Study links childhood air pollution exposure to poorer mental health

Research found that those who grow up amid heavy traffic pollution have higher rates of mental illness by age 18

Children and young people who grow up amid heavy traffic-related air pollution have higher rates of mental illness by the time they are 18, new research has found.

There is a link between exposure to nitrogen oxides and particulate matter in childhood and the development of disorders such as anxiety and depression, the academics said.

The findings are from a 25-year-long joint British/American study of 2,039 children – all twins – born in England and Wales during 1994 and 1995, whose mental health was assessed at 18.

“These results collectively suggest that youths persistently exposed to moderate levels of nitrogen oxide air pollution may experience greater overall liability to psychiatric illness by young adulthood”, the authors concluded.

The link between air pollution and risk of mental illness is “modest” but real, they added. The association was also “a liability independent of other individual, family and neighbourhood influences on mental health”, such as poverty and family history of mental disorder.

Dr Helen Fisher, the study’s co-author, said: “This study has demonstrated that children growing up in our biggest cities face a greater risk of mental illness due to higher levels of traffic.

“While we might like to think of our towns and cities as green and open spaces, it’s clear that there is a hidden danger that many will not have even considered.”

Fisher was the principal investigator of the study at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, which also involved Duke University in the US.

Participants’ mental health was measured when they were 18 using an assessment of symptoms for ten common psychiatric disorders, such as ADHD, anxiety and alcohol dependence. That was used to calculate a measure of their mental health called the psychopathology factor or p-factor. Those with a higher p-factor score displayed more of those symptoms.

The researchers found that those who had the highest exposure to nitrogen oxides scored 2.62 points higher on the general psychopathology score than their peers in the bottom three quartiles. Those exposed to the most particulate matter scored 2.04 points more than their peers.

Andy Bell, deputy chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health thinktank, said: “We know from research that our mental health is determined by the lives we lead, the environments we’re in and our experiences from our early years onwards. A child’s mental health is influenced by many factors, including their home, school, community and neighbourhood.

“We know that poverty, racism, trauma and exclusion are major risks to mental health. As today’s research shows, our physical environment matters too, and making places safer, cleaner and healthier to live in will have lifelong benefits.”

Pollution has already been identified as an aggravating factor for poor heart and lung health and ailments of the central nervous system, and also as a risk for mental illness. Nine out of ten people worldwide are exposed to high levels of pollution, according to the World Health Organization.

Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, said that while the study did show an association between traffic fumes and mental ill-heath, “what they can’t do is to show that it’s the high air pollution that actually causes the poorer mental health.”

Study links childhood air pollution exposure to poorer mental health | Air pollution | The Guardian
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Aerosols overtake cars as source of smog pollutant, research suggests

Household aerosols – including deodorants, air fresheners and furniture polish – have overtaken cars as a source of polluting smog chemicals in the UK, research suggests.

The study led to calls for people to use roll-on deodorant  and hair gel, with small lifestyle changes potentially leading to large changes in air quality.

Researchers looked into the emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are less damaging than chlorofluorocarbons that they replaced in the 1980s but can cause photochemical smog when combined with nitrogen oxide in sunlight.

Making just small changes in what we buy could have a major impact on both outdoor and indoor air quality, and have relatively little impact on our lives” – Professor Alastair Lewis

They found that while vehicles were responsible for most VOC emissions into the 2000s, the use of catalytic converters on vehicles and fuel vapour recovery at filling stations has led to a rapid decline.

Conversely, the global amount of VOCs emitted from aerosols every year is rising as lower and middle-income economies grow and people in these countries increase their consumption.

The world’s population now uses more than 25 billion cans per year and this is estimated to lead to the release of 1.3 million tonnes of VOC air pollution annually, and could rise to 2.2 million tonnes by 2050.

The paper, published in Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene, said the UK emitted around 60,000 tonnes of VOCs from aerosols in 2017, around double the amount from cars running on petrol.

Professor Alastair Lewis, a Director of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, said: “Virtually all aerosol based consumer products can be delivered in non-aerosol form, for example as dry or roll-on deodorants, bars of polish not spray.

“Making just small changes in what we buy could have a major impact on both outdoor and indoor air quality, and have relatively little impact on our lives.”

93% The percentage of current aerosol emissions by mass which are VOCs

The University of York academic added: “The widespread switching of aerosol propellant with non-VOC alternatives would lead to potentially meaningful reductions in surface ozone.

“Given the contribution of VOCs to ground-level pollution, international policy revision is required and the continued support of VOCs as a preferred replacement for halocarbons is potentially not sustainable for aerosol products longer term.”

VOCs are currently used in around 93% of all aerosols, the study said, with researchers calling for the use of less damaging nitrogen as a propellant and wider awareness of how polluting VOCs can be.

Professor Lewis said: “Labelling of consumer products as high VOC emitting – and clearly linking this to poor indoor and outdoor air quality – may drive change away from aerosols to their alternatives, as has been seen previously with the successful labelling of paints and varnishes.”

Aerosols overtake cars as source of smog pollutant, research suggests – The Irish News
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Greece taken to court over Thessaloniki air pollution

Greece is being taken to task by the European Commission for failing to curb consistently high air pollution levels in the northern port city of Thessaloniki.

According to an announcement on Monday, the country is being referred to the European Court after failing to address concerns expressed in two letters from the Commission regarding the air quality in Thessaloniki, which has been consistently below acceptable levels every year, except 2013, since 2005. 

The Commission first issued a warning in 2009 and repeated it in 2013, it said. 

By “systematically and consistently exceeding the limit values for PM10 concentrations as regards the daily limit value since 2005” in Thessaloniki, Greece, according to the announcement, has “failed to fulfill its obligations” to minimize harmful effects on human health and the environment as a whole.

Greece taken to court over Thessaloniki air pollution | eKathimerini.com
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Wall of sand engulfs Chinese town

A towering wall of sand rushed over factories and apartment blocks in northwestern China’s Gansu province as seasonal sandstorms barrelled across the country, causing air pollution and traffic accidents.

Aerial images as it struck showed an apocalyptic scene as a billowing cloud of yellow dust smothered Gansu’s Linze county on Sunday.

State media CCTV reported multiple car accidents in the province caused by low visibility, while meteorologists have warned people to stay indoors and keep windows shut with more storms expected across northern China on Tuesday.

China suffers from enormous dust storms each spring that lift sand from the Gobi desert and dump it onto cities as far away as Shandong on the eastern coast.

A sandstorm that pushed air pollution levels off the charts hit Beijing in March, turning the sky a dark yellow and forcing airlines to cancel hundreds of flights.

It was the worst sandstorm in a decade to hit the capital, which has pinned hopes of rebuilding a natural barrier to such phenomena on intensive tree replanting in stripped forest areas, also known as the “green great wall”.

Beijing said last year it expected fewer and weaker sandstorms to hit northern China due to the reforestation efforts.

Wall of sand engulfs Chinese town – France 24
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Chinese air pollution data was altered, statistical analysis suggests

Official Chinese air pollution data has previously shown evidence of manipulation when compared with data from US embassies in the same cities. The Chinese government has already taken action against the local officials involved, but now an independent statistical analysis shows the extent of the manipulation.

Jesse Turiel at Harvard University and Robert Kaufmann at Boston University looked at data from official Chinese monitoring stations as well as readings collected by US embassies in five cities: Beijing, Shenyang, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu. They found that there were regular divergences in the amount of PM2.5, a size of particulate with proven links to lung cancer, asthma and heart disease, recorded by Chinese and US stations.

The researchers looked at data from between 2015 and 2017, at which point the US stopped collecting data. They noticed a statistically unlikely amount of days on which pollution levels were just below the limit imposed by China’s “blue sky” policy, which created an index for each city where results at 100 or above were deemed too high and results 99 or below were acceptable.

“What that encouraged therefore, was any days that were close to 100 you’d just report 99, 98, 97,” says Turiel. “You could see this in the data. There was a very obvious bubble right below 100 and a very low proportion right at 100. People will use creative methods if they can get away with it.”

The divergences were 40 per cent more frequent than would be expected by chance, and 63 per cent of the discrepancies saw the Chinese data lower than the US readings. It was also more common to see misreporting on the days with the worst pollution, which is when the worst associated health effects are found.

Although these data discrepancies have been noted before, the pair’s work is the first time a robust statistical analysis has ruled out the possibility of it happening by chance.

The Chinese environment ministry announced in 2017 that 1140 officials were “held to account” for violating pollution rules after inspections the prior year. In early 2018 it said that it had caught officials from seven cities manipulating data.

Turiel doesn’t know whether crackdowns have stopped the problem, and US embassy data is no longer available to check. There is, however, evidence to suggest that air quality in Chinese cities improved during the period of the study.  The US data shows that annual concentrations of PM2.5 fell by more than 25 per cent between 2013 and 2017.

Turiel and Kaufmann believe that their statistical approach could be used by governments to spot fraud within local government and guide enforcement.

Chinese air pollution data was altered, statistical analysis suggests | New Scientist
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Four in 10 Americans live in counties with unhealthy air pollution levels

  1. Fairbanks, Alaska, Los Angeles and California cities get F rating
  2. American Lung Association tracks particle and ozone pollution

New research from the American Lung Association finds that more than four in 10 people – a whopping 135 million in the US – live in counties with unhealthy levels of particle or ozone pollution.

In their 22nd annual “State of the Air” report, released on Wednesday, the group examined federal data on the two most widespread types of air pollution to create a comprehensive overview of toxic air across the country. The annual air quality “report card” identifies the parts of the country with the most polluted air, and gives them a letter grade (from A to F). This year, it also found that people of color were three times as likely to live in the nation’s most polluted places.

“It’s important for people to know the quality of the air they breathe,” says Katherine Pruitt, national senior director for policy at the American Lung Association. “We feel there are way more people compared to last year living in unhealthy places for particle pollution.”

For their analysis, researchers examined data collected by federal, state, and local and tribal governments from 2017, 2018, and 2019 – the three years with the most recent quality-assured air pollution data. The most widespread outdoor air pollutants, ozone pollution and particle pollution, were analyzed.

Cities with the worst, year-round particle pollution include Fairbanks, Alaska, and a slew of cities in California, including Los Angeles and Bakersfield. “California has, unfortunately, always struggled at the top of all of our lists,” Pruitt says.

That might be surprising, considering California is known as an environmental leader when compared with other states. But the state has ideal conditions for bad air with lots of shipping, trucking and mountain ranges that create bowls where air pollution can be trapped. She adds that a key reason for the increase in air pollution was climate-change-fueled wildfires. “It’s like a perfect storm for air pollution.”

There are other ways a warming world is dirtying up the air. Ozone, commonly known as smog, is created when a combination of tailpipe, power plant and other health-harming emissions bake in sunlight and heat. “As the climate is starting to warm, we’re starting to see that the ozone is more likely to form,” Pruitt says, leading to more high ozone days, which leads to more adverse health consequences. Breathing polluted air for long periods of time can damage a person’s lungs and make it more difficult to fight respiratory disease, for instance.

The report’s findings – 135 million people live with dirty air – seem to be a slight improvement over last year, where 150 million people in the US were found to live in counties that flunked their air grade.

“Last year’s report was really quite bad,” Pruitt says. This year’s report did not look at data from 2017 to 2019, but the last three reports included the year 2016, “the hottest year on record. Getting rid of that really hot year, we had fewer places that had Fs for ozone compared to last year.”

This year’s state of the air report does not include 2020, when the pandemic idled swaths of the economy and consequently helped slash emissions. “We won’t know the impact of the pandemic on the air quality itself until our report next year,” Pruitt says, “It’s looking a lot more complicated than people thought it was last at this time. But we do know that people living in more polluted places are more likely to have bad outcomes from Covid-19.”

But Pruitt also points out that some trends are positive – thanks in part to the Clean Air Act, the principal piece of legislation responsible for reducing air pollution in the US since its passing in 1963. “It’s been subject to the vagaries of politics over the last 50 years,” Pruitt says. “We need to keep it intact.” Still, she adds, air quality standards for ozone and particle pollution are not strong enough to protect public health. The Trump administration relaxed the current standards.

“We’re asking the Biden administration to go back and re-evaluate those standards,” Pruitt says. “Because we believe they need to be strengthened.”

Four in 10 Americans live in counties with unhealthy air pollution levels | US news | The Guardian

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UK should set tougher air pollution limits, says Kissi-Debrah coroner

The UK government should impose tougher limits on air pollution, in line with World Health Organization recommendations, to prevent more deaths like those of 9-year old Ella Kissi-Debrah, a coroner has urged.

An inquest last year by coroner Philip Barlow into the death of Kissi-Debrah in 2013 found that her exposure to dangerously dirty air in London had played a material role. She lived and walked to school in an area of south London that frequently breached UK limits for air pollution.

In a report published today on preventing future deaths, Barlow made three recommendations. He told the government to bolster the UK’s air pollution limits, noting that they currently “far higher” than the WHO’s guidelines. “Legally binding targets based on WHO guidelines would reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK,” he said.

Barlow added that doctors and nurses are failing to sufficiently communicate the health risks of exposure to dirty air, and professional medical bodies need to address the shortcoming. Public awareness of local and national air pollution levels are low, Barlow noted, which could be fixed by increasing the number of air quality sensors, he suggested. Central and local government must tackle that, he said.

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, Ella’s mother, said in a statement that she would ask the UK’s environment secretary George Eustice to legislate to implement WHO air pollution rules in the wake of the report.

“Children are dying unnecessarily because the government is not doing enough to combat air pollution. In order to save lives the government must act now and take the three steps that the coroner has identified in his report,” she said.

UK should set tougher air pollution limits, says Kissi-Debrah coroner | New Scientist

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5 best anti-pollution masks for cycling that keep your commute cleaner

We put the protectors to the test to bring you the top choices to travel with

Poor air quality is blamed for thousands of premature deaths across the UK, and the Volkswagen emissions scandal and pressure from climate committees to improve energy efficiency have pushed the issue up the political agenda.

Plans to ban petrol and diesel cars in the UK are accelerating. The transport secretary Grant Shapps announced in October of last year that the government’s target to ensure all new car models are zero-emmission by 2040 may be brought forward to 2035. Meanwhile diesel car drivers now face a £12.50 daily fee to drive in the centre of London after the capital launched its ultra low emission zone in April 2019. Although governments here and abroad are beginning to take the problem seriously, many individuals are taking matters into their own hands by purchasing a face mask.

The air in major cities, including London, is dirtiest of all. A growing body of research suggests smaller particulate matter – the term for particles found in the air including dust, dirt, soot and smoke – is responsible for the most adverse health effects. Particulates are measured in microns, equal to one millionth of a metre. Those that are 50+ microns in diameter can be seen by the naked eye, but those measuring 2.5 microns or smaller, are invisible – and, according to a government report, pose the greatest health risk.

Particulate types include asbestos dust from car and lorry brake linings, road dust, fumes from diesel vehicles and pollen. The variation in size of these particulates comes from the type of fuel and how efficiently it is burned.

Some masks are capable of cleaning pollutants measuring 0.3 of a micron from the air you breathe. The N95 and N99 labels that are commonly (though confusingly, not universally) used to describe effectiveness refer to the amount of airborne particles that are filtered – 95 per cent and 99 per cent respectively.

As one technician at Respro, the market leader for anti-pollution masks, puts it: “It’s not uncommon for 3000l of air to pass through your lungs while cycling to and from work on a half-hour round trip. Multiply that by five days a week, 50 weeks a year, and that’s a lot of pollution for your body to deal with.”

Despite the obvious health benefits, wearing a mask can be uncomfortable, and some users complain that they restrict the amount of oxygen it is possible to inhale in each breath. It is for this reason that getting the right mask – and making sure it fits properly – is essential.

There are many different types of mask on the market. In terms of shape, there are those that cover the whole of the lower face, including the nose and mouth, versus those which cover just the mouth – for these you should use the nose only to breathe out. The masks on offer also differ by the technology they use. The most basic (not reviewed below) offer little more protection than a surgical mask, while the top-end coverings come with sophisticated multi-layer filters.

It is vital that you choose a correctly sized mask, as each will sit on the face slightly differently. Best would be to visit a local stockist in person. Alternatively, you can take detailed measurements to ensure the mask does the job of filtering the air you are breathing and is comfortable at the same time.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Respro® Ultralight mask (N99):

Respro’s ultralight mask uses a stretchy fabric that allows the face to breathe in hot and humid conditions, which made it comfortable to wear for the duration of our 40-minute commute. It comes in four sizes, boasts two exhale valves (which allow the air you are breathing out to leave the mask) and an “unbreakable” nose clip that keeps the mask snug to your face. The two valves improve airflow performance, making breathing a little easier and reducing condensation that inevitably builds up in the mask, especially on cold mornings. The filters, which are designed to filter “sub-micron” particulates (those measuring smaller than one micron), were also able to cut out bad smells, something which was less noticeable with other masks we tried and which made traffic-clogged streets a little more pleasant.

Respro® Techno (N99):

The techno mask is made from a neoprene skin that neatly follows the contours of the face, giving it a snug fit and ensuring all the air is forced through the filters. Like the ultralight, this mask comes with the filter for sub-micron particulates. However, we found the techno a little less comfortable than the first Respro product we tested, in part because it does not have rapid airflow valves, meaning there is slightly more resistance when breathing in and out. As with the Ultralight mask, the Velcro fastening makes adjusting the fit fuss-free. Again, there are several sizes to choose from.

via independent.co.uk/extras/indybest/outdoor-activity/cycling/best-anti-pollution-mask-cycling-review-london-a7952771.html

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