New study examines commuter characteristics and traffic pollution exposure among commuters

New research examines commuter characteristics to better understand how factors such as departure time, frequency, and commute length are associated with exposure to air pollution. Using personal air pollution monitors, the research clustered commuters to determine whether these clusters were associated with traffic pollution exposures. The study reveals that commuters that travel during rush hour have higher overall exposure to traffic-related air pollution compared to sporadic commuters, though the difference was not statistically significant.

The link between on-road traffic and air pollution is well-known, as are the negative health impacts of pollution exposure. However, the many factors that may influence commuters’ exposure to pollutants — such as frequency, time, and duration of commute — and the overall impact of commuting remains a matter of on-going scientific discovery.

Dr. Jenna Krall, assistant professor at the George Mason University College of Health and Human Services, is using statistical methods to better understand exposure to air pollution. Krall studies how commuting patterns impact exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) from various traffic-related sources such as tailpipe emissions, road salts, and brake wear.

New research from Krall and colleagues published in Environmental Research examines commuter characteristics to better understand how factors such as departure time, commute length, and number of trips are associated with exposure to PM2.5. Building on a study of 46 women’s exposure to PM2.5 using personal air pollution monitors, the new research clustered commuters to determine whether these clusters were associated with traffic pollution exposures. The new study reveals that commuters that travel to work during rush hour have higher overall exposure to traffic-related air pollution compared to sporadic commuters, though the difference was not statistically significant.

As COVID-19 infection rates decline in most areas of the country and employers weigh whether to continue work-from-home policies, studies such as this provide important insight into the role that daily commutes can play in personal air pollution exposure and the public’s health. “

This is one of the first studies to utilize in-vehicle monitoring, specifically on-board diagnostics data loggers, to understand real-world commuting behaviors for environmental health,” said Krall, “Linking these data with personal air pollution monitoring allowed us to better understand how commuter characteristics are associated with sources of air pollution exposures.”

“The current research cannot tell us whether modifying commutes, for example by avoiding highways or commuting outside of rush hour, will lower traffic pollution exposures for commuters. More research is needed to determine what changes would be effective to lower exposures,” says Krall.

Krall’s on-going research seeks to distinguish between similar sources of traffic pollution, such as pollution generated by brake wear or from tailpipe emissions, and to develop statistical methods to better estimate exposure to pollution sources.

Study participants included 46 women commuters in northern Virginia who were exposed to pollution generated by mobile vehicles, road salts, and other sources throughout a 48-hour period.

New study examines commuter characteristics and traffic pollution exposure among commuters — ScienceDaily
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Doctors issue official guidance on effects of air pollution and bushfire smoke on pregnant people

Information should serve as ‘wake-up call’ that action on climate change is needed to protect people and their children

New patient resources warning of the dangers of air pollution and bushfire smoke to pregnant people or those planning to conceive have been issued by the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG), in what is thought to be a world-first.

Patients are warned to avoid exposureto air pollution on heavily trafficked roads, bushfire smoke or indoor smoke from things such as cigarettes, unflued fireplaces or incense.

The groundbreaking document explains that exposure to air pollution during pregnancy is conclusively linked to gestational diabetes, pre-term birth and growth restriction, while studies conducted in countries with high pollution also show a link to high blood pressure, miscarriage and fertility issues.

“Most airborne particles [such as PM2.5 or PM10] are not directly poisonous but can be harmful because they provoke low grade immune and stress responses in the body,” the document says.

“These include increased inflammation, increased blood glucose, changes to regulation of heart rhythms, blood vessel function, and blood clotting regulation.”

Tasmanian-based obstetrician Dr Kristine Barnden, who helped RANZCOG develop the document said she hopes the information “serves as a wake-up call to policymakers and the general public that action in the form of regulation and response to climate change is important to protect women and their children”.

“We’re aware that no one can completely escape air pollution and that some women have less options than others,” she said.

The pamphlet – which acknowledges that studies in Australia suggest low-level day-to-day exposure to air pollution may influence foetal growth – also outlines a number of actions that can be taken to mitigate risk, including use of high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) cleaners and apps that monitor air quality, as well as wearing masks and recommends avoidance strategies such as not walking down busy roads at rush hour.

Barnden said RANZCOG first became aware of the lack of information available in 2020.

“There was a lot of concern amongst pregnant women, and a lot of talk on social media about potential risk of smoke for pregnancy, but we found there was really no resource to which we could direct women and caregivers for more information,” she said.

“We also wanted to be able to reassure women that if they are healthy and if they do take whatever steps they can to minimise the exposure to pollution, that the effects on pregnancy will actually be relatively small.”

Barnden hopes the pamphlet will raise awareness about the various sources of air pollution, because “there is certainly a lot more than just bushfires that can affect pregnancy”, and how this exposure can be minimised.

The issuing of the pamphlet follows reporting by Guardian Australia in January and March of this year, detailing how Australian public health messaging was not fully informing or explaining the risks of exposure to pregnant patients or those planning to conceive, nor did it outline concrete mitigation or minimisation strategies.

“Articles published in the Guardian did an excellent job of pulling together the available research on air pollution and pregnancy and communicating it to the public, when there was really very little else around,” said Barnden.

“The concern voiced by women and health professionals in response to these articles made it clear to us that a resource for women and health professionals was necessary.”

Doctors issue official guidance on effects of air pollution and bushfire smoke on pregnant people | Climate change | The Guardian

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Londoners say asthma is triggered by toxic air pollution

More than 300,000 Londoners have said that their asthma is triggered by toxic air pollution as Sadiq Khan today doubles down on his commitment to expand the Ultra-Low Emission Zone.

New research from Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation has found that more than two thirds of the 504,202 Londoners registered with asthma say that symptoms of their condition are triggered by air pollution.

The Mayor of London has reaffirmed his commitment to expanding the ULEZ in a bid to tackle the capital’s “filthy air” and has called the new research a “stark reminder” of the impacts of air pollution on vulnerable Londoners.

In just over 100 days, the ULEZ will be expanded to the North and South Circular roads, meaning that thousands more drivers will have to pay the £12.50 daily charge if their vehicles do not meet minimum emissions standards.

Sadiq Khan today invited school children suffering from asthma to attend City Hall to highlight the impact that pollution has on them, with many not able to play outside and having to leave lessons to access medication.

Mr Khan said: “As someone who lives with adult-onset asthma, I know from personal experience that London’s toxic air is damaging people’s health. I want to be the greenest mayor London has ever had – this study is a stark reminder that air pollution disproportionately affects the most vulnerable Londoners and I’m doing everything in my power to protect children, the elderly and those with respiratory conditions from our filthy air.

“In central London, the world-leading Ultra Low Emission Zone has already helped cut toxic roadside nitrogen dioxide pollution by nearly half and led to reductions that are five times greater than the national average.

“But pollution isn’t just a central London problem, which is why expanding the ULEZ later this year will benefit Londoners across the whole of the city and is a crucial step in London’s green recovery. There is no time to waste. We know pollution hits the poorest Londoners the hardest which is why I’m doing everything I can to improve the health for all Londoners.”

When the ULEZ is expanded on October 25, the new zone will cover large parts of Newham, Brent and Waltham Forest, the three boroughs with the highest rates of adult asthma hospital admissions in London.

Last year, a coroner concluded that air pollution “made a material contribution” to the death of nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah in 2013 in what was called a “landmark” decision by Sadiq Khan.

Ella, who lived near the South Circular in Lewisham, suffered from severe asthma and was hospitalised for the condition 27 times before her death.

Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) near Ella’s home exceeded World Health Organisation limits, the inquest was told.

The expanded Ultra-Low Emission Zone, known as ULEX, will extend near to Ella’s home when it is introduced, with the purpose of reducing levels of NO2 in the air.

Vehicles entering the ULEX or ULEZ will have to meet minimum emissions standards – Euro 4 for petrol cars and Euro 6 for diesel cars – or drivers must pay the charge.

Euro 4 was made mandatory for new vehicles made after January 2006, while Euro 6 became mandatory for new vehicles made after September 2015.

City Hall estimates that there are 100,000 cars and 35,000 vans in the expanded zone that do not meet the minimum emissions standard.

Motorists are advised to check the TfL website to check if their vehicle is ULEZ compliant.

Londoners say asthma is triggered by toxic air pollution | Richmond and Twickenham Times
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July 4 fireworks caused second-highest air pollution level from the holiday in Southern California in a decade

This year’s Fourth of July fireworks created the second-highest air pollution levels from the holiday in the last decade and were the highest since the Bobcat wildfire in September, the South Coast Air Quality Management District said Tuesday.

The agency said that although last week’s fireworks-related air pollution was lower than last Fourth of July, the air pollution levels have been especially high in recent years.

According to the agency, which monitors air pollution in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, the average levels of fine-particle pollution, known as PM2.5, on this Independence Day and July 5 were 14% lower than during last year’s celebrations.

Levels of air pollution from the holiday this year were about 50% higher than the 10-year average from 2010 to 2019. Monitors in the valleys and inland regions over this year’s Independence Day detected unhealthy and hazardous levels of air pollution, with the highest concentration of pollutants in Ontario, the agency said.

Officials blamed the poor air quality on both personal and commercial fireworks.

“These are really levels at which everyone can be experiencing some health effects,” said Jo Kay Ghosh, a health effects officer for the air quality agency. “It could be more mild health effects such as itchy or burning eyes, a scratchy throat [or] coughing, to more serious health effects such as worsening of people’s asthma or worsening heart disease symptoms.”

The massive displays of pyrotechnics each Independence Day have long brought some of the worst air quality of the year, and not just in the Southland. A 2015 national study on the effects of the holiday’s fireworks found that average concentrations of fine-particle pollution for a 24-hour period beginning at 8 p.m. on July 4 were 42% higher than on the two days before and after that window.

July 4 fireworks caused second-highest air pollution level from the holiday in Southern California in a decade
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Prenatal exposure to air pollution associated with poor academic skills in childhood

Children exposed to elevated levels of air pollution may be more likely to have poor inhibitory control during late childhood and poor academic skills in early adolescence, including spelling, reading comprehension, and math skills. Difficulty with inhibition in late childhood was found to be a precursor to later air pollution-related academic problems. Interventions that target inhibitory control might improve outcomes.

Results of the study by researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and Columbia University Irving Medical Center are published in the journal Environmental Research.

“Children with poor inhibitory control are less able to override a common response in favor of a more unusual one–such as the natural response to say ‘up’ when an arrow is facing up or ‘go’ when a light is green–and instead say ‘down’ or ‘stop’. By compromising childhood inhibitory control, prenatal exposure to air pollution may alter the foundation upon which later academic skills are built.” Amy Margolis, PhD, first author, associate professor of medical psychology, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University Irving Medical Center

“When evaluating student’s learning problems and formulating treatment plans, parents and teachers should consider that academic problems related to environmental exposures may require intervention focused on inhibitory control problems, rather than on content-related skill deficits, as is typical in interventions designed to address learning disabilities,” Margolis adds.

“This study adds to a growing body of literature showing the deleterious health effects of prenatal exposure to air pollution on child health outcomes, including academic achievement,” says co-author Julie Herbstman, PhD, CCCEH director and associate professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia Mailman School. “Reducing levels of air pollution may prevent these adverse outcomes and lead to improvements in children’s academic achievement.”

The new findings align with prior Columbia research finding a DNA marker for PAH exposure was associated with altered development of self-regulatory capacity and ADHD symptoms.

The study followed 200 children enrolled in a longitudinal cohort study in Northern Manhattan and the Bronx led by CCCEH researchers. Researchers collected measures of prenatal airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH, a major component of air pollution) during the third trimester of pregnancy, a period when the fetus is highly vulnerable to environmental insults. Tests of inhibitory control were administered at or around age 10 and tests of academic achievement, at or around age 13.

Inhibitory control and learning

When students learn new concepts, they often need to override a previous habit in order to incorporate a new rule into a skill. For example, when learning to read a vowel a child will learn that the letter a has a short vowel sound “a as in apple” but a long sound when the consonant is followed by a “magic e,” as in “rate.”

Prenatal exposure to air pollution associated with poor academic skills in childhood
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Urban areas with high levels of air pollution may increase risk of childhood obesity

A study of more than 2,000 children in Sabadell (Barcelona, Spain) associates these three environmental factors with higher body mass index

Children living in urban areas with high levels of air pollution, noise and traffic may be at higher risk of childhood obesity, according to a study by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal)–a centre supported by the “la Caixa” Foundation–and the University Institute for Primary Care Research Jordi Gol (IDIAP Jordi Gol). The study was funded by the La Marató de TV3 Foundation.

Published in Environment International, the study analysed data on 2,213 children aged 9 to 12 years in the city of Sabadell (Barcelona) who were participating in the ECHOCAT and INMA projects. Forty percent of the children were overweight or obese. The researchers investigated the association between urban factors that the children were exposed to between October 2017 and January 2019 (ambient air pollution, green spaces, built environment, density of unhealthy food establishments, road traffic and road traffic noise) and various measures of childhood obesity (body mass index, waist circumference and body fat) and weight-related behaviours (fast food and sugar-sweetened beverage consumption, physical activity, sedentary behaviour, sleep duration and well-being).

To date, few studies have assessed whether the urban environment influences children’s behaviours in order to better understand the relationship between this environment and the risk of childhood obesity. An understanding of the mechanisms of this relationship will facilitate the development of community-level health promotion programmes to encourage healthier behaviours in the city. Another novel aspect of this study is that it assessed multiple urban exposures together, in accordance with the concept of exposome or the study of multiple simultaneous environmental factors.

Possible Mechanisms

“Higher levels of air pollution, traffic and noise were associated with higher body mass index and a higher likelihood of the child being overweight or obese,” explained lead author Jeroen de Bont, a researcher at ISGlobal and IDIAP Jordi Gol. Although the mechanisms that could explain this association remain unknown, the scientific team proposed various hypotheses. Air pollution could disrupt the molecular mechanisms that cause obesity by inducing inflammation or oxidative stress, hormone disruption and visceral adiposity (although the studies published to date have been performed in mice). Noise could influence sleep deprivation and increase stress hormones, which are associated with physical development in childhood and could increase the risk of becoming overweight.

The findings were consistent with those obtained in the same study when some environmental exposures were analysed separately. In particular, the number of unhealthy food establishments in an area was also found to be associated with childhood obesity, probably because such an environment may favour higher fast food consumption and higher caloric intake.

The study did not, however, find an association between the urban environment and the level of physical activity, sedentary behaviour and other weight-related behaviours in children, although it is thought that such factors could play a role. (For example, in areas with a good public transport network and nearby facilities and shops, journeys tend to be made on foot or by bicycle, which increases children’s physical activity.) The fact that the study did not find an association between these factors could be attributed to “the difficulty of determining to what extent obesity itself influences weight-related behaviours,” explained de Bont. Moreover, information on children’s physical activity was collected using a questionnaire that did not take into account where the activities took place. “We were able to find out if the children played basketball or football, but not if they cycled in nearby green spaces, for example,” he added.

Finally, “socioeconomic status plays an important role in the association between the urban environment and childhood obesity that is not yet clear,” commented last author Martine Vrijheid, a researcher at ISGlobal. In this study, children living in more deprived areas on the outskirts of the city had higher rates of overweight and obesity even though they were exposed to lower levels of air pollution, road traffic and noise and had access to more green spaces. Further research is needed to shed light on this issue.

Urban areas with high levels of air pollution may increase risk of childhood obesity | EurekAlert! Science News
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Pollution in 8 cities rose at alarming rate from April 2020 to April 2021: Greenpeace report

According Greenpeace India, the level of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) has increased in eight of the most populous Indian cities that were covered under their satellite observation for the study

This study was a direct comparison of NO2 levels of April 2020 and April 2021, thus juxtaposing the total lockdown month with a partial normalcy month. NO2 is a dangerous air pollutant that is released via vehicle emissions, power generation, and industrial processes.

The satellite observations of NO2 analyzed in this study are monthly averages of measurements made by the Tropomi sensor on board the Sentinel-5P satellite, which has been operating since February 2018.

Their data claims that NO2 pollution in Chennai increased by 94% in a direct comparison between April 2020 and April 2021. The weather had only little contribution to this change. Whereas, in Delhi, NO2 was higher by 125%, in Mumbai, 52% higher, Hyderabad by 69%, Bengaluru by 90%, Kolkata by 11%, Jaipur by 47% and Lucknow by 32% in April 2021, than in the same month of the previous year.

Specifically on North Chennai (Manali station), their data says that (in 2019) the region recorded unacceptable pollution levels for 119 days. It also states that while emissions from 38 red category industries including thermal power plants, petro-chemical industries, ports are the reason for North Chennai’s pollution, vehicular pollution contributes more to Central and South Chennai’s woes.

Prabhakaran Veeraarasu, Environmental Engineer, from the NGO Poovulagin Nanbargal said that Chennai’s data was a stark reminder to have a demographic, sectoral approach to address Chennai’s pollution. “Shifting towards decentralised renewable energy, developing public transport infrastructure, encouraging non-motor transport and ensuring last mile connectivity can be our targets to reduce vehicular pollution in Chennai” he added.

The report infers that India’s cities witnessing clean air in April 2020 (during the Lockdown) was an unintended consequence, that led to people breathing clean air and seeing clear skies. It suggests that the disruption caused by the pandemic is a case to transition to cleaner, equitable and sustainable decentralised energy sources such as rooftop solar and clean and sustainable mobility must be central to recovery efforts across cities. “The recovery from the pandemic must not come at the expense of a return to previous levels of air pollution,” said Avinash Chanchal, Senior Climate Campaigner, Greenpeace India.

He added that fossil-fuel dependent private vehicles and industries are the major contributors of NO2 pollution, thus urging Governments to initiate the transition from privately owned vehicles to an efficient, clean and safe public transport system that is run on clean energy, follows Covid-19 safety protocols.

Pollution in 8 cities rose at alarming rate from April 2020 to April 2021: Greenpeace report | India News | Zee News
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Reduced traffic during lockdown did not improve air quality in urban areas as much as expected

Two studies led by María Morales Suárez Varela, group leader of the CIBERESP at the University of Valencia and professor of the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the academic institution, have evaluated the impact of mobility restrictions on air quality and polluting emissions, in Valencia and in three Italian cities. “The lockdown measures improved air quality in urban areas, but not as much as expected given the alleged contribution of traffic to ambient air pollution,” explains Morales. “The restrictive mobility measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 provided a unique opportunity to improve our understanding of the impact of mobility on air pollution in urban areas.”

In the first study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the research team studied whether there were significant differences in the concentration levels of suspended particles (PM10, PM2.5, NOx, NO2, NO and O3) between the restrictions period in 2020 and the same period in 2019. The findings showed that the lockdown measures were accompanied by a significant decrease in particle concentrations, even if there was variability in various areas of the city.

María Morales says, “The greatest reductions in the levels of PM10 and PM2.5 were observed for the Center of València, València Avenida de Francia and València Pista de Silla (all of the urban traffic type)”. These solid or liquid particles of dust, ash, soot, metallic particles, cement or pollen, dispersed in the atmosphere (with a diameter between 10 and 2.5 micrometers (µm), one thousandth of a millimeter), are the most important in urban pollution as they can penetrate deep into the lungs and therefore pose significant potential health risks.

Furthermore, she adds, “there was a statistically significant decrease in NOx, NO2 and NO concentrations at the seven air monitoring stations, as well as O3 levels during the blocking period.” In this case, it is a group of gases composed of nitric oxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), their combination (NOx) and ozone (O3) that are corrosive to the skin and the respiratory tract. Prolonged exposure considerably reduces lung function, inflames the airways, and can potentially cause irreversible changes in lung tissue. In addition, it can affect the immune system and lead to less resistance to respiratory infections.

The other study evaluated the effects of the emissions that decreased during the COVID-19 period on air quality in three Italian cities, Florence, Pisa and Lucca, comparing the concentrations of PM10, PM2.5, NO2 and O3. “In this case we did not find significant reductions in the levels of suspended particles during the blocking period, except at a monitoring station in a high traffic area, which is considered a hot spot due to the consistently high levels recorded all over Tuscany,” the authors explain.

On the other hand, the work reveals that the reduction in NO2 pollution levels, consistent with other studies, was statistically significant in all air monitoring stations in the cities used in this study, which shows a relevant relationship with the traffic volume. Finally, for the levels of O3 pollutants, the researchers did not observe a significant reduction during the blocking period.

“The lockdown measures improved air quality in urban areas, but not as much as expected given the alleged contribution of traffic to ambient air pollution. It must be considered, by the authorities, that the environmental response varies according to the dominant source of emission and the specific meteorological conditions, so it would be necessary to adopt holistic control measures to improve air quality in urban environments,” adds Morales. “We believe that our results must be taken into account by policy makers to implement effective policies to counteract air pollution and place human health at the center of urban planning.”

Exposure to ambient air pollution is one of the greatest health risks worldwide. It is estimated to be responsible for around 4.2 million deaths worldwide each year due to many diseases such as heart disease, stroke, acute and chronic respiratory diseases and lung cancer.

Reduced traffic during lockdown did not improve air quality in urban areas as much as expected
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