Air pollution exposure takes a heavy toll on gut bacteria, boosting risk of chronic illnesses

Breathing dirty air takes a heavy toll on gut bacteria, boosting risk of obesity, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders and other chronic illnesses, new University of Colorado Boulder research suggests.

The study, published online in the journal Environment International, is the first to link air pollution to changes in the structure and function of the human gut microbiome – the collection of trillions of microorganisms residing within us.

The gaseous pollutant ozone, which helps make up Denver’s infamous ‘brown cloud’ – is particularly hazardous, the study found, with young adults exposed to higher levels of ozone showing less microbial diversity and more of certain species associated with obesity and disease.

“We know from previous research that air pollutants can have a whole host of adverse health effects,” said senior author Tanya Alderete, an assistant professor of integrative physiology, pointing to studies linking smog with Type 2 diabetes, weight gain and inflammatory bowel diseases. “The takeaway from this paper is that some of those effects might be due to changes in the gut.”

The study comes at a time when air quality in many U.S. cities is worsening after decades of improvement. In December, the Environmental Protection Agency downgraded the Denver metro and north Front Range regions to “serious non-attainment” status for failing to meet national ozone standards.

Regions of eight other states, including some in California, Texas, Illinois, Connecticut, Indiana, New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin, were also penalized for high ozone. Worldwide, according to research published this month, air pollution kills 8.8 million people annually – more than smoking or war.

While much attention has been paid to respiratory health, Alderete’s previous studies have shown pollution can also impair the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar and influence risk for obesity. Other research has shown visits to emergency rooms for gastrointestinal problems spike on high pollution days, and youth with high exposure to traffic exhaust have greater risk of developing Crohn’s disease.

To investigate just what might be going on inside the gut, Alderete’s team used cutting-edge whole-genome sequencing to analyze fecal samples from 101 young adults in Southern California.

The researchers looked at data from air-monitoring stations near the subjects’ addresses to calculate their previous-year exposure to ozone (which forms when emissions from vehicles are exposed to sunlight), particulate matter (hazardous particles suspended in the air), and nitrous oxide (a toxic byproduct of burning fossil fuel).

Of all the pollutants measured, ozone had the greatest impact on the gut by far, accounting for about 11% of the variation seen between study subjects – more of an impact than gender, ethnicity or even diet. Those with higher exposure to ozone also had less variety of bacteria living in their gut.

Subjects with higher exposure to ozone also had a greater abundance of a specific species called Bacteroides caecimuris. That’s important, because some studies have associated high levels of Bacteroides with obesty.

In all, the researchers identified 128 bacterial species influenced by increased ozone exposure. Some may impact the release of insulin, the hormone responsible for ushering sugar into the muscles for energy. Other species can produce metabolites, including fatty acids, which help maintain gut barrier integrity and ward off inflammation.

“Ozone is likely changing the environment of your gut to favor some bacteria over others, and that can have health consequences,” said Alderete.

The study was relatively small and has some limitations, including the fact that stool samples were taken only once.

Alderete is now moving ahead with a larger, more expansive study of young adults in the Denver area. Thanks to a new grant from the nonprofit Health Effects Institute, she’s also exploring how prenatal or early-life exposure to air pollution impacts the formation of the gut microbiome in 240 infants.

She said she hopes her work will ultimately influence policymakers to consider moving parks, playgrounds and housing developments away from busy roads and high pollution areas, and invest more in meeting or exceeding air quality standards.

“A lot of work still needs to be done, but this adds to a growing body of literature showing that human exposure to air pollution can have lasting, harmful effects on human health.”

via Air pollution exposure takes a heavy toll on gut bacteria, boosting risk of chronic illnesses

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Air Quality Levels in Northern Thailand at Unsafe Levels

Air-Quality-Levels-in-Northern-Thailand-at-Unsafe-LevelsChiang Mai yesterday afternoon (March 10) became once again the city with the worst air quality in the world, according to AirVisual.com. Chiang Mai’s air quality index (AQI) had a PM2.5 level of 239 micrograms per cubic metre on average.

Much higher than the 100 AQI (Air Quality Index) safety standard. Areas with the highest PM2.5 levels included Chiang Dao district at 445 and Mae Taeng district at 355, the Nation reports.

The AQI is a standard that indicates the level of air pollution. Level 0-50 means good air quality; 51-100 means moderate quality; 101-105 will affect sensitive groups; 151-200 is slightly harmful to health; 201-300 is highly harmful and 301-500 means extremely dangerous.

The Pollution Control Department reported that air quality in the North will worsen this week due to the burning of fields and farmlands in neighbouring countries. Which has created high levels of particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter, or PM2.5, in the region.

The department cited heat signature readings, which have spiked around Tachileik city at the Mae Sai border in Chiang Rai. Despite the burning ban in Chiang Rai, haze from neighboring Myanmar and Laos is smothering the north. The PM2.5 dust levels in Chiang Rai has once again hit very unhealthy levels.

via Air Quality Levels in Northern Thailand at Unsafe Levels

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Air pollution is one of the world’s most dangerous health risks

Polluted air is a public health hazard that cannot be evaded. It is widely known that long-term exposure to air pollution enhances the risks of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the University Medical Center Mainz now calculated in a new study that the global, public loss of life expectancy caused by air pollution is higher than many other risk factors such as smoking, infectious diseases or violence.

Air pollution caused 8.8 million premature deaths worldwide in 2015. This corresponds to an average reduction in life expectancy per capita of 2.9 years. In comparison, tobacco smoking reduces the life expectancy by an average of 2.2 years (7.2 million deaths), HIV / AIDS by 0.7 years (1 million deaths), parasitic and vector-borne diseases such as malaria — by 0.6 years (600,000 deaths). “Air pollution exceeds malaria as a cause of premature death by a factor of 19; it exceeds violence by a factor of 17 and HIV / AIDS by a factor of 9. Given the huge impact on public health and the global population, one could say that our results indicate an air pollution pandemic,” said Jos Lelieveld, director at Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and first author of the study.

This study is the first to examine the global impact of air pollution on human health compared to other risk factors worldwide. “Our comparison of different global risk factors shows that ambient air pollution is a leading cause of premature mortality and loss of life expectancy, in particular through cardiovascular diseases,” says Thomas Münzel, director of the Cardiology Center at the University Medical Center in Mainz and co-author of the paper.

Relationship between pollution and disease

The scientists examined the connection between exposure to pollutants and the occurrence of diseases. In order to calculate the worldwide exposure to pollutants, which primarily include fine particles and ozone, the researchers used an atmospheric chemical mode. They then combined the exposure data with the Global Exposure — Mortality Model that derives from many epidemiological cohort studies. Using these tools and data, scientists investigated the effects of different pollution sources, distinguishing between natural (wildfires, aeolian dust) and anthropogenic emissions, including fossil fuel use. Based on their results they could estimate the disease-specific excess mortality and loss of life expectancy in all countries world-wide.

The study results show that the mortality caused by ambient air pollution is highest in East Asia (35 percent) and South Asia (32 percent), followed by Africa (11 percent), Europe (9 percent) and North- and South America (6 percent). Lowest mortality rates are found in Australia (1,5 percent) associated with the strictest air quality standards of all countries. “We understand more and more that fine particles primarily favor vascular damage and thus diseases such as heart attack, stroke, cardiac arrhythmia and heart failure. It is of outmost importance that air pollution is adopted as a cardiovascular risk factor and that it is distinctly mentioned in the ESC/AHA guidelines of prevention, acute and coronary syndromes and heart failure,” continued Münzel.

Avoidable deaths

According to the findings of the study, almost two thirds of the deaths caused by air pollution, namely around 5.5 million a year are avoidable, and the majority of polluted air comes from the use of fossil fuels. The researchers estimate that the average life expectancy world-wide would increase by more than a year if the emissions from the use of fossil fuels were eliminated.

The team from the University Medical Center Mainz and Max Planck Institute for Chemistry published a similar paper last year focusing on the consequences of air pollution in Europe. According to the earlier study, nearly 800,000 Europeans die prematurely every year due to illnesses caused by air pollution. Polluted air shortens the lifespan of Europeans by more than two years.

via Air pollution is one of the world’s most dangerous health risks — ScienceDaily

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Posted in Air Quality

Outdoor air pollution cuts three years from human lifespan – study

Outdoor air pollution cuts three years from human lifespan – study
Global survey finds average figure is higher than that caused by smoking tobacco

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Humans are missing out on almost three years of life expectancy on average because of outdoor air pollution, researchers have found.

However, the study reveals more than a year of life expectancy could be clawed back if fossil fuel emissions are cut to zero, while if all controllable air pollution is cut – a category that does not include particles from natural wildfires or wind-born dust – global life expectancy could rise by more than 20 months.

“This corroborates that fossil fuel-generated air pollution qualifies as a major global health risk factor by itself,” the authors write.

The study builds on the team’s previous research that confirmed about 8.8m early deaths a year worldwide, twice the figure from prior estimates, are caused by outdoor air pollution, with the new work examining the issue both for the world as a whole, and in detail for particular regions and countries.

“The loss of life expectancy from air pollution is much higher than many other risk factors, and even higher than smoking,” said co-author Prof Jos Lelieveld of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry. “That was quite unexpected, I must say.”

As with the team’s previous work, the new study draws on a recently developed model of the impact of fine particulate matter known as PM2.5 on the body, as well as a model for the impact of ozone, levels of exposure to these pollutants, and population and mortality figures for 2015.

From this data, the team calculated the proportion of early deaths that could be attributed to outdoor air pollution across six categories, including unspecified non-communicable diseases – a category that encompasses conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

The results reveal that, globally, 2.9 years of life expectancy on average are lost because of outdoor air pollution – a bigger toll than tobacco smoking (2.2 years lost), violence (0.3 years lost), HIV/Aids (0.7 years lost) and diseases spread by parasites and other vectors (0.6 years lost).

Should avoidable outdoor air pollution be cut, the team adds, more than 5.5m early deaths globally could be avoided every year.

However, there are variations between regions and countries: such a measure would save 2.4m early deaths a year in east Asia and regain three out of the 3.9 years of life expectancy lost because of outdoor air pollution. However, in Africa only 230,000 early deaths a year, and just over eight months of the 3.1 years of life expectancy lost, would be saved. In Australiathe gains would be even smaller.

That, the authors note, is down to a variety of factors, including Africa’s outdoor air pollution being dominated by wind-blown dust and Australia having stricter air pollution policies than many other countries to start with.

The team found the number of premature deaths owing to air pollution generally increased with age.However, for some regions, including Africa and south Asia, there is also a high number of premature deaths among very young children.

Coronary heart disease accounted for the largest number of extra deaths for any of the six categories, at almost 2.8m a year worldwide, and made up more than 28% of the loss in life expectancy. By contrast deaths from lung cancer, chronic obstructive lung disease and lower respiratory infections together made up about 2.6m early deaths from outdoor air pollution a year.

Prof Thomas Münzel, of the University Medical Centre Mainz in Germany and co-author of the study, said this was not surprising. “Even [though] the lung is the primary target of air pollution, causing inflammation and therefore pneumonia, there will be a transmigration of particles into the bloodstream and into blood vessels,” he said, noting that will cause inflammation and, over time, plaque will build up in the arteries.

Münzel said the findings underscore the importance of including air pollution as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease in official guidelines for such conditions.

However, the study has a number of limitations, including that it only looks at two air pollutants. and does not look at the chemical makeup of the particulate matter. Among other factors, the team note there may be diseases that should be associated with air pollution that are not currently, while the models are based on data from a limited number of countries.

As a result, the team say there are large uncertainties in the findings. Nonetheless, Münzel said, the study emphasises the need for governments to take action.

“We need lower emission levels – 91% of the [world’s] population breathes polluted air as defined by the [World Health Organization],” he said. “We have incredibly high limits for Europe: those need to be reduced markedly.”

The team note measures can include city planning and management, while improvements in healthcare can also improve life expectancy. Münzel added it was also important to conduct research into drugs that could mitigate the health impacts of air pollution.

Prof Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, said the uncertainty in the figures means that is it not yet clear whether air pollution is a bigger killer than tobacco, but that it certainly rivals it. That, he said, is because although smoking a packet of cigarettes a day is more dangerous, a higher proportion of people inhale air pollution than tobacco smoke.

The work is published in the journal Cardiovascular Research.

via Outdoor air pollution cuts three years from human lifespan – study | Environment | The Guardian

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22 areas of Bangkok found with excessive PM2.5 dust in the atmosphere today

Screenshot 2020-02-27 at 08.13.43Bangkok was blanketed with excessive PM2.5 dust yesterday, measuring between 55 and 90 microns per cubic metre (µg/m3), above Thailands “safe” threshold of 50. Air quality has improved slightly today, with only 22 areas found to have PM2.5 dust above 50 microns. The limit set by the World Health Organisation is 25 µg/m3.

The Pollution Control Department (PCD) announced the levels of PM2.5 dust in the atmosphere today were measured between 38 and 79 microns, with excessive dust in 22 areas, including Lat Phrao Soi 95 in Wang Thong Lang district, which recorded the highest level, 79 µg/m3.

Bangkok Municipality spokesman Pongsakorn Kwanmuang said today that several Bangkok private schools couldn’t suspend classes because their students are in the middle of final exams and that they’ve been warned to wear face masks to school. All Bangkok public schools were ordered shut until Friday

Bangkok areas with excessive PM2.5 dust today include:

Tambon Hirunrujee in Thon Buri district
Kanchanapisek Road in Bang Khun Thian district
Tambon Bang Na in Bang Na District
Tambon Khlong Chan in Bang Kapi district
Tambon Din Daeng in Din Daeng district
Tambon Chong Nonsee in Yan Nawa district
Rama IV Road in Pathumwan district
Intharapitak Road in Thon Buri district
Lat Phrao Road in Wang Thong Lang district
Din Daeng Road in Din Daeng district
Tambon Plabpla in Wang Thong Lang district
Tambon Bang Kruay in Bang Kruay district of Nonthaburi

via 22 areas of Bangkok found with excessive PM2.5 dust in the atmosphere today | The Thaiger

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21 of the world’s 30 cities with the worst air pollution are in India

India has once again topped an annual list of cities with the worst air quality in the world, according to a new report, while Chinese cities have continued to show improvements from the previous year.

Twenty-one of the world’s 30 cities with the worst air pollution are in India, according to data complied in IQAir AirVisual’s 2019 World Air Quality Report, with six in the top ten.
Ghaziabad, a satellite city of the capital New Delhi in northern Uttar Pradesh state, is ranked as the world’s most polluted city, with an average air quality index (AQI) of 110.2 in 2019. That’s more than double the level which the US Environmental Protection Agency regards as healthy.
And in November, a public health emergency was declared after the AQI level exceeded 800 in certain parts of New Delhi, which was more than three times the “hazardous” level.
Researchers from IQAir — a global air quality information and tech company — gleaned data for the report from on the ground monitoring stations that measure levels of fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, per cubic meter.
The microscopic particles, which are smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, are considered particularly harmful as they are small enough to enter deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system.
PM 2.5 includes pollutants such as sulfate, nitrates and black carbon. Exposure to such particles has been linked to lung and heart disorders, and can impair cognitive and immune functions.

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According to the World Health Organization, air pollution causes an estimated 7 million premature deaths a year globally, mainly as a result of increased mortality from cardiovascular diseases, cancers and respiratory infections.
It is estimated that more than 80% living in urban areas which monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed WHO guideline limits, with low- and middle-income countries most at risk.
“Air pollution constitutes the most pressing environmental health risk facing our global population,” the AirVisual report said.
South Asia continues to be of particular concern, with 27 of the 30 most polluted cities in India, Pakistan or Bangladesh. Pakistan’s Gujranwala, Faisalabad and Raiwind, are among the ten most polluted cities, and the major population centers of New Delhi, Lahore, and Dhaka rank 5th, 12th and 21st respectively, according to AirVisual data.
Regionally, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East are worst affected overall, with only six of 355 cities included meeting WHO annual targets, the report said.
However, South Asia has seen improvements from the previous year. National air pollution in India decreased by 20% from 2018 to 2019, with 98% of cities experiencing of varying levels of improvement. The report points to economic slowdown, favorable weather conditions, and efforts towards cleaning the air as reasons behind the decrease.
For example, the most polluted city, Ghaziabad, had an average AQI of 110.2 this year. But in 2018 it was 135.2 and 144.6. in 2017.
The report also points India’s launch of the country’s first National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) which aims to reduce PM 2.5 and the bigger particulate PM 10 air pollution in 102 cities by 20-30% by 2024 compared to 2017 levels.

Climate crisis and urbanization

The air quality data shows, “clear indications that climate change can directly increase the risk of exposure to air pollution” the report said, noting it impacts air quality in many cities through desertification and increased frequency of forest fires and sandstorms.
Greenhouse gas emissions, with the burning of fossil fuel a key driver of the climate crisis, is also a major cause of dirty air.
Many countries are still dependent on coal for their energy production, the biggest contributor to PM 2.5 emissions. China, for example, is the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal.
Exacerbating the problem is rapid urbanization in industrializing Southeast Asian cities, which is also a major cause of air pollution and poses severe challenges to managing PM 2.5 levels, the report found.
Indonesia’s Jakarta and Vietnam’s Hanoi overtook Beijing for the first time among the world’s most polluted capital cities, “in a historic shift reflecting the region’s rapid industrialization,” the report said. The two capitals have annual PM 2.5 levels which are about 20% higher than those of Beijing, according to the report.
“Fast growing cities need to make a choice if they want to grow in a sustainable manner,” said Yann Boquillod, director of air quality monitoring at IQAir.
However, it’s not all bad news. People power is bringing about change, he said.
“Up to recently, growth was more important than the environment, but we’re seeing a very clear trend that people are demanding more from their local governments,” Boquillod said.
“During the year 2019, citizens of Hanoi have massively become aware of the air quality in their city, thanks to the deployment of air monitors. This is an example how air quality data has helped to push government to improve the environment.”
And in the past year residents of Jakarta have sued the government over worsening air pollution in the city.
Jakarta is Southeast Asia’s most polluted city and the fifth most polluted capital — up from 10th position in 2018, according to the report. It’s on track to become the world’s biggest megacity by 2030, with a population of 35.6 million, according to a 2018 Euromonitor report.
“The city’s rapid growth has coincided with heightened PM2.5 levels, as the growing population adds to its notorious traffic congestion, and coal-based energy demand,” the AirVisual report said.

Bright spots

Chinese cities have overall seen marked improvements in recent years, with average concentrations of pollutants falling 9% from 2018 to 2019, according to the report.
China’s capital Beijing has more than halved its annual PM 2.5 levels over the past decade and has dropped out of the world’s 200 most polluted cities following concerted efforts to get air pollution under control.
However, 98% of Chinese cities still exceeded WHO guidelines and 47 feature among the top 100 most polluted cities in the 2019 World Air Quality Report.
Dust and sand storms in the desert city of Hotan, in western China’s Xinjiang region, make it the world’s second most polluted city in 2019, with an average AQI of 110.1.
Another positive is that last year saw a significant increase in countries expanding their air quality monitoring, “with the number of monitoring stations increasing by more than 200% since the year prior.”
More monitoring data is important to inform communities about the quality of the air they are breathing and helps tackle air pollution globally, the report said.
Continuous public air quality data is now available for the first time for Angola, the Bahamas, Cambodia, DR Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Latvia, Nigeria and Syria, the report found.
Yet there is still a large gap in air quality data for many parts of the world, the report said, meaning the total number of cities exceeding the WHO PM 2.5 threshold could be higher.
For example, Africa, a continent of 1.3 billion people, has less than 100 monitoring stations that make air quality data available to the public in real time.
“Often locations bearing the highest particulate pollution levels tend to also notably have the least monitoring data,” said Frank Hammes, CEO of IQAir. “Leaving the most vulnerable communities without access to timely and relevant air quality data, necessary to guide actions to safeguard their health.”

via 21 of the world’s 30 cities with the worst air pollution are in India – CNN

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Opening your windows doesn’t help reduce indoor air pollution

2atmj3p_webAiring out our homes might not be as effective as we think. Chemicals released by cleaning or cooking can stick to walls, furnishings and other surfaces instead of wafting out when we open a window.

“It’s quite a surprise,” says Chen Wang at the University of Toronto, Canada. “We thought that when we diluted the volume of the air in the house [these] may just get removed and mix with the outside air.”

She and her colleagues studied the persistence of 18 common indoor chemicals inside a mock house. Some of these, such as carboxylic acids, appear to be released by cooking. We don’t know yet if they are harmful to human health when they accumulate in the home.

These chemicals are all volatile, meaning they can evaporate into air, but the researchers wanted to see if they can linger on surfaces too. The team asked volunteers to mimic real-life activities in the house, such as cooking and cleaning, and then measured the levels of these 18 chemicals in the air.

The researchers then ventilated the home by opening its windows and doors and then measured the airborne levels of the 18 chemicals again after they were closed. The team found that ventilation for 15 or even 30 minutes made little difference – the chemicals soon reached similar levels in the air as before.

Wang says the airborne levels of these chemicals in our homes aren’t high enough to be concerning, but that they are likely to be higher after cooking or cleaning.

“Modern houses are becoming more air-tight as we try to conserve energy,” says Frank Kelly at King’s College London. This may be bad for our air quality unless homes are built with mechanical ventilation systems, he says.

Journal reference: Science Advances, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay8973

via Opening your windows doesn’t help reduce indoor air pollution | New Scientist

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