‘Smog emergency’ forces traffic bans across Italian cities

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Italy’s biggest cities have been forced to ban hundreds of thousands of vehicles from the roads after days of persistent smog.
Air pollution has spiked above normal levels for up to ten consecutive days in Milan, Rome, Florence, Turin, Venice and several parts of Emilia-Romagna.

With the air not forecast to clear for several more days, several cities have introduced restrictions on driving, central heating and open flames, including a ban on diesel vehicles in central Rome that is expected to affect some 700,000 drivers.

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The alarm concerns levels of fine particle pollution known as PM10, which can be linked to respiratory disorders, allergies, poisoning and cancer.

Warm, windless weather has helped trap pollution and created what’s been dubbed a ‘smog emergency’ across large parts of Italy, with dozens of towns reporting poorer than average air quality over the past fortnight.

The measures in place across Italy on Tuesday include:

  • Rome: ban on all diesel vehicles in the ‘Fascia Verde’ limited traffic zone between 7:30-10:30 am and 4:30-8:30 pm, with all-day restrictions on higher-polluting vehicles in emissions categories Euro 0-3.
  • Milan: heaviest polluting diesel vehicles (Euro 1-4) are banned and drivers are required to switch off their engines while stopped. Bonfires, barbecues and fireworks are also banned.
  • Turin: ban on diesel vehicles up to and including older Euro 5 models for most of the day.
  • Emilia-Romagna (Piacenza, Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Ferrara, Ravenna): Euro 1-4 diesel vehicles are banned from 8:30 am to 6:30 pm. Heating is limited to 19 degrees C in homes and 17 degrees in shops.
  • Venice: all-day ban on two-stroke Euro 0 motorbikes, Euro 0-1 petrol cars and Euro 0-4 diesel cars, as well as Euro 1-3 diesel goods vehicles.
  • Florence: restrictions for most of the day on two-stroke motorbikes, Euro 1 petrol vehicles, Euro 2-3 diesel vehicles, and Euro 1-2 goods vehicles.

Italy’s permitted limit for PM10 pollution is 50 micrograms per cubic metre, above which air quality is considered dangerously poor.

Air pollution is typically worst in northern Italy, where densely populated cities, industry and farming create emissions and mountains trap it in low-lying plains. Industrial Brescia, Monza, Milan, Turin, Venice and other cities in the Po Valley regularly exceed safe limits.

But Rome too, where sea winds help clear the exhaust fumes spewed out by relentless traffic, has seen its air quality plummet this month. At least four of Rome’s 15 monitoring stations measured pollution above the limit on Sunday, the most recent check published, in some cases for the tenth time in 12 days.

via ‘Smog emergency’ forces traffic bans across Italian cities – The Local

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Smoke plays havoc with tennis as Australian Open qualifier suffers coughing fit

The safety of players at this year’s Australian Open has been brought into sharp focus after a day of poor air quality in Melbourne forced the abandonment of former world No 1 Maria Sharapova’s match in a warm-up event at Kooyong while another player, Dalila Jakupović, collapsed on court at Melbourne Park amid genuine concern for her health.

In jarring scenes at the venue for the year’s first grand slam, Australian Open hopeful Jakupović was forced to retire from her qualifying match midway through when she suffered a coughing fit. The match had been given the green light to go ahead by tournament organisers after the day’s play had initially been delayed for an hour due to the blanket of bushfire smoke enveloping Melbourne on Tuesday.

Jakupović, who was looking to qualify for the main draw of the tournament which is slated to start on Monday, was a set up in her match against Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele when she fell to her knees on court. Suffering breathing difficulties, the world No 180 withdrew.

She later said she had no previous respiratory issues and had never suffered from asthma. “I was really scared that I would collapse. That’s why I went onto the floor because I couldn’t walk any more,” she said. “I don’t have asthma and never had breathing problems. I actually like heat. The physio came again and I thought it would be better. But the points were a bit longer and I just couldn’t breathe any more and I just fell on the floor.”

Jakupović took aim at officials for allowing the match to go ahead in the first place, saying it was “not fair”. “It’s not healthy for us,” she said. “I was surprised, I thought we would not be playing today, but we don’t have much choice.”

Eugenie Bouchard, the former Wimbledon finalist, also struggled in her opening match and called several medical timeouts during the eventual win over China’s Xiaodi You. “I felt like it was tough to breathe and a bit nauseous,” Bouchard said. “I felt like the conditions got worse as the match went on…but I was out there for a long time. As an athlete we want to be very careful, our physical health is one of the most important things. It’s not ideal to play in these conditions. Just like the heat rule, there should be an air quality rule.”

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At Kooyong, Sharapova said smoke from the bushfires still raging in Victoria and New South Wales was behind the decision to call time on her match late in the second set against Germany’s Laura Siegemund. Organisers of the tournament in the inner Melbourne suburb pulled the plug on play with Siegemund a set up and the score locked at 5-5 in the second, as the city stifled in a smoke haze and was rated in the morning as having the worst air quality in the world.

“I started feeling a cough coming toward the end of the second set but I’ve been sick for a few weeks so I thought that had something to do with it,” Sharapova told SBS after the match. “But then I heard Laura speak to the umpire and she said she was struggling with it as well. We were out there for over two hours, so from a health standpoint it’s the right call from officials.”

Earlier, practice at Melbourne Park had been suspended and the start of the first round of qualifying delayed by an hour due to the poor air quality. But tournament organisers deemed it safe enough to start at 11am local time, once they said the air quality had sufficiently improved.

“This morning the smoke haze was significant,” said the tournament director, Craig Tiley. “And based on advice we made the decision to suspend practice and as a result to start the qualifying matches an hour later than originally scheduled. At any time we’re not going to put them [players and staff] in harm’s way or make any decision that’s going to negatively impact their health and wellbeing.”

Tom Larner, Tennis Australia’s chief operating officer, indicated the situation was comparable to other delays caused by atmospheric conditions, such as extreme heat, or rain. “We’re treating any suspension of play like a rain delay or a heat delay, in that we will stop if conditions become unsafe based on medical advice, and once those conditions are safe to play, players will get back on court.”

Tuesday’s delay lasted just one hour, as, according to Tiley, “during the period in which we suspended practice there was an improvement in conditions”. The suspension, and subsequent resumption of play was based on air quality measurements taken on-site using devices sourced specifically for this eventually, as well as advice from tournament medical staff.

Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority issued a warning on Monday evening that conditions in Melbourne on Tuesday would be poor to hazardous as a consequence of the bushfires raging across the state and neighbouring New South Wales. The Victorian government’s advice is for residents to “minimise the time spent in smoky conditions whenever practical to do so,” and “avoid exercise”. Both are considerable challenges for a major outdoor sporting event.

There has been no official response from the players about the circumstances at one of the most popular events on the circuit, but Tiley indicated the WTA and ATP Tours were supportive of the decision. “This is new for all of us,” Tiley said. Novak Djokovic, president of the ATP Player Council, has already indicated competitors would have to consider their options, with delaying their participation among them, should Melbourne’s air quality continue to prove hazardous.

Tiley would not be drawn on radical contingency plans, such as the steps taken earlier this month to relocate the Canberra International Challenger event from the ACT to Bendigo in Victoria to avoid hazardous playing conditions. “The expectation, because the long-term forecast, and even the short-term forecast is good. We’ll just take it a day at a time.”

via Smoke plays havoc with tennis as Australian Open qualifier suffers coughing fit | Sport | The Guardian

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Air pollution could kill 160,000 in next decade – report

British Heart Foundation predicts current total of 11,000 particulate-related deaths per year will continue to rise

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More than 160,000 people could die over the next decade from strokes and heart attacks caused by air pollution, a charity has warned. That is the equivalent of more than 40 heart and circulatory disease deaths related to air pollution every day.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF), which compiled the figures, said there are an estimated 11,000 deaths per year at the moment, but that this will rise as the population continues to age. It wants the UK to adopt World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on air pollution and meet them by 2030.

Current EU limits – which the UK comfortably meets – for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution are 25μg/m3 as an annual average. The WHO limits are tougher, at 10μg/m3 as an annual average.

The BHF said PM2.5 can have a “seriously detrimental effect to heart health”, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke and making existing health problems worse.

Jacob West, executive director of healthcare innovation at the BHF, said: “Every day, millions of us across the country are inhaling toxic particles which enter our blood and get stuck in our organs, raising our risk of heart attacks and stroke. Make no mistake, our toxic air is a public health emergency, and we haven’t done enough to tackle this threat to our society.

“We need to ensure that stricter, health-based air quality guidelines are adopted into law to protect the health of the nation as a matter of urgency. Clean air legislation in the 1950s and 1960s, and more recently the smoking ban in public places, show that government action can improve the air we breathe.”

In July 2019, the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs published a study showing that meeting WHO guidelines on air pollution was “technically feasible” in most areas of the UK by 2030.

The BHF has launched a new campaign, You’re Full Of It, to highlight how people are inhaling dangerous levels of PM2.5 in towns and cities across the UK every day.

The environment minister, Rebecca Pow, said: “We all know the impact that air pollution has on communities around the UK, which is why the government is stepping up the pace and taking urgent action to improve air quality.

“Alongside our Clean Air Strategy, which has been praised by the World Health Organisation as ‘an example for the rest of the world to follow’, our landmark Environment Bill will include a commitment to a legally binding target on fine particulate matter which will improve the quality of millions of people’s lives.”

NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: “The climate emergency is also a health emergency, with thousands of avoidable deaths and hospital admissions every year linked to air pollution, which is why the NHS is playing its part by taking action to reduce carbon emissions, including cutting traffic by reducing the need for millions of hospital appointments through better services.

“With air pollution contributing to around 40,000 deaths a year and four in 10 children at school in high-pollution communities, it’s clear that tackling air pollution needs to be everyone’s urgent business.”

via Air pollution could kill 160,000 in next decade – report | Environment | The Guardian

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TOP STORIES

Poor Air Quality Increases the Risk of Schizophrenia A new study, which is published in the journal JAMA Open Network, uncovers an unexpected contributor to the risk of developing one of the most complex mental issues – schizophrenia.

Brake dust air pollution may have same harmful effects on immune cells as diesel exhaust Metal particles from the abrasion of brake pads – up to a fifth of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution at roadsides – may cause inflammation and reduce the ability of immune cells to kill bacteria a new study has found, similarly to particles derived from diesel exhaust.

Living near busy road stunts children’s lung growth, study says Research reveals that living in proximity of traffic increases risk of lung cancer by 10%

Impact of air pollution on health may be far worse than thought, study suggests Results chime with earlier review indicating almost every cell in the body may be affected by dirty air

Posted in Air Quality

Poor Air Quality Increases the Risk of Schizophrenia

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A new study, which is published in the journal JAMA Open Network, uncovers an unexpected contributor to the risk of developing one of the most complex mental issues – schizophrenia. More specifically, the researchers looked at the effects of exposure to certain pollutants in the air such as Nitrogen Dioxide on the Polygenic Risk Score for Schizophrenia.

According to the World Health Organization, schizophrenia is a chronic and complicated mental health issue that affects more than twenty million people around the globe. A person with the health issue perceives and interprets the reality different than normal people. The development of the disease results in distorted thinking, sentiments, a sense of self, and behavior which further causes delusions and hallucinations.

While the disease is controllable when it is diagnosed in its early stage, it can become extremely difficult to manage in patients with a late diagnosis. In many of cases, patients require life-long treatment. They may also get aggressive or violent and require hospitalization and continued treatment in a mental asylum.

The symptoms of the health condition can vary from person to person but typically include a combination of distorted thinking, abnormal behavior along with hallucination. One of the earliest signs is a lack of proper functioning or disorganized behavior. For instance, the person experiencing schizophrenia may be unable to communicate normally. Eating very little and not maintaining personal hygiene are prevalent in most of the cases.

Over the passage of time, these symptoms can become more severe especially in cases with no appropriate medical attention. There may also be periods of remission of symptoms but some of the signs may also remain there. The majority of the people who are diagnosed with this mental disorder are either in their early or late twenties. Adults over the age of forty-five or very young children are less likely to have the disease.

Researchers have not identified the exact reasons for the development of schizophrenia but it has been established that the disease is likely to be multi-factorial. Environmental factors, genetics, and brain chemistry may all contribute to its progression and development.

Additionally, a number of studies have shown that problems associated with glutamate and dopamine also increase the risk of schizophrenia. This can be observed via the use of neuroimaging, which has also shown that people with the disease also have a different central nervous system and brain structure, which establishes that schizophrenia is a brain disease.

The new study, which has been conducted by researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark, focuses on air pollution as a potential contributor. Previously research linked poor air quality to bad pulmonary health. Now, researchers are exploring its impact on mental health as well. To look at air pollution as a possible factor, researchers took data from The Lundbeck Foundation Initiative for Integrative Psychiatric Research.

After analyzing the data of the participants, the researchers found that early exposure to toxins in the air can greatly increase the risk of developing schizophrenia later in life. Henriette Thisted Horsdal, the senior author of the study, states that with every ten micrograms per cubic meter increase of nitrogen dioxide in the air, the risk of the disease increases by seventy percent.

Overall, children who are exposed to more than twenty-five micrograms per cubic meter of nitrogen dioxide on a daily basis are sixty percent more likely to have schizophrenia. These findings further show the immediate need to control pollution for public health.

via Poor Air Quality Increases the Risk of Schizophrenia – TheHealthMania

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Prenatal air pollution exposure tied to childhood blood sugar

Kids who are exposed to air pollution in the womb may have higher blood sugar levels during childhood than kids without this exposure, according to a study that suggests particle pollution could be an environmental risk factor for diabetes.

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Researchers focused on so-called 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. This type of air pollution, also known as fine particulate matter, has been previously been linked to lung damage as well as an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

The current study included 365 children in Mexico City who were exposed to average daily PM 2.5 levels of 22.4 micrograms per cubic meter of air (mcg/m3) while they were in the womb, far above the 12-mcg limit set by Mexican regulators.

Researchers also measured the children’s hemoglobin A1c levels, which reflect average blood sugar levels over about three months. HbA1c readings above 6.5% signal diabetes.

From about age 5 until about age 7, kids’ average levels of exposure to PM 2.5 in the womb were associated with 0.25% larger annual increases in HbA1c levels than would be expected with fine particulate matter exposure within Mexican regulatory limits, researchers calculated.

The effect was only seen in girls, and was associated with pollution exposure during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.

It’s not clear whether or how prenatal air pollution exposure might directly impact kids’ blood sugar levels. But there are several possible explanations, said study co-author Dr. Emily Oken of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

“One is that air pollution causes a great deal of inflammation, and we know that other inflammatory exposures can affect organ development and function (such as brain, pancreas, liver, muscle and fat – all of which participate in blood sugar regulation) in ways that have long-lasting effects,” Oken said by email.

“Alternatively, air pollution could affect epigenetic regulation – the signal that tells the body which genes to turn on and off and which proteins to make,” Oken said.

The researchers lacked data on what mothers or children ate, which can have a profound impact on blood sugar levels. They also lacked information about the mothers’ personal and family history of diabetes, and whether children went on to develop diabetes when they were older.

There’s also not much that expectant parents can do to change their exposure to air pollution, unless they’re in a position to move to a place with better air quality.

“In terms of individual efforts, parents should not smoke or expose their children to smoking or vaping,” Oken said. “They should also avoid using wood stoves.”

Lifestyle habits can also impact diabetes risk, Oken added.

“While we don’t know for certain about interventions to minimize risks, it is reasonable to assume that healthy diet and regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight would be very likely to minimize risks,” Oken added.

SOURCE: bit.ly/2tNs1Dm JAMA Network Open, online December 18, 2019.

via Prenatal air pollution exposure tied to childhood blood sugar – Reuters

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Bangkok’s ranks world’s third worst air quality. Forecast to be bad for the rest of the week

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Bangkok ended up recording the world’s third worst air quality on Air Visual, the air quality monitoring app, yesterday. Not a chart you want to be on top of. Meanwhile, the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority remains on high alert for a predicted rise in PM2.5 levels for the rest of the week. High temperatures and light winds are compounding the problem (forecast below).

The industrial areas of Bangkok are also heavily polluted as well as the air quality at the seaside resort of Pattaya, southeast of Bangkok. Today’s Air Quality map here…

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Fine dust pollution exceeded the safe threshold in 45 of the 48 areas of greater Bangkok this morning with the worst in Bangkok’s Bung Kum district, according to the Pollution Control Department.

Meanwhile the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration is putting its health officials on high alert following a rise of the hazardous ultra-fine dust, aka. PM2.5, in 38 of 50 areas in the capital, suburbs and adjacent provinces.

According to the Pollution Control Department the levels of fine particulate matter in the 38 areas ranged from 40 to 71µg/m³. The World Health Authority sets ’50’ as its upper safety limit for 2.5 micron air pollution levels.

The director of the BMA’s Health Department, Chawin Sirinak, says the Communicable Diseases Control Division is closely monitoring guidelines drawn up to help authorities effectively respond to air pollution around the city.

He says officials at mobile units led by 68 health offices have been instructed to step up awareness campaigns among city residents, with a focus on the most vulnerable groups – the elderly, children, pregnant women and people with heart and respiratory complaints.

The Thai Interior Minister, Anupong Paojinda, is ordering police to strictly monitor emissions from vehicles and factories and enforce the ban on open-air burning to help relieve the situation.

via Bangkok’s ranks world’s third worst air quality. Forecast to be bad for the rest of the week. | The Thaiger

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Brake dust air pollution may have same harmful effects on immune cells as diesel exhaust

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Metal particles from the abrasion of brake pads – up to a fifth of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution at roadsides – may cause inflammation and reduce the ability of immune cells to kill bacteria a new study has found, similarly to particles derived from diesel exhaust.

The scientists, primarily funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, say this suggests that particulate pollution from brake wear could be contributing to increased susceptibility to airway infections and other negative effects on respiratory health.

It is estimated that only 7% of PM2.5 pollution from traffic comes from tail pipe exhaust fumes at roadside sites – the rest comes from sources such as tyre, clutch and brake wear, as well as the resuspension of road dust. Brake dust is the source of approximately 20% of total PM2.5 traffic pollution.

These are particles small enough to be inhaled into the deepest regions of the lung – PM2.5 means the particles are less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter.

Much of the research into the effects of traffic air pollution has focused on the effects of particulates derived from the tailpipe of diesel vehicles, but this new study has investigated if the particulate matter in brake dust has similar effects.

Dr Ian Mudway, who led the research at the MRC Centre for Environment and Health at King’s College London, said: “At this time the focus on diesel exhaust emissions is completely justified by the scientific literature, but we should not forget, or discount, the importance of other components, such as metals from mechanical abrasion, especially from brakes. There is no such thing as a zero-emission vehicle, and as regulations to reduced exhaust emissions kick in, the contribution from these sources are likely to become more significant.”

Dust from brake friction is rich in metals, which can catalyse the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) – chemicals which can cause damage to cells on entering the lungs.

Past research into the increased rates of pneumonia seen in welders and foundry workers have shown that tiny particles rich in metal components can reduce the immune system’s ability to tackle bacterial infections. Since brake dust also contains a lot of metal particles, the researchers wanted to test if the types of metal particles found in brake dust can have a similar effect.

In this study, published in the journal Metallomics, the researchers obtained dust from a brake pad testing factory. The factory tests a broad range of drum brakes from a mixture of buses and trucks currently used in Europe under conditions representative of urban driving and high-speed braking.

To test its effect on immune cells, they grew macrophages in the lab, which are a type of immune cell that is on the front line of our defences in the lungs and kills bacteria by engulfing and digesting them.

When they exposed the macrophages to particulates from diesel exhaust and brake dust respectively, both reduced the ability of the macrophages to take up and destroy bacteria. They were tested with Staphylococcus aureus, a common infection in the lungs.

Adding metal chelators – chemicals that can bind to metal ions, stopping them from reacting and causing damage – prevented the negative effects on immune cells. This suggested that the metal content of the particulate dust was causing the ill effects.

The particulates from both sources also caused the macrophages to produce immune signalling molecules which drive inflammation.

The scientists were surprised to find that the metals in both brake dust and diesel exhaust had similar effects on the immune cells, as the diesel exhaust lacked the iron and copper common in brake dust, which are known to generate ROS in the body.

There were many other metal particles they had in common (such as arsenic, tin and antimony), but the researchers concluded the biggest culprit was most likely to be vanadium, as it was the only metal that was taken up by the cells increasingly as the dose of brake dust and diesel exhaust particulate matter increased.

Dr Liza Selley, who conducted the research at the MRC Centre for Environment and Health at King’s College London and Imperial College London, said: “Diesel fumes and brake dust appear to be as bad as each other in terms of toxicity in macrophages. Macrophages protect the lung from microbes and infections and regulate inflammation, but we found that when they’re exposed to brake dust they can no longer take up bacteria.”

“Worryingly, this means that brake dust could be contributing to what I call ‘London throat’ – the constant froggy feeling and string of coughs and colds that city dwellers endure – and more serious infections like pneumonia or bronchitis which we already know to be influenced by diesel exhaust exposure.”

This research was conducted in cells in the lab and further research is needed to fully understand how brake dust particles could contribute to ill health in humans.

Dr Selley added: “We included some experiments that gave the cells a rest from the pollution, and were pleased to see that these rested cells quickly regained their ability to take up bacteria once the brake dust had been removed. Our research was conducted in cells in the lab, so further study is required to see whether the metal particulate traffic pollution influences susceptibility to infection in the lungs of real people.”

Dr Megan Dowie, head of molecular and cellular medicine at the MRC, commented: “The impact of poor air quality is an important environmental risk to health in the UK. As changes in regulations surrounding internal combustion engines take effect, the relative contribution of brake dust to traffic pollution is predicted to rise. Studies like this investigating potential health effects could have important policy implications.”

via Brake dust air pollution may have same harmful effects on immune cells as diesel exhaust | EurekAlert! Science News

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