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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

Air pollution linked to ‘huge’ rise in child asthma GP visits A “huge” increase in the number of visits to doctors by children with asthma problems occurs after a week of raised air pollution, according to a study. 

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Calgary researchers reaching for the sky with air quality study

The air is thick with fumes and smoke, and University of Calgary researchers are directing their skills to measuring and detecting it.

In Calgary, there are three permanent air quality monitoring stations part of the air quality regulatory system. However, that number is far too low to gain an accurate reading on how specific areas might be affected.

University of Calgary professor Stefania Bertazzon set out to rectify that knowledge gap. The Professor of Geography and her colleague Rizwan Shahid, an adjunct assistant professor, teamed up to map which parts of the city were most likely to be affected by air pollutants. Professor Bertazzon said that there was a distinct lack of monitoring in the city before the study.

“I was surprised with how little we know about our air quality in Calgary. We like spending time outdoors and pedestrians and bike paths. But we rarely understand that those paths run along the busiest roads,” Dr. Bertazzon said.

“When people saw our air quality maps, and we educated them about air pollution, many people realized they were travelling along the most polluted areas.”

Spreading the word about air quality

Dr. Bertazzon spearheaded clean air campaigns to widen people’s knowledge of the issue and how it might affect them. Alongside this campaign, Dr. Bertazzon approached a number of homeowners across the city, asking for permission to place air monitoring systems in their backyards for the study.

Despite people’s lack of knowledge, Dr. Bertazzon said she was thrilled to see the interest and concern people still had for the issue.

“So many people care about this issue. When we deployed our monitors, we asked people if they would be willing to host a monitor in their yards, and we had an overwhelming response, so many people want to know what their air is like,” said Dr. Bertazzon.

“It was a positive surprise. We hope people will be able to empower themselves by knowing about and protecting themselves from air pollution.”

Mapping air pollution

The initial number of stations used in the study across Calgary was 50, which then rose to 100 in the next phase of research.

Using all of that data, the research team put together “heat maps” showing how the city is affected by air pollutants.

The maps paint a clear and informative picture showing which parts of the city are worse off. This was achieved by Dr. Shahid, who used his background in both computer sciences and geographic information systems.

Dr. Shahid stressed that these maps may look alarming. But the air quality in Calgary is actually quite good. One area in Calgary having worse air quality than others is all relative.

“We know that the representation of the analysis and the portrayal of data needed to be done safely. It couldn’t be too broad but not too detailed either to single out specific places. It was the right amount of information that could benefit everyone,” Dr. Shahid said.

“Initially, when we published our paper on the study, we didn’t have a map. Once it was picked up by a wider community, it clicked that I should have a story map measuring the air quality index across the city.”

The maps were created using geospatial lenses combined with geographical information sciences (GIS). This geospatial measuring gives an accurate estimate of how air pollutants like nitrogen dioxide are distributed through the city.

Mapping clearly shows that any area next to a major roadway is at increased risk of exposure. Major transportation corridors like Memorial Drive, Deerfoot Trail, or Crowchild Trail show distinctive red markings that give away their effect. The downtown core is arguably the most affected.

Solutions to improve air quality

Dr. Bertazzon said that since most of Calgary’s air pollutant problems seem to stem from roadways, mitigating the problem would be tied to infrastructure changes and alternative methods of transportation.

“Over five years, the spatial patterns didn’t change much with the same areas affected. The only thing we can do is to try and decrease pollution in affected areas, by using vehicles less and being smarter about driving habits,” Dr. Bertazzon said.

“Although, I think encouraging people to use options like the Calgary ring road will limit emissions within the city.”

Dr. Bertazzon said that while the maps may seem worrying and action should be taken to minimize the effect of air pollution, Calgary still has high air quality compared to other cities.

The COVID-19 pandemic stalled Dr. Bertazzon and her colleagues from continuing their research in 2020 and 2021. Once field tests are permitted again, the crew will begin examining areas of concern like schools to see how those places may be at risk.

Although, it is hard to determine exactly how people are affected by these findings as it usually comes down to an individual basis.

Calgary researchers reaching for the sky with air quality study – LiveWire Calgary
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Satellite data explains the extent of lockdown effect on nitrogen oxides

COVID-19 has changed the world in unimaginable ways. Some have even been positive, with new vaccines developed in record time. Even the extraordinary lockdowns, which have had severe effects on movement and commerce, have had beneficial effects on the environment and therefore, ironically, on health.

Studies from all around the world, including China, Europe and India, have found major drops in the level of air pollution. However, to fully understand the impact of anthropogenic causes, it is important to separate them from natural events in the atmosphere like wind flow.

To demonstrate this point, a new study by researchers at the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Japan, uses satellite data and mathematical modeling to explain just how great the lockdown effect on nitrogen oxides has been in Delhi, India, one of the world’s most polluted cities, and its surrounding area.

This study was carried out under the activity named “Mission DELHIS (Detection of Emission Change of air pollutants: Human Impact Studies)” as a part of RIHN project, Aakash (meaning “Sky” in Hindi, originated from sanskrit).

“Nitrogen oxides are good chemical tracers for testing model hypothesis, because besides their health effects, they have a short lifetime. Therefore, it is unlikely wind will bring nitrogen oxides from far away.” Sachiko Hayashida, Study Lead and Professor

Nitrogen oxides naturally change due to dynamic and photochemical conditions in the atmosphere, and are emitted from the Earth’s surface by both natural and anthropogenic activities. Therefore, Hayashida argues, looking simply at their concentration levels in the atmosphere provides only a crude impression of man-made contributions.

“COVID-19 pandemic has given us an opportunity of social experiment, when we can discriminate the anthropogenic effects on nitrogen oxides from the natural ones caused by atmospheric conditions and natural emissions, because only anthropogenic emissions decreased due to the lockdown. These confounders affect policy to control air quality” she says.

Strict lockdown was enforced in Delhi for two months in 2020, from the end of March to the end of May. This period coincides with the transition in atmospheric conditions, such as actinic flux, from low in spring to high in early summer, and also from stagnant winds to high ventilation across the entire northern India region.

The researchers analyzed seasonal and inter-annual changes using multi-year satellite data to predict what the levels would be had there been no lockdown. They estimated top-down emissions using a steady-state continuity equation. The study’s findings clearly show that the natural conditions could not explain the dramatic drop in 2020 nitrogen oxide levels. Not even close.

“Our calculations suggested that 72% of nitrogen oxides emissions in urban centres are the resulted solely from traffic and factories,” said Hayashida.

Interestingly, the levels recovered after the lockdown more quickly in rural levels than they did in urban ones, an effect attributed to agricultural activities, such as crop-residue burning, which resumed almost immediately. Unlike factories, the agricultural activities continued, albeit at a lesser pace, during the lockdown, which was less stringent on agriculture.

Hayashida says that her team’s approach should have an impact on how we study harmful chemical species emitted to the atmosphere.

“Our findings show the importance of analyzing top-down emissions and not just atmospheric concentrations. We expect our approach to guide effective policy on air pollution,” she said.

Satellite data explains the extent of lockdown effect on nitrogen oxides
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Medical leaders urge Boris Johnson to bring air pollution below WHO limit

Alliance of doctors and nurses calls for environment bill to include reduction in small particle pollution limits

Medical leaders are urging Boris Johnson to cut legal levels of air pollution in the UK to below World Health Organization limits in response to the death of the schoolgirl Ella Kissi-Debrah from toxic air.

Members of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change are calling for the reduction in limits of PM2.5 to be included in the environment bill, which returns to parliament this week.

A letter to the prime minister from leaders of the British Medical Association, more than 20 nursing colleges, the Lancet and the British Medical Journal (BMJ) says: “Today, before the environment bill returns to the House of Lords, we urge your government to use this bill to make a legally binding commitment to reducing fine particulate pollution (PM2.5) in the UK to below the maximum level recommended by the WHO by 2030.

“Air pollution is among the greatest environmental determinants of health, and contributes to many serious and chronic health conditions affecting every organ in the body. Despite this, the UK’s legal limits for PM2.5 pollution – some of the most damaging of all pollutants – are currently more than double the WHO recommended limit.”

Last week, in response to recommendations by the coroner in the inquest of nine-year-old Ella to cut the limit to WHO levels, the government failed to commit to such reductions. Instead, Johnson’s government promised to hold a public consultation next January, with a view to setting new air pollution targets in October 2022.

It made no commitment to setting the legal limit at below the WHO level for PM2.5 of an annual mean 10 μg/m3, but said it would use the WHO guidelines to inform its ambitions.

In a landmark ruling, the coroner Philip Barlow found that air pollution was a cause of Ella’s death in 2013. Barlow said during her life Ella was exposed to nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter (PM) pollution in excess of WHO guidelines, the principal source of which were traffic emissions.

Failure to reduce pollution levels to legal limits possibly contributed to her death, as did the failure to provide her mother with information about the potential for air pollution to exacerbate asthma, he found.

In their letter to Johnson, the medical leaders point out that the Royal College of Physicians estimated about 40,000 deaths a year may be attributed to air pollution. NHS and Public Health England figures over five years before the Covid-19 pandemic showed 5% of all deaths were attributable to PM2.5.

“Thousands more are living with health conditions caused or exacerbated by dirty air. Such lung conditions leave people more vulnerable to viruses such as Covid-19, so protecting the lung health of the public is a key element of the fight against the virus,” the letter says.

It goes on to challenge Johnson to show leadership in the year the UK hosts Cop26, the 26th UN climate change conference, in Glasgow.

“The sources of fine particulate pollution – road transport, domestic and industrial burning – are also the sources of a significant proportion of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. We can therefore tackle the challenges of climate change and air pollution simultaneously … We must do so, if we are to meet your government’s commitment to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050,” the letter says.

“As your government aims to build back better, the economic, health, and environmental cases for strong legal protection from fine particulate air pollution are clear. This should be in line with the standards set by the WHO.”

The environment bill returns to parliament this week when the House of Lords considers the bill at committee stage. The medical leaders urged members of the Lords to back an amendment by Maggie Jones to introduce WHO-compliant targets for PM2.5 pollution.

The letter’s signatories include Dr Richard Smith, chair of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change; Dr Edward Morris, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists; Prof Jon Bennett, chair of the British Thoracic Society board; Dr Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians; Dr Adrian James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists; Prof Maggie Rae, president of the Faculty of Public Health; and Dr Camilla Kingdon, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Medical leaders urge Boris Johnson to bring air pollution below WHO limit | Air pollution | The Guardian
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Which cities in the European Union are worst for air pollution?

Cities in Poland and Italy are among Europe’s worst for air quality, while those in Scandinavia and the Baltics are ranked the best, new data has revealed.

The European Environment Agency (EEA) released its latest ranking on city air quality on Thursday, reiterating that in some cities air pollution continues to pose a risk to health.

It estimated late last year that 417,000 citizens from 41 European countries prematurely lost their lives in 2018 because of air pollution — 60,000 fewer than a decade earlier, but still “far too high” for the agency.

A European Directive set the maximum tolerated concentration of fine particulate matter in the air as 25 µg/m3 for the year, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) has a much stricter guideline of 10 µg/m3.

Fine particulate matter is the air pollutant with the highest impact on health in terms of disease and premature death.

The European city with the best air quality over the previous two years was found to be Umea in Sweden, where the concentration of Fine particulate matter averages 3.7 µg/m3. It is followed by Tampere in Finland (3.8 µg/m3) and Funchal, Portugal (3.8 µg/m3).

Also featured in the top 10: Sweden’s Uppsala and Stockholm; Estonia’s Tallin and Narva and Tatu; Noway’s Bergen and Trondheim and the Spanish city of Salamanca.

The city with the worst air quality was meanwhile found to be Nowy Sacz in Poland, with an average concentration of fine particulate matter reaching 27.3 µg/m3. Cremona in Italy (25.9 µg/m3) and Croatia’s Slavonski Brod (25.7 µg/m3) complete the bottom trio.

Four other Polish cities (Zgierz, Piotrkow Trybunalsi, Zory and Krakow), as well as an additional three Italian cities (Vicenza, Brescia and Pavia) and the Bulgarian town of Veliko, occupy the rest of the worst 10 cities.

To compile the list the EEA used the daily concentration of fine particulate matter of 300 cities to calculate an annual mean concentration. Only cities which have communicated a minimum of 75% of temporal data coverage have been included.

Brussels has been taking member states to court over air pollution. In November, the European Court of Justice ruled that Italy has “systematically and persistently” breached the EU directive setting daily and annual limits on the amount of harmful fine particles.

The European Commission has also referred Poland and France to the ECJ.


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Quarter of UK pupils attend schools where air pollution is over WHO limit

Estimated 3.4m children learn in unhealthy environment, says charity behind research

Millions of British children attend schools where air pollution is worse than the World Health Organization limit, campaigners have said.

An analysis found that more than a quarter of schools, from nurseries to sixth-form colleges, were in locations with high levels of small particle pollution. This means an estimated 3.4 million children are learning in an unhealthy environment, said Global Action Plan (Gap), the charity behind the research that was released on Clean Air Day on Thursday.

Tiny pollution particles, called PM2.5, are particularly dangerous as they not only harm the lungs but can pass into the bloodstream and affect many other parts of the body. Developing bodies are especially vulnerable, and dirty air has already been linked to increased asthma, obesity and mental disorders in children.

“Schools should be safe places of learning, not places where students are at risk of health hazards,” said Dr Maria Neira, director at the World Health Organization. “These figures are unequivocally too high and harming children’s health. There is no safe level of air pollution, and if we care about our children and their future, air pollution limits should reflect WHO guidelines.”

A second report by experts at the University of Manchester also highlighted the danger to children’s health from air pollution, which it said has recently been linked to increasing cognitive impairments, including ADHD.

Prof Martie Van Tongeren said urgent action was needed to cut pollution to prevent cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases in young people: “Children face a considerably higher risk of neurological impacts from air pollutants. These can transfer to the bloodstream in the lungs and travel to other parts of the body including the brain, or may travel directly to the brain through the olfactory nerve in the nose.”

The highest number of polluted schools identified in the analysis by Gap are in the populous London and south-east regions. But there are polluted schools across the country, with nearly 300 in Manchester postcodes M1 to M9 and in Portsmouth postcodes PO1 to PO9. There are also more than 200 such schools in the first nine Leicester and Ipswich postcodes.

The analysis combined 2019 data from the air quality company EarthSense with the locations of schools in England, Scotland and Wales. Air pollution fell during Covid-19 lockdowns but is expected to largely return to previous levels.

The research found almost 8,000 schools are in locations above the WHO’s annual average limit for PM2.5 of 10 μg/m3 – the UK legal limit is 25 μg/m3. In April, the coroner who found that air pollution was a cause of the death of 9-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah in 2013 said the UK limit should be lowered to the WHO level. The WHO limit was set in 2005 but may be lowered further in new guidelines expected in September, New Scientist reported on Wednesday.

PM2.5 particles are produced by traffic, wood-burning stoves and farm emissions. In its 2019 Clean Air Strategy, the government said: “We will reduce PM2.5 concentrations across the UK, so that the number of people living in locations above the WHO guideline level is reduced by 50% by 2025.”

Gap said schools, parents and children could lobby local and national politicians to take action, as well as walking or cycling to school wherever possible.

Sarah Hannafin, at the National Association for Head Teachers, said: “The impact of the pandemic on children has been huge; we need to do everything we can to make sure we safeguard their futures. One vital way of doing that is to ensure they return to a safe, clean and healthy environment where they can learn, play and thrive.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Emissions of fine particulate matter have fallen by 11% [since 2010]. However, we know there is more to do. We are continuing to deliver a £3.8bn plan to clean up transport and tackle NO2 pollution.” A consultation on new targets for PM2.5 and other pollutants will launch early next year, he said, with the aim of setting new targets in legislation by October 2022.

In September, research commissioned by Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation said that many schools were in areas with dangerously high levels of particle pollution.

The Guardian revealed in 2017 that thousands of schools in England and Wales were in locations with illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant produced by diesel vehicles. NO2 levels have been illegally high in most urban areas since 2010 and the government has lost three times in court over the adequacy of its plans to reduce pollution levels.

Quarter of UK pupils attend schools where air pollution is over WHO limit | Air pollution | The Guardian
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New research finds 1M deaths in 2017 attributable to fossil fuel combustion

An interdisciplinary group of researchers from across the globe has comprehensively examined the sources and health effects of air pollution—not just on a global scale, but also individually for more than 200 countries.

They found that worldwide, more than one million deaths were attributable to the burning of fossil fuels in 2017. More than half of those deaths were attributable to coal.

Findings and access to their data, which have been made public, were published today in the journal Nature Communications.

Pollution is at once a global crisis and a devastatingly personal problem. It is analyzed by satellites, but PM2.5—tiny particles that can infiltrate a person’s lungs—can also sicken a person who cooks dinner nightly on a cookstove.

“PM2.5 is the world’s leading environmental risk factor for mortality. Our key objective is to understand its sources,” said Randall Martin, the Raymond R. Tucker Distinguished Professor in the Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis.

Martin jointly led the study with Michael Brauer, a professor of public health at the University of British Columbia. They worked with specific datasets and tools from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, the Joint Global Change Research Institute at the University of Maryland and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, as well as other researchers from universities and organizations across the world, amassing a wealth of data, analytical tools and brainpower.

First author Erin McDuffie, a visiting research associate in Martin’s lab, used various computational tools to weave the data together, while also enhancing them. She developed a new global dataset of air pollution emissions, making it the most comprehensive dataset of emissions at the time. McDuffie also brought advances to the GEOS-Chem model, an advanced computational tool used in the Martin lab to model specific aspects of atmospheric chemistry.

With this combination of emissions and modeling, the team was able to tease out different sources of air pollution—everything from energy production to the burning of oil and gas to dust storms.

This study also used new techniques to remote sensing from satellites in order to assess PM2.5 exposure across the globe. The team then incorporated information about the relationship between PM2.5 and health outcomes from the Global Burden of Disease with these exposure estimates to determine the relationships between health and each of the more than 20 distinct pollution sources.

As McDuffie put it: “How many deaths are attributable to exposure to air pollution from specific sources?”

Ultimately, the data reinforced much of what researchers already suspected, particularly on a global scale. It did offer, however, quantitative information in different parts of the world, teasing out which sources are to blame for severe pollution in different areas.

For instance, cookstoves and home-heating are still responsible for the release of particulate matter in many regions throughout Asia and energy generation remains a large polluter on the global scale, McDuffie said.

And natural sources play a role, as well. In West sub-Saharan Africa in 2017, for instance, windblown dust accounted for nearly three quarters of the particulate matter in the atmosphere, compared with the global rate of just 16 percent. The comparisons in this study are important when it comes to considering mitigation.

“Ultimately, it will be important to consider sources at the subnational scale when developing mitigation strategies for reducing air pollution,” McDuffie said.

Martin and McDuffie agreed that, while a takeaway from this work is, simply put, air pollution continues to sicken and kill people, the project also has positive implications.

Although pollution monitoring has been increasing, there are still many areas that do not have the capability. Those that do may not have the tools needed to determine, for instance, how much pollution is a product of local traffic, versus agricultural practices, versus wildfires.

“The good news is that we may be providing some of the first information that these places have about their major sources of pollution,” McDuffie said. They may otherwise not have this information readily available to them. “This provides them with a start.”

Apples to apples

One unique aspect of this research is its use of the same underlying datasets and methodology to analyze pollution on different spatial scales.

“Previous studies end up having to use different emissions data sets or models all together,” said first author Erin McDuffie. In those instances, it is difficult to compare results in one place versus another.

“We can more directly compare results between countries,” McDuffie said. “We can even look at pollution sources in places that have implemented some mitigation measures, versus others that haven’t to get a more complete picture of what may or may not be working.”

New research finds 1M deaths in 2017 attributable to fossil fuel combustion
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Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Croatia have highest PM2.5 air pollution in EU

Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, and Croatia have the highest values of particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) in the European Union, according to Eurostat.

Among the EU member states, the annual mean concentration of fine particles (PM2.5) is highest in urban areas of Bulgaria (19.6 μg/m3) and Poland (19.3 μg/m3), followed by Romania (16.4 μg/m3) and Croatia (16 μg/m3).

The data is for 2019, and the average value for the EU is 12.6 μg/m3.

In contrast, the concentration is lowest in urban areas of Estonia (4.8 μg/m3), Finland (5.1 μg/m3) and Sweden (5.8 μg/m3).

The annual mean of PM2.5 air pollution in 2019 continued to be above the level recommended by the WHO – 10 μg/m3

While this type of air pollution has been for a number of years below the limit set from 2015 onwards (25 μg/m3 annual mean), substantial air pollution hotspots remain. Moreover, despite the gradual decrease in recent years, the levels of air pollution in 2019 still continue to be above the level recommended by the WHO (10 μg/m3 annual mean), Eurostat said.

Pollutants such as fine particulate matter suspended in the air reduce people’s life expectancy and perception of well-being, while they can also lead to or aggravate many chronic and acute respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Fine particles PM10, those with a diameter of under 10 micrometres, can be carried deep into the lungs, where they can cause inflammation and exacerbate the condition of people suffering from heart and lung diseases. Meanwhile, even smaller fine particles PM2.5 (with a diameter below 2.5 micrometres) can impact health even more seriously as they can be drawn further into the lungs, according to Eurostat.

via Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Croatia have highest PM2.5 air pollution in EU

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High pollution advisory in effect for metro Phoenix area

A high pollution advisory is in effect across metro Phoenix through Monday, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality announced.

It is recommended that residents — especially children and adults with respiratory problems — limit outdoor activity while the advisory is in effect.

Exposure to air pollution can increase the number and severity of asthma attacks, cause or aggravate lung diseases and reduce the body’s ability to fight infection.

In an effort to reduce pollution levels, ADEQ is asking the public to drive as little as possible, carpool, avoid refueling cars during the day, avoid long drive-thru lines, delay large painting projects and keep household cleaners and chemical products sealed to prevent evaporating vapors.

According to the department, the highest levels of ozone occur in the afternoon.

Symptoms of pollution exposure may include itchy eyes, nose and throat, wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain and upper respiratory issues.

High pollution advisory in effect for metro Phoenix area –

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