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Dust storms cause air pollution spike across north China

Air pollution soared in Beijing on Wednesday as the Chinese capital was hit by a huge sandstorm, and dust also shrouded other parts of the country in a sickly orange haze.

The official air quality index in Beijing hit the maximum level of 500, indicating “severe pollution”, though some unofficial readings were nearly twice that figure.

Authorities issued weather warnings and warned people to reduce their outdoor activities, as visibility fell to less than one kilometre in some areas of the city on Wednesday morning.

In parts of China’s north and northwest, high winds and dust turned the sky a lurid tangerine, appearing to cut visibility to less than a few hundred metres in some places.

Authorities said the pollution was largely driven by airborne particles known as PM10, which are small enough to be inhaled and can aggravate a range of respiratory and other health issues.

China’s weather service on Wednesday issued a yellow warning for dust across a sweep of the north and northwest for 24 hours from 8 am (0000 GMT).

People in affected areas should “do a good job of protecting against wind and sand, and close doors and windows in a timely manner”, the weather service said, adding they should also wear masks while outdoors.

Children, the elderly and people with respiratory allergies and other conditions should “limit how much they go out”, the service said

.Dust storms are fairly common across northern China in the spring, when changes in the wind kick up grit across the largely arid region.

The current weather system is “the most extensive of the year so far”, according to the weather service, adding that it was expected to weaken from Thursday.

Dust storms cause air pollution spike across north China
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Air pollution remains the largest environmental health risk in Europe

Most European city dwellers are exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution. Improving air quality to match World Health Organization (WHO)-recommended levels could prevent more than half of premature deaths caused by exposure to fine particulate matter.

Air pollution emissions have declined in the last two decades, resulting in better air quality. Despite this improvement, air pollution remains the largest environmental health risk in Europe. An estimated 275,000 premature deaths are caused by fine particulate matter and 64,000 by nitrogen dioxide (NO2) each year. These pollutants are linked to asthma, heart disease, and stroke.

Air pollution also causes morbidity. People live with diseases related to exposure to air pollution; this is a burden in terms of personal suffering as well as significant costs to the healthcare sector.

Society’s most vulnerable are more susceptible to air pollution impacts. Lower socio-economic groups tend to be exposed to higher levels of air pollution, while older people, children and those with pre-existing health conditions are more susceptible.  

Besides health issues, air pollution can considerably impact Europe’s economy due to increased healthcare costs, reduced life expectancy, and lost working days across sectors.  It also damages vegetation and ecosystems, water and soil quality, and local ecosystems.  

Air pollution
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Nearly 200,000 people hospitalised as Thailand chokes on air pollution

Nearly 200,000 people have been hospitalised in Thailand this week due to hazardous air pollution, as the country is choking on a thick haze that has engulfed the capital city, Bangkok.

The severe pollution has been caused by a dangerous mix of industrial emissions, agricultural burning, and vehicle fumes.

The rising levels of air pollution in Thailand have put immense pressure on the country’s healthcare services. More than 1.3 million people have fallen sick since the start of the year as a result of air pollution, with nearly 200,000 admitted to hospital this week alone, AFP reported, quoting the public health ministry.

Bangkok, the capital city, is the worst affected with air quality continuing to worsen due to a combination of vehicular pollution, industrial emissions, and smoke from agricultural burning.

On Saturday, the popular tourist destination was ranked the third-most polluted city in the world by monitoring firm IQAir.

Kriangkrai Namthaisong, a doctor with the ministry, has advised pregnant women and children to stay indoors, as almost 50 districts in Bangkok have reported unsafe levels of PM2.5 particles.

PM2.5 particles, which are considered the most dangerous due to their ability to enter the bloodstream and damage organs, have been recorded at unsafe levels in 50 districts of Bangkok, with levels far exceeding the guidelines set by the World Health Organisation.

The northern city of Chiang Mai, an agricultural region, is also badly affected due to incidents of stubble burning in the area.

To counter the situation, the Bangkok governor Chadchart Sittipunt’s spokesperson Aekvarunyoo Amrapala announced that another work from home order will be issued if the situation deteriorates and advised anyone going outside to wear a high-quality N95 anti-pollution mask.

Authorities have taken some measures to counteract the situation, with nurseries in Bangkok setting up “no dust rooms” fitted with air purifiers to protect young children. In addition, checkpoints have been established to monitor vehicle emissions, Mr Amrapala told AFP.

The director general of the public health ministry has stated that more measures are required to tackle the problem. The public should work from home while schools might need to avoid outdoor activities to protect children’s health.

“We have to intensify (efforts to tackle pollution) by encouraging people to work from home. For schools…they might have to avoid outdoor activities in order to prevent impacts on children’s health,” the department’s director general had said in a news conference.

The country had faced a similar situation in January-February when air quality had plummeted. Apart from vehicular emissions and agricultural fires, the “stagnant weather conditions” had played a crucial role in the rising levels of air pollution, according to officials.

Nearly 200,000 people hospitalised as Thailand chokes on air pollution | The Independent
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Less Than 1% of Earth Has Safe Levels of Air Pollution

It’s no secret that air pollution is a serious problem facing the world today. Just how serious? A new study on global daily levels of air pollution shows that hardly anywhere on Earth is safe from unhealthy air.

About 99.82% of the global land area is exposed to levels of particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) — tiny particles in the air that scientists have linked to lung cancer and heart disease — above the safety limit recommended by the Word Health Organization, according to the peer-reviewed study published Monday in Lancet Planetary Health. And only 0.001% of the world’s population breathes in air that is considered acceptable, the paper says.

Conducted by scientists in Australia and China, the study found that on the global level, more than 70% of days in 2019 had daily PM2.5 concentrations exceeding 15 micrograms of gaseous pollutant per cubic meter — the WHO recommended daily limit. Air quality is particularly worrisome in regions such as southern Asia and eastern Asia, where more than 90% of days had PM2.5 concentrations above the 15 microgram threshold.

While any amount of PM 2.5 is harmful, scientists and regulators are typically less concerned about daily levels than they are about chronic exposure.

“I hope our study can change the minds of scientists and policymakers for the daily PM2.5 exposure,” said Yuming Guo, the lead researcher and an environmental health professor at Monash University. “Short-term exposure, particularly sudden increase, to PM2.5 has significant health problems … If we can make every day with clean air, of course the long-term exposure of air pollution would be improved.”

While scientists and public health officials have long been at alert to the dangers — air pollution kills 6.7 million people a year, with nearly two-thirds of the premature deaths caused by fine particulate matter — quantifying the global exposure to PM2.5 was a challenge due to a lack of pollution monitoring stations.

Guo and his coauthors overcame that challenge by marrying ground-based air pollution measurements collected from more than 5,000 monitoring stations worldwide with machine learning simulations, meteorological data and geographical factors to estimate global daily PM2.5 concentrations.

When it came to estimating annual exposure across all regions, the researchers found that the highest concentrations occurred in eastern Asia (50 micrograms per cubic meter), followed by southern Asia (37 micrograms) and northern Africa (30 micrograms). Residents of Australia and New Zealand faced the least threat from fine particulate matter, while other regions in Oceania and southern America were also among the places with the lowest annual PM2.5 concentrations.

They also examined how air pollution changed over the two decades up to 2019. For instance, most areas in Asia, northern and sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania, and Latin America and the Caribbean experienced an increase in PM2.5 concentrations over the 20 years, driven in part by intensified wildfires. Annual PM2.5 concentrations and high PM2.5 days in Europe and northern America decreased, thanks to stricter regulations. Fine particulate matter is made up of soot from vehicles, smoke and ash from wildfires and biomass cook-stove pollution, plus sulfate aerosols from power generation and desert dust.

The article also points out how levels of fine particulate matter vary depending on the season, a reflection of human activities that accelerate air pollution. For instance, northeast China and north India recorded higher PM 2.5 concentrations from December to February, likely linked to an increased use of fossil fuel-burning heat generators during the winter months. South American countries such as Brazil, on the other hand, had increased concentrations between August and September, probably connected to slash-and-burn cultivation in the summer.

Less Than 1% of Earth Has Safe Levels of Air Pollution | Time
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Clean Air Can Boost Children’s Lung Capacity

Globally, children and adolescents have being growing up in areas with high levels of air pollution since the Industrial Revolution took off. According to the World Health Organization, more than 90% of the world’s children below the age of 15 breathe air with such high levels of air pollution that it puts them at a severe risk of suffering from health issues. But since the last three decades or so, developed countries have been able to not only identify, but also get rid of the sources of air pollution after implementing stringent regulations on vehicle emissions and industries. This has given scientists the opportunity to study how cleaner air is benefitting children who are the most vulnerable to the health impacts of air pollution as their lungs are still developing.

In a recent study, a group of Sweden-based researchers found that in Stockholm, as air pollution levels started declining since the early 2000s, children and adolescents had improved lung capacity. One of the study’s authors, Erik Melén, who is a paediatrician and professor at Karolinska Institutet said, “Fortunately, we’ve seen a decrease in air pollutants and therefore an increase in air quality in Stockholm over the past 20 years. Airborne pollutants that are by nature persistent are a great worry and our study clearly indicates that efforts to improve air quality have paid off, with quantifiable improvements in child and adolescent health.”

Published in the European Respiratory Journal, the researchers analyzed data of 4000 people who were born within a two year span from 1994 to 1996. Each one of them answered questionnaires and underwent spirometric examinations to determine how their lungs were functioning when they were 8, 16, and 24 years old. The researchers then compared those time periods to the levels of estimated air pollutants from vehicles emissions at the locations where the participants resided.

Compared to 2002 and 2004, in Stockholm, air pollution levels were far lower from 2016 to 2019 ranging from 40% to 60% lesser air pollutants in the lower atmosphere. “When we compare the individuals living in the areas in which air quality has improved and those in which it hasn’t, we find that lung function improved by a few per cent in the participants in the young adult age bracket,” said Zhebin Yu, the lead author of the study who is a researcher at Karolinska Institutet’s Institute of Environmental Medicine, in a press release. “But above all we could see a 20 per cent lower risk of having significantly impaired lung function.”

According to the American Lung Association, 80% of a person’s air sacs start developing after birth. These sacs are solely responsible for transferring oxygen to the blood. Children also breathe twice as fast as adults and take in more air for each unit of their body weight. Because their immune systems are still developing, they are more vulnerable to air-borne bacilli and viruses. Previous studies have found that the lung capacity of children who are exposed to high levels of air pollution from birth is 20% lower than those whole live in areas with clean air. That also puts them at a far higher risk of developing asthma and other respiratory problems later in life. At present, Asia accounts for the highest number of deaths that could be attributed to air pollution, as per a UNICEF report.

Clean Air Can Boost Children’s Lung Capacity
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Fine particle air pollution is Parkinson’s risk factor: US study

25% rise in disease risk noted in areas with greatest long-term PM2.5 exposure

People living in areas with high levels of an air pollutant called fine particulate matter (PM2.5) — whose sources include power plants, motorized vehicles, and fires — are at greater risk of Parkinson’s disease, according to a U.S. study.

“We found a nationwide association between Parkinson’s disease and air pollution exposure, with people exposed to the highest levels of fine particulate matter having an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease compared to people exposed to the lowest levels,” Brittany Krzyzanowski, PhD, the study’s first author with the Barrow Neurological Institute in Arizona, said in a press release from the American Academy of Neurology (AAN).

The Mississippi-Ohio River Valley is a particular “Parkinson’s disease hot spot,” Krzyzanowski added, with “some of the highest levels of fine particulate matter pollution in the nation.”

Study findings, “Fine Particulate Matter and Parkinson’s Disease Risk in Medicare Beneficiaries,” will be presented at the AAN’s 75th annual meeting, set to run in Boston and virtually on April 22–27.

Fine particulate matter consists of smoke, aerosols, soot, and the like

“By mapping nationwide levels of Parkinson’s disease and linking them to air pollution, we hope to create a greater understanding of the regional risks and inspire leaders to take steps to lower risk of disease by reducing levels of air pollution,” Krzyzanowski said.

Both genetic and environmental factors appear to influence the risk of Parkinson’s, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder widely known for its movement-related symptoms.

Increasing evidence suggests air pollution is an environmental risk factor for Parkinson’s. A European report also linked long-term exposure to air pollutants such as PM2.5 with a greater risk of dying due to Parkinson’s.

PM2.5 are particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter — about 30 times smaller than a strand of human hair — consisting of smoke, soot, aerosols, mold spores, dander, and the like. Such particulates derive from motor vehicles, fossil fuel-fired power plants, other industries, and forest and grass fires.

Krzyzanowski and colleagues investigated the potential links between higher PM2.5 exposure and Parkinson’s risk across the U.S.

“We used geographic methods to examine the rates of Parkinson’s disease across the United States and compared those rates to regional levels of air pollution,” Krzyzanowski said.

Researchers used 2009 data from Medicare, the government-funded health insurance program for people 65 years or older and those with certain disabilities. Among the more than 22.5 million people enrolled in Medicare that year, 83,674 had been newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

Disease rates were mapped out and calculated for several U.S. regions. The average air pollution exposure levels, sourced from annual PM2.5 concentrations, were established for this 2009 patient group using their residency ZIP codes and counties.

These people were then divided into four groups based on their average PM2.5 exposure. Those with the highest exposure had an average yearly exposure of 19 micrograms per cubic meter (mcg/m3), while people in the lowest exposure group were exposed, on average, to five mcg/m3 of PM2.5 each year.

Among those in the highest exposure group, 434 in every 100,000 people were newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s compared with 359 new cases in the lowest exposure group.

After adjusting for factors known to influence Parkinson’s risk, such as age, sex, race, smoking, and medical care use, the researchers found the disease’s risk increased by 25% from the lowest to the highest exposure groups.

Exposure risks noted in Rocky Mountain region, Mississippi-Ohio River Valley

Researchers then divided PM2.5 exposure into 10 levels for a more detailed geographic assessment.

The link between PM2.5 exposure and Parkinson’s risk was strongest in the Rocky Mountain region, which included Lake County, Colorado — southwest of Denver — and its neighboring counties. Moving up from one exposure level to the next in these counties was associated with a 16% increase in Parkinson’s risk.

In the Mississippi-Ohio River Valley, which includes Tennessee and Kentucky, higher exposure to PM2.5 was also linked to higher Parkinson’s rates, but this association was weaker than in the Rocky Mountain region.

Here, the risk of Parkinson’s was 4% higher for every exposure level increase.

“Finding a relatively weaker association where we have some of the highest Parkinson’s disease risks and fine particulate matter levels in the nation is consistent with the threshold effect we observed in our data,” Krzyzanowski said.

“In the Mississippi-Ohio River Valley, for example, Parkinson’s disease risk increases with increasing air pollution exposure until about 15 [mcg/m3] of fine particulate matter, where Parkinson’s disease risk seems to plateau,” Krzyzanowski added.

Researchers noted that this weaker link may be due to an apparent plateau effect between 12–19 mcg/m3, and the fact that air pollution is also associated with a greater risk of other health conditions, including dementia, that can affect the likelihood of a Parkinson’s diagnosis.

“Using state-of-the-art geospatial analytical techniques, we identified a nationwide association between PD [Parkinson’s disease] and PM2.5, which varied in strength by region,” the researchers wrote in the abstract.

Since PM2.5 contains a variety of air pollutants, some more toxic than others, “a deeper investigation into the specific subfractions of PM2.5 may provide insight into regional variability in the PM2.5-PD association,” the team added.

This work was supported by the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

Fine particle air pollution is Parkinson’s risk factor: US study | 25% rise in risk noted in areas with greatest long-term PM2.5 exposure | Parkinson’s News Today

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London air pollution as bad as ‘smoking 154 cigarettes every year’

Air quality in London is so poor it is currently the equivalent of indirectly smoking 154 cigarettes a year, according to new research.

A number of measures have been implemented in London to try and reduce pollution, including the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which is set to expand later this year.

But the capital is still not yet leading the way when it comes to clean air. 

London has come in ninth place – with Northampton, Nottingham and Bristol scooping the top three places.

Levels of air pollution in the capital were showing as ‘very high’ in Greater London at the end of January, according to the Defra website.

Air pollution alerts are sent when levels rise high enough to affect health – but there aren’t any currently in place.

The study has found most of the worst culprits are located in the south east of England. 

Northampton was the highest, with residents inhaling the same as 189 cigarettes a year. 

According to one study by the British Heart Foundation, approximately one in every 20 deaths in Northampton can be linked to air pollution.

In the North, the most polluted city is Kingston upon Hull, where residents indirectly inhale the equivalent of 161 cigarettes annually. 

Number of cigarettes you’re indirectly smoking each year by city

  1. Northampton – 189
  2. Nottingham – 181
  3. Bristol – 163
  4. Southampton – 162
  5. Kingston Upon Hull – 161
  6. Cardiff – 160
  7. Southend-on-Sea – 157
  8. Norwich – 157
  9. Leeds – 155
  10. London – 154
  11. Stoke – 149

The number goes down drastically if you look further afield to Scotland.

Both Glasgow and Edinburgh possessed significantly better air quality, at 92 and 87 cigarettes indirectly smoked. 

HouseFresh, which compiled the data, said: ‘Berkeley’s Earth describes a rule-of-thumb that compares exposure to PM2.5 particles to cigarettes smoked: one cigarette per day is the rough equivalent of a PM2.5 level of 22 µg/m3. 

‘We converted that value to cigarettes as per Berkeley’s Earth rule-of-thumb and multiplied the result by 365 to obtain how many cigarettes you’ve indirectly smoked during a year.’

London air pollution as bad as ‘smoking 154 cigarettes every year’ | Metro News

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