England’s pollution levels soared during August heatwave

King George II is said to have described the British summer as, “three fine days and a thunderstorm”. Today, in our climate changed times, a few hot days, a smog alert and flash flooding would be more accurate.

In August’s weeklong heatwave, strong sunlight caused a cocktail of air pollution to form over most of England, reaching level seven on the government’s 10-point warning system. This was mostly caused by ozone forming close to the ground but a plume of particle pollution from industry, traffic and agriculture also settled over the capital on the night of 11 August.

The London mayor posted warnings on electronic displays at bus stops and tube stations. Messages were sent via the AirAlert and other services in the south-east, but you had to visit specific websites to find the warnings from central government.

During the 2003 heatwave, ozone pollution was estimated to have led to between 423 and 769 deaths in England and Wales.

Simple precautions such as avoiding exercise in the second half of the day can help to reduce exposure.

Campaigners including Simon Birkett, the founder of the Clean Air in London group, have called for this type of advice to be fully integrated into heatwave warnings and weather forecasts.

England’s pollution levels soared during August heatwave | Environment | The Guardian
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Air pollution ‘linked’ to higher risk of children developing asthma

Fine air pollutants may contribute to the development of asthma and wheezing in children, according to a study by researchers in Denmark.

They found children exposed to higher levels of fine particles in the air – known as PM2.5 – were more likely to develop asthma and persistent wheezing than children who are not exposed.

Other risk factors were having parents with asthma, having a mother who smoked during pregnancy, or having parents with low education and low income.

The findings, published in the British Medical Journal, support emerging evidence that exposure to air pollution might influence the development of asthma, said the researchers.

They noted that PM2.5 could come from various sources, including power plants, motor vehicles and domestic heating.

The study authors highlighted that the particles – about 3% or less of the diameter of a human hair – could penetrate deep into the lungs and some may even enter the circulatory system.

Short term peak exposure to pollution has been associated with worsening of asthma, by they said the risks of long-term exposure and the timing of exposure for the onset of asthma was less clear.

In addition, the role of air pollution combined with other risk factors, such as socioeconomic status, on asthma was unclear, noted the researchers.

They assessed data on more than three million Danish children born from 1997 to 2014, of which 122,842 children were later identified as having asthma and persistent wheezing.

This information was then linked to detailed air pollutant measurements at the children’s home addresses, parental asthma, maternal smoking, parental education and income.

The researchers said they found higher levels of asthma and persistent wheezing in children of parents with asthma and in children of mothers who smoked during pregnancy.

In contrast, they noted that lower levels of asthma and persistent wheezing were found in children of parents with high educational attainment and high incomes.

According to the researchers, their findings “support emerging evidence that exposure to air pollution might influence the development of asthma”.

They stated: “The findings of this study suggest that children exposed to higher levels of PM2.5 are more likely to develop asthma and persistent wheezing than children who are not exposed.

“Other risk factors associated with these outcomes were parental asthma, parental education, and maternal smoking during pregnancy,” they added.

Air pollution ‘linked’ to higher risk of children developing asthma | Nursing Times
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Study finds that air pollution is a driver of residential electricity demand


A study conducted by Associate Professor Alberto Salvo from the Department of Economics at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences revealed that households respond to ambient air pollution by increasing electricity consumption, which in turn increases the carbon emissions that are co-produced in supplying the electricity. The study, set in Singapore, revealed that better air quality will bring about climate co-benefits—in reducing electricity generation via lower household demand, and thus mitigating carbon emissions.

Associate Professor Salvo said, “Urban areas in developing Asian nations are home to an expanding base of  consumers, with  likely to remain carbon intensive for decades in the absence of major technological or regulatory shifts. Understanding what drives energy demand across the socioeconomic distribution of Singapore households can provide insight on the future energy demand of urban populations in the region’s cities as incomes rise. This is important for policymakers when forecasting and influencing future emissions paths in the context of climate change.”

The results of the study were published in the Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists in July.

The link between air pollution and household energy demand

The study examined utility meter readings of 130,000 households—a 1-in-10 random sample of all households in Singapore—from 2012 to 2015. The same household’s energy consumption was examined over time and compared with concurrent PM2.5 measurements (fine particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) from the air-monitoring network, which is the standard for measuring air .

The findings showed that overall  demand grew by 1.1 percent when PM2.5 rose by 10 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m³). The reasons were two-fold: (i) increased air pollution led to households staying indoors more to mitigate the pollution impact; and (ii) PM2.5 pollution led to the closing of windows, and running of air-conditioners and air purifiers more intensively either to reduce indoor particle levels or provide relief from indoor heat. Besides electricity, the study found that households exposed to air pollution consumed more natural gas. Another study by Associate Professor Salvo that was published in 2018 found that households consumed more water from the grid when exposed to air pollution.

In terms of research design, the study had to contend with the fact that air pollution is not only a driver of electricity demand but also a product of fossil-fuel based electricity generation. “It was necessary to separate cause from effect. To do that, periodical land burning across Southeast Asia, which causes transboundary haze, was used as an instrument,” Associate Professor Salvo said.

Delving deeper, the study found that PM2.5 had a larger percentage impact on electricity demand as household income and air conditioning access increase. It was observed that when PM2.5 increased by 10 μg/m³,  among condominium dwellers increased by 1.5 percent, compared to a 0.75 percent increase by households in one- to two-room apartments. This income differential was due to PM2.5 inducing higher-income households to turn on air-conditioners and air purifiers when at home. The 1.5 percent increase in electricity consumption is equivalent to running the air-conditioning unit for another 10 hours per month. At the time of study, 14 percent of one- and two-room apartments had air-conditioning, compared with 99 percent of condominium apartments.

To complement the observational evidence from utility meters, a review of product catalogs on air conditioners revealed that air-conditioner manufacturers promote indoor air quality as an additional product attribute to cooling. A 311-person survey on home energy behavior also found that haze pollution induced sleeping with the windows closed, less dining out, and the increased use of the air conditioner and air purifier.

Forecasting energy demand and mitigating climate change

Forty percent of the developing world’s population live in the tropics, and PM2.5 pollution ranges between 20 and 200 μg/m³. However, only 8 percent of the tropics’ three billion people currently have air conditioners, compared to 76 percent in Singapore.

Associate Professor Salvo said, “This study shows that households care about the quality of the air that they breathe, revealed through their spending on utilities, in particular, to power air-conditioners. Cleaner urban air will reduce energy demand, as households engage in less defensive behavior, and this helps to mitigate carbon emissions.”

He added, “At the same time, lower-income households are less able to afford such defensive spending on utilities. This observed inequality in defensive behavior may also exacerbate health inequalities, especially in developing countries. Overall, this research can contribute towards longer-term forecasting of  as developing Asian countries face the twin issues of a rising urban middle class exposed to air pollution, and the need to cope with climate change.”

Moving forward, Associate Professor Salvo will continue to explore—with a focus on Asia—how households respond to environmental harms and what such responses reveal about their preferences for environmental quality.

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Two new studies explore how pollution affects the brain

USC researchers are investigating the impact of fine particle pollution on child brain growth and in older women who aren’t eating enough fish.

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Apair of recently published USC studies add to our growing understanding of how fine particle pollution — the tiny, inhalable pollutants from cars and power plants — impacts our brains.

The first study, published in Environment International, found that these fine particles — known as PM2.5 — may alter the size of a child’s developing brain, which may ultimately increase the risk for cognitive and emotional problems later in adolescence.

“At this young age, the neurons in children’s brains are expanding and pruning at an incredible rate. As your brain develops, it wants to create efficient pathways,” said lead author Megan Herting, an assistant professor at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “If these pathways are altered by PM2.5 exposure, and different parts of the brain are maturing and making connections at different rates, that might set you up for individual differences later on.”

USC, located in what the American Lung Association frequently cites as the most polluted city in the nation, is home to a robust air pollution research program. Findings from its studies have led to changes in state and federal guidelines to improve air quality standards. One of its cornerstones is the USC Children’s Health Study, one of the largest and most detailed studies of the long-term effects of air pollution.

Herting’s team used MRI scans from nearly 11,000 children aged 9 and 10 from 21 cities across the United States and matched each scan with yearly pollution data for each child’s residence. This is the first study of its kind to show that, even at relatively low levels, current PM2.5 exposure may be an important environmental factor that influences patterns of brain development in American children.

When they compared highly exposed kids with those who had less exposure to PM2.5, they saw differences. For example, areas associated with emotion were larger in highly exposed kids, while other areas associated with cognitive functioning were smaller.

Herting plans to follow the progress of the children, who are part of the ABCD Study, the largest long-term study of brain health and child development in the United States.

Eating fish could help protect women’s brains against fine particle pollution
The second study, published in Neurology, found that omega-3 fatty acids from consuming fish may protect against PM 2.5-associated brain shrinkage in older women.

Previous USC research showed that women in their 70s and 80s who were exposed to higher levels of air pollution experienced greater declines in memory and more Alzheimer’s-like brain atrophy than their counterparts who breathed cleaner air.

For this study, researchers looked at the brain MRIs of 1,315 women aged 65 to 80 and blood test results to determine levels of healthy omega-3 fatty acids in their blood.

“We found that women with higher blood levels of omega-3s had larger volumes of white matter in their brains. Women living in locations with higher PM2.5 tended to have smaller white matter in their brains, but such damage that may be caused by PM2.5 was greatly reduced in women with high blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids,” said corresponding author Jiu-Chiuan Chen, an associate professor at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

The brain’s white matter, in contrast to gray matter, makes up most of the volume of the brain. It is the vast, intertwining system of neural connections that unites different regions of the brain that perform various mental operations. White matter loss may be an early marker of Alzheimer’s disease.

via Two new studies explore how pollution affects the brain

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Coronavirus: Scientists find ‘unambiguous evidence’ that Covid-19 can remain airborne


Following months of speculation and disagreement in the health community, a team of researchers has found that Covid-19 is airborne and that current social distancing guidelines could lead to more exposures and outbreaks.

Confirmation of aerosol transmission, at distances of 6.5 and 15.7 feet (2 and 4.8 metres), was made by University of Florida experts in virology and aerosol science, according to a research paper published on the preprint server medRxiv.

Their study found for the first time that Sars-Cov-2 in the form of tiny droplets known as aerosols remained viable in the air, suggesting a risk of inhaling the virus near carriers who cough, sneeze and speak.

“The public health implications are broad, especially as current best practices for limiting the spread of Covid-19 centre on social distancing, wearing of face-coverings while in proximity to others and hand-washing,” the researchers wrote.

“For aerosol-based transmission, measures such as physical distancing by six feet would not be helpful in an indoor setting, provide a false sense of security and lead to exposures and outbreaks.”

The disagreement in scientific circles as to whether coronavirus could be transmitted through the air stems from the previous detection of viral RNA in aerosols, but failure to isolate a viable virus — the difference between genetic material versus the live virus.

Researchers say they are the first to successfully sequence the genomes of Sars-CoV-2 from an air sampling, which was taken in the hospital room of a newly admitted patient. The live virus strain from the air was identical to the strain from the patient.

After months of saying Covid-19 spread mostly through close personal contact and that airborne transmission was unlikely to occur outside a hospital setting, the World Health Organisation updated its stance in July to say it couldn’t be ruled out and that more evidence was needed.

“Short-range aerosol transmission, particularly in specific indoor locations, such as crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces over a prolonged period of time with infected persons cannot be ruled out,” the WHO said in its latest advice from 9 July.

It came after 239 scientists published a paper in Clinical Infectious Diseases, titled ‘It is time to address airborne transmission of Covid-19’, calling for the recognition of aerosol transmission based on several lab studies and case reports.

Dr Linsey Marr, a Virginia Tech engineering professor with expertise in airborne transmission of viruses, said on Twitter that the University of Florida study appears to be a “smoking gun”.

“In lay terms: This study confirms, unambiguously in my view, that virus in aerosols (small enough to travel several metres) is infectious. We have suspected this and now have evidence.” Ms Marr, who was not involved in the study, said in a tweet. “If this isn’t a smoking gun, then I don’t know what is.”

via Coronavirus: Scientists find ‘unambiguous evidence’ that Covid-19 can remain airborne

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‘High’ – Air pollution warning issued for London


AIR pollution in South London has risen to high levels due to the UK heatwave.

The London Air Quality Network is reporting that the high levels of air pollution could continue across today with thunder showers predicted for tomorrow.

The network is encouraging those with conditions such as lung and heart problems, along with asthma, to reduce the amount of physical exertion they go through.

It has been advised that anyone experiencing discomfort such as sore eyes, cough or sore throat should consider reducing activity, particularly outdoors.

A spokesman said: “The weather is set for another fine day turning hot to very hot by late morning and continuing into the evening with sunshine and light winds.

“Ground level ozone production is also expected to continue in these conditions.

“Cloud is forecast for mid afternoon, with some thundery showers possible.

“Light winds from the continent are expected along with ozone and particulate import from this region.

“High levels of ozone are possible along with possible Moderate particulate levels.

“Thursday is still set to be very warm, but with a slight reduction in temperatures reaching the high twenties.

“There is a stronger possibility of thundery showers later in the afternoon.

“Easterly light winds are forecast along with pollution import from the continent as seen of late. This together with the production of ground level ozone is likely to result in ‘moderate’ levels of ozone and particulates.

“This forecast is intended to provide information on expected pollution levels in areas of significant public exposure. It may not apply in very specific locations close to unusually strong or short-lived local sources of pollution.”

via ‘High’ – Air pollution warning issued for London | Your Local Guardian

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Drivers who keep their windows down are exposed to 80 percent more air pollution

Car users from the world’s least affluent cities are exposed to a disproportionate amount of in-car air pollution because they rely heavily on opening their windows for ventilation, finds a first of its kind study from the University of Surrey.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), air pollution kills an estimated seven million people worldwide every year and nine out of 10 people breathe air with high levels of pollutants.

In a study published by the Science of the Total Environmentjournal, a global team of researchers led by Surrey’s Global Centre for Clean Air Research (GCARE) investigated air pollution exposure levels for commuters in 10 different global cities — Dhaka (Bangladesh), Chennai (India), Guangzhou (China), Medellín (Colombia), São Paulo (Brazil), Cairo (Egypt), Sulaymaniyah (Iraq), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Blantyre (Malawi), and Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania).

The research team investigated PM2.5 and PM10 exposure levels inside vehicles during peak hours in the morning and evening, as well as off-peak hours in the middle of the day. The scientists measured how exposure levels changed when drivers used recirculation systems, fans and simply opened the windows.

The study discovered that drivers in some of the world’s poorest cities experienced higher levels of in-car pollution.

Irrespective of the city and car model used, a windows-open setting showed the highest exposure, followed by fan-on and recirculation. Pollutionexposure for windows-open during off-peak hours was 91 percent and 40 percent less than morning and evening peak hours, respectively. The study also found that the windows-open setting exposed car passengers to hotspots of air pollution for up to a third of the total travel length.

The study found that commuters who turn on the recirculation are exposed to around 80 percent less harmful particles than those who open their car windows. Car cabin filters were more effective in removing pollution than fine particles, suggesting that if new cars had more efficient filters, it could reduce the overall exposure of car commuters.

Professor Prashant Kumar, Director of GCARE at the University of Surrey, said: “To be blunt, we need as many cars as possible off the road, or more green vehicles to reduce air pollution exposure. This is yet a distant dream in many ODA countries. Air-conditioned cars are unattainable for many poor and vulnerable commuters across the world, but our data is clear and coherent for all 10 participating cities.

“We must now work with our global partners to make sure they have the information needed to put in place programmes, policies and strategies to protect the most vulnerable in our communities and find realistic solutions to these serious problems.”

Professor Abdus Salam from the University of Dhaka said: “The study has drawn important conclusions that can help commuters make decisions in their day-to-day lives to protect their health. Simple choices, like travelling during off-peak hours, can go a long way in reducing their exposure to air pollution.”

Professor Adamson S. Muula from the University of Malawi said: “Working with the GCARE team and global collaborators on this study has been an insightful experience. We were given access to affordable technology to collect novel datasets that haven’t been available for cities in this part of the world. We also got to see where our cities stand in comparison to other global cities in developing countries. This has allowed for the sharing of much needed knowledge and best practices.”

Professor David Sampson, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the University of Surrey, said: “I commend Professor Kumar and his GCARE team for their continued global leadership in air quality challenges around the world. The collaborative research of the GCARE team represents best in class, taking evidence from quality science and turning it into leading-edge policy for the betterment of all.”

The study was part of the Clean Air Engineering for Cities (CArE-Cities) project. CArE-Cities is a seed funding project, awarded by the University of Surrey under the Research England’s Global Challenge Research Funds. CArE-Cities involves 11 Development Assistance Committee (DAC) listed countries and aspires to bring cleaner air to cities by building a knowledge exchange platform. Its activities include joint workshops, researchers exchange and pilot studies to address urban development and health impact assessment agendas in ODA countries.


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via Drivers who keep their windows down are exposed to 80 percent more air pollution — ScienceDaily

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Brain injuries, alcohol and air pollution among 12 preventable causes of dementia: new research


Brain injuries, excessive alcohol consumption and exposure to air pollution can all increase the risk of dementia, according to new research.

Those three actions have been added to a list of risk factors avoidable behaviours that experts believe to be responsible for approximately 40 per cent of all dementia cases.

“We’ve shown that a lot of dementia is potentially preventable and that could give individuals hope of not developing dementia, and also change things for their families and for society,” Dr. Gill Livingston, the lead author of the research and a professor of psychiatry of older people at University College London, told CTV News.

Livingston’s team estimates that three per cent of all dementia cases are caused by mid-life head injuries, two per cent by exposure to air pollution late in life, and one per cent by excessive mid-life alcohol consumption.

Given there are 50 million people living with dementia around the world, this suggests that alcohol consumption alone is responsible for approximately 500,000 cases of dementia, with air pollution being the cause of one million and head injuries 1.5 million cases. All of these numbers will likely multiply over the coming decades, the research says, as the worldwide number of dementia cases is expected to hit 152 million by 2050.

Among the previously identified dementia risk factors, the most significant are mid-life hearing loss, education and smoking in later life.

“I think that very few people know that the biggest risk factor for dementia is … hearing loss and mid-life,” Livingston said.

Lesser risk factors, in order of significance, include depression, social isolation, physical inactivity, mid-life hypertension, mid-life obesity and diabetes.

The research was compiled by 28 leading dementia experts and published Thursday in The Lancet.

Nalini Sen, the director of research at the Alzheimer Society of Canada, said she believes the specifics the research offers around blood pressure, alcohol consumption and other health indicators is beneficial.

“By providing those parameters, we’re given better guidance and information … to make informed decisions and to take control of our health,” she said.

“The more information we have, the better it’ll be for us.”

More than 20 units of alcohol per week approximately two bottles of wine is considered excessive.

Dr. Kenneth Rockwood, a geriatric medicine professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, described the research as important, in part because there is no cure or effective long-term treatment for dementia only ways to prevent the memory loss and cognitive decline it causes.

“When I started in this field in the late 1970s, the notion of … prevention was felt to be unreasonable,” he told CTV News.

“Now, we’ve begun to realize in the last 20 years that it looks like we can prevent dementia, to some extent.”

That discovery is increasingly important as the world’s population ages, Rockwell said. The oldest baby boomers will turn 75 in 2021, entering the age bracket where dementia is most likely to strike.

To that end, the experts also offered nine recommendations to help prevent future cases of dementia, some aimed at governments and others at individuals. The list includes:

  • Maintaining systolic blood pressure at or below 130 mm Hg from the age of 40 onward
  • Encouraging the use of hearing aids and protecting ears from high noise levels
  • Reducing exposure to air pollution and secondhand smoke
  • Preventing head injuries, in part by targeting high-risk occupations
  • Limiting alcohol consumption to less than 21 units per week
  • Stopping smoking and governmental anti-smoking measures
  • Providing all children with primary and secondary education
  • Leading an active life into the mid-life years, and perhaps even later
  • Reducing obesity and diabetes

The experts say evidence from countries where dementia rates have fallen suggests that taking these actions and addressing the risk factors can make a significant difference in preventing dementia cases.

“Putting all of these things into effect will not only reduce the risk of dementia, but make people more likely to live a better, healthier life with increased quality of life and without side effects,” Livingston said.

Those changes don’t have to start at a young age. Both Livingston and Rockwell stressed that even for those already moving into retirement, there is still time to adopt behaviours that can reduce the risk of dementia.

“For people who are in their 70s and feel ‘This doesn’t mean anything to me because it is too late for me,’ that’s not true,” Rockwell said.

“It’s never too late. It’s never too late to stop smoking. It’s never too late to moderate your drinking. It’s never too late to engage in physical exercise.”

via https://123news.ca/brain-injuries-alcohol-and-pollution-among-12-preventable-causes-of-dementia-new-research/


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