for those living with particle pollution that is worse than the 2040 England target.

Dr Ioannis Bakolis, from King’s College London, who led the study, said: “We will need to track people’s changing health over time to know for sure if air pollution caused these chronic health problems. If air pollution exposure indeed affects risk, it presents an opportunity to shape the epidemic of multiple long-term illness using environmental policy such as expanding low-emission zones or avoiding building care homes in pollution hotspots.”

It may be decades before we get data on the progress of these chronic illnesses, but we can learn by looking into the past. Seventy years ago, London was coping with the deaths of about 12,000 people in the city’s worst ever smog. A subsequent Ministry of Health report reviewed past death records and found that smogs had been killing people over the previous 80 years. The evidence had been there all along.

In 2016, a study looked at the health of Londoners who survived the 1952 smog as infants under one year old or in utero. They were left with a 20% greater chance of developing asthma in childhood, compared with those outside London. Although less clear in the data, the chances of them having adult asthma increased by about 10%.

Recent analysis of first world war army records found that air pollution had been reducing the height and health of soldiers who grew up downwind of areas of intense coal use.

This all adds to the evidence that air pollution can lead to a whole range of chronic illness. Putting this another way, the benefits of clean air could be even greater than we imagine.

UK study adds to evidence of air pollution link to long-term illness | Air pollution | The Guardian
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Major study shows exposure to air pollution puts people at greater risk of multiple health conditions

Exposure to higher concentrations of air pollution has been linked to an increased risk of developing long term, multiple physical and mental health issues, new research has indicated.

In the largest study of its kind worldwide, researchers examined the data of more than 364,000 people and say their findings “warrant further research in this area”.

People exposed to greater levels of traffic-related air pollution were found to be at an elevated risk of at least two long term health conditions, with the strongest links found for co-occurring neurological, respiratory, cardiovascular and mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

The study was led by researchers from Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London and was funded by National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre and NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) South London.

The study’s first author, Dr Amy Ronaldson, a Research Associate at Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London, said: “People with more than one long-term health condition have a lower quality of life and greater dependence on the healthcare system.

“Our NIHR funded research has indicated that those people that live in areas of higher traffic-related air pollution are at greater risk of having multiple health conditions. The study does not prove that air pollution causes multimorbidity, but it does warrant further research in this area. It could be that simple measures to reduce traffic levels could potentially improve lives and lessen the pressure on our healthcare systems.”

Study participants who were exposed to higher levels of fine particulate matter had an increased risk of 21% of having two or more co-occurring conditions.

For those people exposed to higher levels of nitrogen dioxide, they had a 20% increased risk of having two or more co-occurring conditions.

Senior author Dr Ioannis Bakolis, Reader at IoPPN, King’s College London, said: “How air pollution affects multiple organs and systems at the same time is not yet fully understood, but there is some evidence that mechanisms such as inflammation, oxidative stress and immune activation could be triggered by air particulates, which can cause damage to the brain, heart, blood, lungs and gut.

“Our study suggests that it could be through shared mechanisms that air pollution negatively impacts several body systems and increases the likelihood of people developing multiple long term health conditions. More research is needed to understand just how air pollution affects the different bodily systems, but it may be that tackling air pollution could help prevent and alleviate the debilitating impact of multiple long-term health conditions.”

Read the study in the journal Frontiers in Public Health.

Major study shows exposure to air pollution puts people at greater risk of multiple health conditions
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