Signficant Air Pollution Plagues Almost All U.S. National Parks

Ozone and other pollutants are obscuring views, hurting plants and causing health concerns for visitors at 96 percent of parks

joshua_tree_hazeNational parks are places people often go to get away from the problems of urban life. But a new report from the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) reveals that a trip to the Rocky Mountains or Yosemite won’t help you escape one major problem of the city: air pollution. According to the report, 96 percent of the United States’ 416 national parks have significant air quality issues.

Researchers found that at times, 85 percent of parks have air that is unhealthy to breathe, reports Earther’s Yessenia Fuentes. About 89 percent of parks also suffer from haze, which reduces iconic views. At 88 percent of the parks, the problem is bad enough to affect sensitive plants and animals. For example, the study points out that at high altitudes, nitrogen from air pollution deposited by rain is causing Rocky Mountain National Park to lose its flowering plants, which are being replaced by grasses.

The most impacted spots are some of the most popular. California’s parks in particular suffer from poor air quality, according to the study. Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Joshua Tree national parks and Mojave National Preserve have dangerous levels of air pollution for more than two months per year, mostly in the summer season when they see the most visitors.

The culprit is primarily ozone, a pollutant that can trigger asthma attacks, irritate the throat and lungs and cause breathing problems in both the elderly and children. Gabrielle Canon at The Guardian reports that a study released last year in the journal Science Advances found that the average ozone concentration in 33 of the most-visited national parks was the same as those found in the 20 largest urban areas in the U.S. Currently, 330 million people visit U.S. national parks each year, meaning millions of susceptible people are being exposed to unhealthy conditions.

“The poor air quality in our national parks is both disturbing and unacceptable,” Theresa Pierno, President and CEO of the NPCA says in a press release. “Nearly every single one of our more than 400 national parks is plagued by air pollution. If we don’t take immediate action to combat this, the results will be devastating and irreversible.”

Taking action means addressing the primary cause of the bad air, most of which does not originate in the parks themselves. The biggest sources of pollution come from coal-fired power plants, transportation, and oil and gas development. Transitioning to cleaner energy and transportation are the primary ways to reduce air pollution levels.

While there are some signs that coal-powered plants are losing steam, emissions actually rose 1.8 percent in 2018 after steady declines during the previous decade. And there are concerns that air pollution will get worse if the U.S. continues its current policies. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency enforcement action against polluters has dropped by 85 percent in the last few years. Without action on these larger issues, the outlook for the parks remains hazy.

Canon reports that a 1999 policy, the Regional Haze Rule requires states to come up with plans for addressing pollution in the parks by 2021 and implement the strategies by 2028. The ultimate goal is to return parks to pre-pollution levels by 2064. But so far little progress has been made, and some parks won’t reach those levels for hundreds of years at the current pace of cleanup.

But national parks are beloved by people across the ideological spectrum, and Stephanie Kodish, clean air program director for the NPCA, tells Canon she thinks pointing out the impact on the nation’s crown jewels might spur everyone to action. “I hope that people think about our national parks as bipartisan unifiers,” she says. “That the connection to our national parks is one that can help preserve our future, our history, our culture. For the American people, they should serve as a reminder – and a warning cry.”

via Signficant Air Pollution Plagues Almost All U.S. National Parks | Smart News | Smithsonian

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Dust, high temperatures bring Delhi’s air quality down to ‘poor’

The Aravalli range plays a critical role in checking sand migration from the Thar Desert to Delhi-NCR; but they now stand degraded

0.47824200_1557233771_dustSince the evening of May 6, the particulate matter 10 (PM10) concentration in Delhi has plunged to the ‘very poor’ category taking the overall air quality down to poor. This is primarily due to the dust coming in from the dry west Rajasthan, accelerated by high temperatures and high surface winds.

Dust particles from Rajasthan are drifting towards the National Capital Region (NCR), causing a dip in the air quality in Delhi. The average concentration of coarser particles like PM10 in Delhi is more than three times the standard.

The urban heat island effect has led to the formation of a low pressure over Delhi, which is causing the movement of the wind towards the capital. The direction of the wind currently is west-south-west bringing in dust from Rajasthan.

During summers, the mixing height is usually high, allowing the dispersion of pollutants and less accumulation near the ground surface. Further, the current wind speed in Delhi is very high — close to 10-15 kilometre per hour — which is simultaneously cleaning the air.

According to the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), air quality will remain in the ‘very poor’ category until May 8, following which it will improve due to expected western disturbance and thunderstorm. However, it has also forecasted an occasional episode of sudden peak in dust at isolated places within Delhi.

For more than 3 billion years, the Aravallis have stood strong against the advance of the Thar Desert towards the fertile soils of eastern Rajasthan and the Indo-Gangetic plains — preventing dust from entering Delhi.

However, now, the oldest mountain chain stands degraded — the range has shrunk by 40 per cent over the last four decades. The Aravalli range plays a critical role in checking the wind velocity and evaporation to prevent sand migration from the Thar Desert to Delhi-NCR.

via Dust, high temperatures bring Delhi’s air quality down to ‘poor’

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City of Amsterdam to ban polluting cars from 2030

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Gasoline and diesel fueled cars and motorcycles will be banned from Amsterdam from 2030 in an effort to clean up the city’s air, the Dutch capital’s council said on Thursday.

“Pollution often is a silent killer and is one of the greatest health hazards in Amsterdam,” said the city’s traffic councillor, Sharon Dijksma.

Despite the widespread use of bicycles by many Dutch, air pollution in the Netherlands is worse than European rules permit, mainly due to heavy traffic in the cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

The health ministry has warned that current levels of nitrogen dioxide and particle matter emissions can lead to respiratory illnesses, with chronic exposure shortening life expectancy by more than a year.

Amsterdam said it aims to replace all gasoline and diesel engines by emission-free alternatives, such as electric and hydrogen cars, by the end of the next decade.

It will start next year by banning diesel cars built before 2005 from the city, and will gradually expand the range of vehicles that are barred.

The city said it will use subsidies and parking permits to stimulate people to switch to cleaner cars.

via City of Amsterdam to ban polluting cars from 2030 – Reuters

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Diagnosing urban air pollution exposure with new precision

A new review of studies on levels of urban exposure to airborne pollutants and their effects on human health suggests that advanced instrumentation and information technology will soon allow researchers and policymakers to gauge the health risks of air pollution on an individual level.

In New York City alone, the economic impact of premature death from causes related to air pollution, including asthma and other respiratory conditions and cardiovascular complications, exceeds $30.7 billion a year. Globally, 4.2 million deaths per year are attributable to airborne pollution, making it the fifth-ranking mortality risk factor according to a 2015 study published in the Lancet.

An interdisciplinary research team from New York University, led by Masoud Ghandehari, an associate professor in NYU Tandon’s Department of Civil and Urban Engineering and the Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP), published a comprehensive review of recent efforts to assess the impact of air pollution exposure in cities.

Ghandehari’s co-authors are Andrew Caplin, Silver Professor in the NYU Department of Economics; Paul Glimcher, Silver Professor and professor of neural science and psychology; George Thurston, NYU School of Medicine professor in the Departments of Environmental Medicine and Population Health; and Chris Lim, a recent Ph.D. graduate of the School of Medicine.

Their paper, published in Nature Communications, explains how data gleaned from environmental sensors mounted on buildings and lamp poles, as well as mobile and wearable sensors, were combined with information on socioeconomic status, commuting patterns, and lifestyle habits such as outdoor exercise to develop models of pollution exposures at the neighborhood level. Such studies were conducted in major urban centers, including New York City, Hong Kong, and San Francisco, and informed public policy on air pollution limits and climate action strategies.

Yet the authors argue that advanced sensing and information technologies can be used to even greater advantage, offering the potential for far more granular assessments—at the level of the individual. “One of the questions we want to answer is how different people experience pollution, and why?” Ghandehari said.

He explained that population-level assessments overlook factors such as personal mobility—including commuting by car, bus, bicycle, or on foot, and often do not consider indoor climate control conditions or life stage. For example, students and working adults are more mobile than older people and are therefore more exposed, while children experience lifelong adversities.

Socioeconomic status is also a known factor for increased exposure to airborne pollutants as well as increased risk of asthma and cardiovascular disease. “People from all points on the economic spectrum live in polluted areas, yet they often have different health outcomes,” Ghandehari said. “Using technology to study individual associations between air pollution and health outcomes—rather than group associations—will yield evidence-based arguments for change that would particularly impact individuals at higher risk of negative health impacts.”

via Diagnosing urban air pollution exposure with new precision

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‘Dangerously high’ levels of air pollution found in Northern Ireland

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Poisonous air across Northern Ireland is contributing to illness and early death for many people, it has been claimed.

The stark warning comes as an investigation into air quality in Belfast revealed “dangerously high” levels of pollutants.

Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were so high in some areas that it breached legal limits at 30 sites across the city.

An environmental group monitored levels of NO2 for several weeks, providing a snapshot of NO2 pollution.

NO2 is a toxic gas which inflames the lining of the lungs.

The results found levels of NO2 pollution breaching legal limits at 30 sites across Belfast and North Down.

The group claimed that particularly high readings were recorded outside the Royal Victoria Hospital and at the Belfast Metropolitan College Millfield Campus.

The legal annual limit for NO2 is 40 micrograms per cubic metre, however, there are no safe levels of exposure to air pollution.

The air quality samples were collected using diffusion tubes situated at over 100 sites then processed and analysed by a laboratory.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) test air quality at 18 sites across Northern Ireland with nine in the greater Belfast area.

Green Party leader Clare Bailey warned that polluted, poisonous air across towns and cities in Northern Ireland is contributing to illness and early death for many people.

“This is an important study alerting us to an air pollution emergency across Belfast and beyond,” she said.

“Clean air is a human right, but many of us are breathing in heavily polluted and poisonous air each and every day.

“Air pollution is often invisible, with residents in heavily polluted areas not realising the extent of the problem and the resulting health impacts.

“Some of the most concerning levels of NO2 were recorded across inner city working class communities, with heavy traffic prevalent.

“The scientific evidence on the effects of air pollution is well documented and mounting.”

Respiratory symptoms, asthma prevalence and certain types of cancer can all be attributed to air pollution.

New studies have linked the problem with dementia and complications during pregnancy.

“Urgent action is required to address this public health emergency,” Ms Bailey added.

“NO2 pollution is closely linked with vehicle emissions, particularly diesel engines. A green transport strategy aimed at reducing the number of vehicles on our roads and increasing access to public transport is long overdue.

“The Department must also commit to increased air quality monitoring. Eighteen testing sites across Northern Ireland is inadequate.

“Communities are suffering from the poisonous effects of air pollution often without realising the harmful effects of the air they are breathing.

“I also want to see the introduction of a Clean Air Act which enshrines clean air as a human right and updates the legislation for modern fuels and technologies to reduce harmful air emissions and protect human health and the environment.”

via ‘Dangerously high’ levels of air pollution found in Northern Ireland – The Irish News

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Gasping for air in Kabul

In winter, Afghanistan’s capital city, Kabul, is not for the faint-hearted—below-zero temperatures are not uncommon and snowfalls are frequent and sometimes heavy. With an average temperature of -1°C, January is the coldest month, with occasional drops to -25°C. Located at a high altitude of approximately 1,800 m above sea level, in a narrow valley between the Hindu Kush mountains, Kabul is one the world’s highest capitals.

Afghanistan has, for many years, borne the brunt of a much-publicized protracted armed conflict. Meanwhile, away from the glare of publicity, Afghans—and in particular Kabul’s six million residents—are wrestling with another silent but deadly killer: air pollution.

“In the past, the air was nice and less contaminated in Kabul city,” says Nadira Rashidi, a long-time city resident. “We had a lower population, and more rainfall. Prior to the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, people were keen to plant trees in their residential compounds and in communal spaces. They were also keen to take collective action in cleaning different areas. This is called hashar in Afghanistan.”

Like any major city, Kabul has various sources of air pollution. For several weeks in a row, most often in the cold winter months, the city gets blanketed by a toxic haze of particulate matter—small and often invisible particles of dust and soot.

Under normal circumstances, warm air close to the ground gradually rises, carrying pollutants with it and dispersing them. However, when cold air remains close to the ground—under a so-called thermal inversion—pollution accumulates at the ground level.

Sources of air pollution include old cars, poor quality fuel, people burning trash, industrial brick kilns, small-scale smelting plants and foundries. That’s in addition to pollution coming from bakeries, restaurants and wedding halls as well as power plants, generators, household cooking stoves and heaters.

A comprehensive analysis of air pollution in Kabul has not yet been conducted. However, there have been measurements to assess levels of particulate matter, oxides of nitrogen, oxides of sulfur and carbon monoxide.

The government is responsible for air quality monitoring in Kabul and it is now conducting spot monitoring of air quality around the city using portable equipment.

Many people are also using the AirVisual website or its mobile app for information on Kabul’s air quality. However, this information may not always be reliable or representative of the actual situation, as it comes from a single data point in one of the most congested areas of the city. There is thus a need for more comprehensive and accurate monitoring of air pollution to provide more reliable data.

“Human beings play an important role in polluting the environment. Women play an important role in this regard as they must raise and train their children. With an increase in air pollution, we are seeing a new generation whose growth is stunted. Pollution also negatively impacts pregnant women and their unborn children. Toxic air also causes respiratory diseases and even cancer,” says Nadira who is also Head of Gender at the National Environmental Protection Agency.

According to the State of Global Air 2019 report, current levels of air pollution have reduced worldwide life expectancy by one year and eight months. This means a person born today will die 20 months sooner, on average, than would be expected in the absence of air pollution. The report also notes that toxic air reduces average life expectancy by almost as much as tobacco use.

The problem posed by air pollution has drawn the attention of Afghan legislators. In December 2018, the Wolesi Jirga, the country’s Lower House of Parliament met officials from the Ministry of Public Health and the National Environmental Protection Agency to discuss air quality.

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In response to these concerns, and in consultation with the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the UN Environment team in Kabul conducted a rapid assessment of the concentration of airborne particulate matter of 10 micrometres or less in diameter (PM10) in the UN Operational Complex in Afghanistan and the UNAMA Alpha Compound.

The assessment comprised measurements taken every 15 minutes over several days in January and February 2019 under various weather conditions (clear and overcast skies, rain, snow, etc.). Measurements were taken using Thermo Fischer Scientific PDR 1000 monitors that measure real-time presence of atmospheric particulate matter.

In the UN Operational Complex, indoor concentrations of PM10 were 53.9 per cent lower than outdoor concentrations without use of an air purifier. With an air purifier, indoor PM10concentrations that were 98.9 per cent lower than outdoors and 97.3 per cent lower than indoor concentrations without an air purifier.

At the Alpha Compound, comparisons of the readings between outdoors and indoors revealed a significant difference, with indoor concentrations of PM10 being 36.4 per cent lower than outdoor concentrations.

“The World Health Organization air quality guidelines for PM10 consider an average of 50 µg.m‑3 per 24-hour period as being permissible. The assessment showed that using an air purifier can be very effective in improving indoor air quality to conform with World Health Organization guidelines,” says Dirk Snyman, UN Environment’s Action on Climate Expert in Afghanistan.

“However, there is need for a scientifically robust assessment of air quality using a larger number of air quality monitoring devices in multiple locations and over much longer monitoring periods. The results of this rapid assessment are thus only indicative and exploratory and should be interpreted as such,” says Snyman.

Since the beginning of March 2019, UNAMA Mission Support has undertaken continuous monitoring of airborne particulate matter in the UN Operational Complex in Afghanistan using an Aeroqual S500 monitor. During this period, all readings were below the WHO guideline values.

Learn more about the global #BreatheLife campaign, led by the World Health Organization, UN Environment and the Climate & Clean Air Coalition, which supports a range of cleaner air initiatives that cover 55 cities, regions, and countries, reaching over 153 million people.

 

Air pollution is the theme for World Environment Day on 5 June 2019. The quality of the air we breathe depends on the lifestyle choices we make every day. Learn more about how air pollution affects you, and what is being done to clean the air. What are you doing to reduce your emissions footprint and #BeatAirPollution?

The 2019 World Environment Day is hosted by China.

via Gasping for air in Kabul | UN Environment

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One in six people dying of lung cancer in UK are non-smokers, experts say

Scientists blame rise on car fumes, secondhand smoke and soot from wood-burning stoves

5136Growing numbers of non-smokers are being diagnosed with lung cancer, many at a stage when it is incurable, experts in the disease have revealed.

They blame the rise on car fumes, secondhand smoke and indoor air pollution, and have urged people to stop using wood-burning stoves because the soot they generate increases risk.

About 6,000 non-smoking Britons a year now die of the disease, more than lose their lives to ovarian or cervical cancer or leukaemia, according to research published on Friday in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

That is about a sixth of the 36,000 deaths a year from lung cancer.

“If considered as a separate entity, lung cancer in never-smokers is the eighth most common cause of cancer-related death in the UK and the seventh most prevalent cancer in the world,” the authors state.

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A “never-smoker” is classed as someone who has smoked fewer than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime.

The authors include Prof Paul Cosford, Public Health England’s director for health protection and medical director, and Prof Mick Peake, the director of the centre for cancer outcomes at University College London hospitals.

“With declining rates of smoking, the relative proportion of lung cancers in never-smokers is rising,” they said. “In addition, the absolute numbers and rates of lung cancers in never-smokers are increasing.”

Cosford – himself a non-smoker with lung cancer – said: “People will find these numbers very surprising. They rarely think of lung cancer as a non-smoker’s disease. They’re so focused on smoking as the main risk factor that we forget that there are quite a few causes of lung cancer that affect non-smokers.

“From a personal perspective, when I knew I was ill I never thought I would have lung cancer as I wasn’t a smoker. There’s an emerging realisation that this is a health problem we need to get supportive about.”

The difficulty identifying lung cancer means that many non-smokers are diagnosed when it has reached stage three or four, which means that treatment may prolong their life, but they cannot be cured.

Patients are often misdiagnosed, especially by GPs, and have their symptoms mistaken for something else, such as muscular pain, partly because they are similar to those for other ailments.

Breathing in secondhand smoke – for example being brought up in a home where one or both parents smoke – is the single biggest risk factor for a non-smoker getting lung cancer, the paper says. That accounts for 15% of the 6,000 cases.

Exposure to carcinogens in the workplace, such as asbestos, are to blame for 20.5% of lung cancers in non-smoking men and 4.3% in non-smoking women.

Outdoor air pollution is also a key factor, accounting for 8% of cases in non-smokers. It is thought to lead directly to the death of 39,000 Britons every year from a range of medical conditions, including lung cancer.

Wood and coal-burning stoves used indoors are also a risk, added Cosford. “I would like a nice wood-burning stove and used to have one. But we can’t get away from the fact that we are producing air pollution by burning wood and coal in our houses.

“The best thing is not to do it, but if you do do it then use the latest technology stove, use seasoned wood and have good ventilation.”

Richard Steyn, a consultant thoracic surgeon in the NHS and the chair of the UK Lung Cancer Coalition, said: “Apart from avoiding passive smoke, areas of high air pollution and wearing protective breathing apparatus in specific occupations, there is not a great deal that someone who does not smoke can do to avoid the risk.”

Health professionals need to be more aware that a non-smoker could have lung cancer in order to improve earlier diagnosis, he added.

“GPs and hospital doctors working in the NHS need to be more aware of the fact that lung cancer does occur in people who have never smoked and that as a disease in itself is more common than many other cancers that have a much higher profile, such as cancers of the cervix, ovary and the leukaemias.

“Many patients who have never smoked who develop lung cancer have their diagnosis delayed because of this lack of recognition so many of them have very advanced disease by the time they get to specialist care.”

via One in six people dying of lung cancer in UK are non-smokers, experts say | Society | The Guardian

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What are the ten towns with the worst air pollution in France?

Residents of Brittany and Normandy were warned this week that sand particles from the Sahara desert were adding to already high pollution levels in their regions. But where are the ten towns with the worst air pollution in France?
Earlier this week locals in Brittany were ordered to reduce their speed when driving and told that outdoor sporting activities should be avoided by anyone with pre-existing health issues due to the level of pollution which had been exacerbated by sand arriving from the Sahara.

Each year more than 500 French cities exceed the recommended concentration limit of fine particles in the air, with 48,000 deaths in France related to fine-particle air pollution each year, according to the latest report from the country’s Ministry of Ecological Transition and Solidarity.

For PM2.5 particles – basically the particles of air that are the most dangerous to a person’s health – the World Health Organisation (WHO) has set an upper limit of 10 micrograms of dirty air particles. If this was achieved, it would help dramatically cut the number of deaths caused by pollution.

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However a total of 500 French cities exceed this concentration limits of fine particles in the air each year.
The main reasons behind this are road traffic and wood fires, with good weather and mild temperatures also playing a role in pollution peaks.
Here are the towns and cities in France that had the worst pollution in 2018, according to a report by air quality information site AirVisual.
1. Saint-Denis (Seine-Saint-Denis), 17,6 μg/m3
2. Saint-Mandé (Val-de-Marne) 16,2 μg/m3
3. Paris 15,6 μg/m3
4. Valenciennes (Nord) 15,3 μg/m3
5. Douai (Nord) 15 μg/m3
6. Roubaix (Nord) 14,9 μg/m3
7. Salaise-sur-Sanne (Isère) 14,7 μg/m3
8. Strasbourg (Bas-Rhin) 14,4 μg/m3
9. Lille (Nord) 14,3 μg/m3
10. Saint-Quentin (Aisne) 14,3 μg/m3
On a more positive note, France’s Ministry of Ecological Transition and Solidarity said that “the implementation of various strategies and action plans led to an overall improvement in air quality” between 2007 and 2017, adding that pollutants are decreasing.

via What are the ten towns with the worst air pollution in France? – The Local

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