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Air pollution linked to nearly 400,000 premature deaths  Fine particulate matter pollution caused 399,000 premature deaths in EU countries in 2014, according to the most recent estimates on the health impact of air pollution published Wednesday by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Mothers’ exposure to air pollution tied to cellular changes in kids Women who breathe polluted air during pregnancy have babies with greater signs of “ageing” in their cells when they’re born compared to babies whose mothers breathed cleaner air, a new study finds.

Graded Response Action Plan to help improve Delhi’s air quality in force from today  India’s national capital will pin its hopes on the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) for the air quality to improve.

One million premature deaths linked to ozone air pollution Scientists at the University of York’s Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) have released new figures showing long-term exposure to ozone air pollution is linked to one million premature deaths per year due to respiratory diseases – more than double previous estimates.

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‘Airpocalypse’: Delhi braces for air pollution rise

As Hindus across India celebrate Diwali this week, scientists fear a ban on firecrackers and other emergency anti-pollution measures deployed by authorities may not be enough to prevent a repeat of last year’s “airpocalypse” in Delhi.

Each year, as winter descends on the Indian capital, a perfect storm of seasonal crop stubble burning, dense cloud cover and smoke generated by millions of firecrackers used in Diwali celebrations turns Delhi’s skies a putrid yellow.

Last year’s unprecedented pollution disaster saw heavy smog hover above the capital for weeks, forcing schools to shut as authorities scrambled to contain the crisis.

This time they are taking few chances, as India’s environmental watchdog shut down a coal-fired power plant on Wednesday and banned the use of diesel generators in Delhi.

On Delhi’s outskirts however, farmers are busy burning crop remnants to clear their land before replanting, and the acrid smoke has already begun to drift south, casting a pall over the world’s most polluted capital and leaving millions gasping for breath.

The illegal practice shows no signs of ending, as low-income farmers like Devi say they have no alternative, even if it harms city dwellers miles away.

“We have to burn it. We know this is harmful but what can we do?” Devi, who only gave her last name, told AFP on her farm in Sonipat just 60 kilometres (37 miles) from Delhi.

“We also need to make money for our families,” she said, stoking the smouldering stubble and defending the practice for being cost effective and quicker than other methods to clear her less than an acre farmland.

The sharp reek of burning stubble marks the onset of the pollution season in Delhi as air contaminants soar to dangerous levels.

A NASA satellite image taken early October showed widespread fires across India’s northern breadbasket, with a thick grey haze streaking toward Delhi and its 20 million inhabitants.

Nearly 35 million tonnes of post-harvest stubble is burnt annually in Haryana and Punjab, two predominantly rural states near Delhi, despite a nationwide ban on the practice since 2015.

FIGHT FOR CLEAN AIR

But farmers protest that they alone are not responsible for Delhi’s atrocious air, and say they need more support to shift to a different method of farming.

“The farm fires in northern India certainly worsen the pollution situation, but we need alternatives for it to end,” said Gufran Beig, chief scientist at state-run System of Air Quality Weather Forecasting and Research.

Government-led efforts — from shutting brick kilns to limiting cars on the road — have failed to tackle air pollution, which a US study in February found kills one million people prematurely in India every year.

Last year, levels of PM2.5 — the fine particles linked to higher rates of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease — soared to 778 in the days that followed Diwali, prompting the Supreme Court to warn of a public health emergency.

Levels of PM2.5 between 301 and 500 are classified as “hazardous”, while anything over 500 is beyond the official index.

“If there are no remedies, we might see a repeat of last year’s situation,” Beig said.

On Thursday, levels of PM2.5 pollutants in Delhi were hovering around 200 — still eight times the World Health Organization’s safe limit of 25.

In the run-up to Diwali, the government banned a host of older diesel vehicles, temporarily closed some polluting industries and prohibited the burning of waste material.

The emergency measures followed a controversial Supreme Court ban earlier this month on the sale of firecrackers in Delhi during the festive season.

The move upset some revellers, who enjoy setting off crackers to ring in the season, and fireworks vendors who feel they are being unfairly targeted.

“We also live in the city and know our responsibilities,” said Amit Jain, a despondent firecracker vendor in Delhi’s old quarter.

“We also want to breathe clean air, but why target firecrackers and not ban cars, industries and construction?” he told AFP.

Source: ‘Airpocalypse’: Delhi braces for air pollution rise | ABS-CBN News

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Hard-hitting air pollution posters to go on display on London’s Tube network 

A hard-hitting poster campaign highlighting the health risks posed by London’s dangerous air pollution levels is to go on display across the Tube network.

Posters featuring stomach-churning images of everyday objects covered in black soot will be plastered across the capital’s train and London Underground stations from early November.

The campaign is being launched by London Mayor Sadiq Khan who has made it his aim to clean up the city’s air quality.

One of the posters shows a baby’s bottle, with the teat coated in black dust with the slogan: “If you could see London’s air, you’d want to clean it too.”

The other images show a toddler’s cup, a pint of beer and a coffee dusted with soot.

City Hall said the campaign is designed to be honest with Londoners about the scale of the pollution problem and provide them with the information they need on air quality.

 

The images began to appear on social media on Wednesday ahead of the introduction of the T-charge next week where older, more polluting vehicles will have to pay to enter central London.

The £10 Emissions Surcharge, which comes into effect, on Monday will mean drivers of vehicles that do not meet the minimum emission standards will have to pay extra on top of the Congestion Charge, which is already in place.

The Mayor, who has pledged to tackle air quality since taking office in 2015, faced criticism last week after it emerged that every borough in London exceeds World Health Organisation limits for PM2.5 – toxic air particles.

Green campaigners called on him to do more to deal with the problem after the report revealed the shocking reality that all Londoners are exposed to the tiny particles – which can cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and cancer – every day.

On the launch of the poster campaign, Mr Khan said: “London’s air is a killer and is linked to asthma, strokes, heart disease and dementia.

“I’m committed to doing all I can to cut pollution and help Londoners protect themselves from the harm it causes.

“These arresting images are designed to show Londoners how serious a threat air pollution is to their health, and explain the range of measures I’ve brought in and am working to introduce to make our air safer.

“The next stage will be the introduction of the £10 T-charge on Monday, which will help remove the oldest, most pollution vehicles from the heart of the capital.

“I refuse to be a Mayor who ignores this and I am determined to take effective action to reduce the harm it does to Londoners.”

The campaign appeared on social media from October 18 and will be across the TfL network from November 3.

Source: Hard-hitting air pollution posters to go on display on London’s Tube network | London Evening Standard

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These 25 cities have the worst air quality in Italy

Milan is one of several Italian cities with an air pollution problem. Photos: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Dozens of Italian cities are in the air pollution danger zone.

That’s according to environmental non-profit Legambiente, which released a special report this week detailing the scale of Italy’s pollution problems.

By mid-October 25 Italian cities had already exceeded the European Union’s standards for air quality, which specify that cities should have no more than 35 “bad air” days – when levels of PM10 pollution exceed micrograms per cubic metre of air – per year.

In 2017 Turin has already had 66 bad air days, followed by Cremona with 58 and Padova with 53. Venice has had 52 and Milan 50.

Almost all of the worst affected cities were in the north of Italy. Only Frosinone, south of Rome and an emerging centre of industry, falls outside Italy’s traditional “industrial triangle” in the north-west.

In January 2017 alone, nine Italian towns passed safe limits for air pollution on at least half of the days.

The situation has been exacerbated by months of extremely low rainfall and high temperatures well into autumn, which look set to continue until at least the end of this week.

It is however an improvement on 2015, when more than half of Italian cities – 48 of them – exceeded the EU’s air pollution limits, according to Legambiente. Frosinone was the worst offender that year with 115 bad air days.

Several Italian cities, especially in the north, have imposed restrictions on driving in certain zones and at certain times in a bid to lower emissions.

Italy has the highest number of premature deaths from nitrogen dioxide air pollution of any country in the EU, according to the European Environment Agency. The toxic gas, which comes mainly from diesel fumes, killed more than 21,000 people in Italy in 2013, the agency reported last year.

Unlike some other European countries including France and the UK, Italy has not set a target for banning the sale of new diesel vehicles.

Source: These 25 cities have the worst air quality in Italy – The Local

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Graded Response Action Plan to help improve Delhi’s air quality in force from today

India’s national capital will pin its hopes on the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) for the air quality to improve. On Tuesday morning, Delhi’s Air Quality Index was at 251, which falls under “unhealthy” category.

The GRAP will be putting into action a number of anti-pollution measures and there will be specific actions for each category – moderate to poor, very poor, severe and emergency.

The Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) has asked for measures to be implemented from Tuesday to combat the very poor air quality in Delhi.

The measures include stoppage in the running of diesel sets, a three-fourfold increase in the parking rates, enhanced bus and metro services, and newspapers, TV and radio stations alerts on a daily basis with advice to people with respiratory and cardiac problems.

Simultaneously, measures falling under the moderate-to-poor category will also be in place and will involve periodical mechanised sweeping of roads, deployment of traffic police for smooth flow of traffic at identified choke areas and strict enforcement of pollution norms at brick kilns and industrial complexes.

The CBCM, IMD and the SPCBs have been asked to review the actions of the EPCA and review actions and send reports on a daily basis.

Source: Graded Response Action Plan to help improve Delhi’s air quality in force from today

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Wildfires are creating a public health crisis of smoke problems.

In the new “Smoke Belt,” it’s raining ash and respiratory illnesses.

No one knows what sparked the violent fires ablaze in the hills of California wine country. Over the past week, the flames have torched more than 160,000 acres across Napa and Sonoma counties, reducing parts of Santa Rosa to piles of cinder and ash and leaving at least 40 dead and hundreds missing. And far from the white-hot embers of destruction, residents from San Francisco to Sacramento to Fresno have been waking up this week to choking fumes, commuting to work under skies tinged orange with dust and soot.

Now, in just a single fire season, ash has rained down on Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. That might seem like an anomaly—but it’s more a portent of the country’s new, char-coated normal. As climate change fuels increasingly large and frequent wildfires that hit closer and closer to densely populated urban centers, the smoke they produce is becoming a public health crisis.

“Over the past two days we’ve experienced unprecedented levels of air pollution in the region,” says Kristine Roselius, a spokeswoman for the Bay Area Quality Management District. Things cleared up slightly on Wednesday, but mercurial weather patterns make it hard to know if the worst is still yet to come. “It’s very difficult to forecast what the air quality will be at any moment because we’ve still got active fires.”

But in general, the forecast is not good. Roselius says they’re especially concerned about the elevated levels of PM2.5—very small bits of liquids and solids suspended in the air, no bigger than 2.5 micrometers across. Particles this small can be inhaled into the deepest recesses of the lungs, into the broccoli-shaped alveolar sacs, where they bypass the body’s filtration systems and slip directly into the bloodstream. What exactly is in those tiny droplets and specks depends on the source, the season, and atmospheric conditions. But it’s the amount of particulate matter more than the type that matters for health.

Good clean air will have fewer than a dozen micrograms of PM2.5s per cubic meter of atmosphere. Most people won’t notice anything up to about 55 micrograms, but folks with heart or lung disease will likely experience shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and chest pain. Asthma sufferers will become more prone to attacks. And as PM2.5 concentrations rise above 55 µg/m3, anyone working or exercising outside will start to notice.

Breathing will start to feel more difficult, and you might get lightheaded. Children get hit harder, since they breathe faster than adults. Beyond 100 µg/m3 even healthy adults just walking around will start feeling a sting in their eyeballs and at the back of their throats, chest tightness, and the need to cough. Air monitors near the Wired offices, 50 miles from the fires, were reading out 137 µg/m3 on Wednesday, and the mucous membrane burn was quite noticeable indeed. Symptoms like these will go away when air quality improves. But breathing in a lot of PM2.5s can lead to serious long-term health problems.

So first things first: protection. Public health officials like Roselius are advising people with chronic respiratory illness to seek filtered air, either in the city or outside the region. That means buildings with high efficiency mechanical or electronic air cleaners, like these public libraries in San Francisco. If you’ve got air conditioning at home, set it to recirculate mode and make sure all your doors and windows are tightly closed. Three out of five households in California report having air conditioning, although most of these are in the southern parts of the state. Karl the Fog provides all the air conditioning the Bay Area has ever really needed. Good for the energy grid. Bad for those seeking a smoke-free haven.

As for facewear, a bandana worn around the mouth won’t do anything but making you feel like an outlaw. One-strap paper masks or surgical masks won’t help you either. Your best bet: disposable respirators, like the ones found at hardware stores and pharmacies. Look for ones labeled N95 and make sure they’re properly sealed around your face (that goes double for San Francisco’s bearded hipsters).

But the best thing to do is limit your time outside as much as possible. And don’t exert yourself any more than you have to. Because while it’s hard for scientists to predict how bad air quality will be in the aftermath of a wildfire, it’s even harder for them to predict the long-term public health impacts.

Over the years, researchers have tried unsuccessfully to measure the full health effects of wildfire smoke. The general consensus, based on hospital records, is that more smoke means more trips to the doctor for things like asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, COPD, and heart failure. Children, the elderly, women, black Americans, and those with underlying chronic diseases appear to be most susceptible. But it’s been tricky to prove causation, because air pollution comes from so many places—wildfires, yes, but also tailpipes and factories.

That’s one of the reasons the Environmental Protection Agency just launched a crowdsourced study to understand the link between wildfire smoke and health impacts. Using an app called SmokeSense, anyone can now send the EPA a snapshot of the air quality in their ZIP code, report nearby smoke or fire, and list symptoms they’re experiencing.

It’s work that’s increasingly important as more acres of American forests go up in smoke each year. “As the climate continues to change, we’re going to see much more smoke, at higher intensities in the future,” says Jia Coco Liu, an environmental health researcher at Johns Hopkins. Based on air pollution from past and projected future wildfires in the American West, Liu and a team of scientists at Yale estimated that by midcentury more than 82 million people will experience smoke waves—more than two consecutive days with high levels of wildfire-related air pollution. People in the new Smoke Belt—Northern California, Western Oregon, and the Great Plains—are likely to suffer the highest exposure.

And there’s one more bit of bad news: Just as fire behaves differently in a city than it does out in the wild, so does smoke. Urban areas, with their concrete roads and walls of glass and steel, tend to stop a fire in its tracks. All those buildings and alleyways prevent wind from blowing fresh embers around. But those same aerodynamics mean that smoke gets trapped in cities. Liu’s latest research, which will appear in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that metropolitan areas, even ones very far away from any actual wildfires, had much higher levels of particulate matter in the air than rural areas. An urban smoke island effect, if you will.

By looking at Medicare billing information, Liu was able to see a corresponding uptick in respiratory and other health issues. She hopes the research will help raise awareness that wildfire smoke is more than a nuisance. “People think of wildfires and they think about houses burning down,” she says. “From the city it can feel like a faraway problem. But actually, it’s the smoke that has a much higher impact.”

This story was originally published by Wired and has been republished here with permission from Climate Desk.

Source: Wildfires are creating a public health crisis of smoke problems.

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Malta’s air pollution among the worst in Europe

Pollution in Malta continues to be among the worst in Europe, with the island having the fourth highest levels of particles in the air compared to all Member States.

Data published in a study by the European Environment Agency (EEA) showed that the concentration of fine particulate matter concentration on a day-to-day basis stood at 50 micrograms per cubic metre in 2015, right on the EU daily limit value.

Bulgaria, Poland and Greece fare worse than Malta.

The EEA analysed the data gathered by the individual member states, concluding that most EU residents are exposed to poor air quality, with fine particulate matter causing the premature death of some 400,000 people in Europe every year.

Through an analysis of different pollutants, the study – Air quality in Europe, 2017 – also found that in 2014 there were some 250 premature deaths attributed to pollutants in the air. 

For the EEA, premature deaths are those that occur before a person reaches an expected age where the deaths are considered to be preventable if their cause can be eliminated.

According to the agency, road transport, agriculture, power plants, industries and households are the biggest emitters of air pollution.

Heart disease and stroke are the most common reasons for premature death attributed to air pollution, followed by lung disease and lung cancer.

Earlier this year, the European Commission said that Malta needed to improve air quality in the most urbanised areas by introducing systemic solutions to ease transport congestion.

As vehicle emissions continue to be the biggest source of pollution, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced last month that the government would be initiating consultation on setting a cut-off date beyond which all new cars would have to be electric.

Source: Malta’s air pollution among the worst in Europe

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Mothers’ exposure to air pollution tied to cellular changes in kids

Women who breathe polluted air during pregnancy have babies with greater signs of “aging” in their cells when they’re born compared to babies whose mothers breathed cleaner air, a new study finds.

Babies with higher exposure to fine particle pollution during gestation had shorter caps on the ends of their chromosomes, according to the researchers, who suggest the findings offer a possible biological reason for health problems encountered by kids who live where smog and traffic exhaust is pervasive.

The protective chromosome caps known as telomeres normally shrink with age, and are also thought to erode with extreme stress.

“Reducing exposure to air pollution is a good thing, for both the parents and for the unborn baby,” said Pam Factor-Litvak, author of an accompanying editorial and a public health researcher at Columbia University in New York.

“Prenatal exposure to air pollution is associated with a host of adverse outcomes,” Factor-Litvak said by email.

For the study, Tim Nawrot of Hasselt University in Diepenbeek, Belgium, and colleagues examined telomere length from samples of cord blood and placental tissue for 641 newborns in the Flanders region. They also looked at mothers’ exposure to pollutants known as PM 2.5, a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter that can include dust, dirt, soot and smoke and are often found in traffic exhaust.

Some previous research has linked exposure to traffic fumes and air pollution to higher odds of infertility as well as an increased risk of delivering underweight or premature babies. Prior research has also linked shorter telomeres to an increased risk of a variety of chronic health problems in adults, including heart disease and cancer.

Telomeres shorten each time a cell divides. Once telomeres are too short, cell growth stops, which is why their length is considered a potential indicator of cellular aging and overall health.

In the current study, Nawrot’s team examined data on women who had full-term babies from 2010 to 2014.

Researchers used mothers’ home addresses to estimate average exposure to PM 2.5 during each week of pregnancy.

Overall, the women’s average weekly exposure to PM 2.5 was 13.4 micrograms per cubic meter of air (ug/m3).

Mothers exposed to higher levels of PM 2.5 gave birth to babies with shorter telomeres, researchers report in JAMA Pediatrics.

Each increase of 5 ug/m3 in PM 2.5 exposure during pregnancy was associated with roughly 9 percent shorter telomeres in babies’ cord blood on average, and 13 percent shorter telomeres in placenta samples, the study found.

The researchers accounted for other maternal factors like education, income, health conditions and smoking history, as well as the babies’ sex and weight at birth.

One limitation of the study is that women’s actual PM 2.5 exposure might differ from what researchers estimated based on home addresses, the authors note. It’s also possible that the babies’ parents had shorter telomeres and this influenced the telomere length in newborns.

Even so, the findings suggest that it’s possible for air pollution to cross the placenta barrier and directly affect the chromosomes in babies, said Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, a researcher at the Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology and the Barcelona Institute for Global Health in Spain.

“We know that air pollution reduces the birth weight of babies and may reduce gestational age and head circumference, but we did not know about biological aging during pregnancy,” Nieuwenhuijsen, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “I believe this is the first study looking at this and shows that aging due to air pollution starts already during pregnancy.”

As much as possible, people should avoid breathing smog and traffic fumes, said Dr. Shruthi Mahalingaiah, a researcher at Boston University School of Medicine who wasn’t involved in the study.

“The take home message is to limit exposure to air pollution when you can – if you bike to work during rush hour – consider biking during other times to reduce exposures to vehicular exhaust,” Mahalingaiah said by email. “If you live in areas of the world with high levels of ambient air pollution, you may consider installing appropriate air/ventilation systems so that your in-home air quality is excellent.”

SOURCES: http://bit.ly/2ztlah8 and http://bit.ly/2zshNa7 JAMA Pediatrics, online October 16, 2017.

Source: Mothers’ exposure to air pollution tied to cellular changes in kids | News | 1450 99.7 WHTC

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