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The Guardian view on air pollution: playing politics with the nation’s health

The high court shouldn’t have been asked to decide on this. But it has rightly ruled against the government’s latest efforts to delay action on air quality

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/27/the-guardian-view-on-air-pollution-playing-politics-with-the-nations-health

Thanks to this government’s intransigence about tackling air pollution, the battle to improve the quality of the air we breathe has played out not in the political arena, but in the courts. Time after time, the government has found itself on the wrong side of the law: first for its failure to meet legally binding European targets on harmful nitrogen dioxide emissions; then, for failing to produce an adequate plan to address these. Its latest delaying tactic has been to claim it could not meet this week’s court-imposed deadline for publishing a new draft plan, because of the “purdah” convention ruling out new government announcements in the run-up to an election.

And so it has fallen to judges yet again to take the government to task over its failure to act. Today’s ruling took apart the government’s case: its own purdah guidance sets out exemptions where public health is at risk. As the judge pointed out, why would it be better to have parties debating what ought to be in a draft air pollution plan, when it could be debating what is actually in it?

The government’s real motivations are political, not procedural. Having delayed taking meaningful action for seven years, it is clearly nervous about proposing any measures that hit drivers of diesel cars during an election campaign. Its political cowardice is astounding – and pointless. Public attitudes have shifted in recent years, and London’s Labour mayor, Sadiq Khan, has made tackling air pollution one of his top priorities. The government is unlikely to face opposition to tougher action from any of its mainstream political opponents, and is enjoying double-digit poll leads.

Yet it continues to shirk its responsibilities to the nation’s public health. Today’s air pollution may be less visible than the smogs that settled over our cities in the 1950s, but it is a deadly killer, responsible for upwards of 40,000 premature deaths per year. London breached its annual air pollution limit just five days into 2017, and legal limits were easily surpassed in the vast majority of local authorities. The effects are particularly pernicious for children whose lungs are still developing.

The human cost makes the government’s latest attempts to delay a disgrace. The two-month extension it was seeking for its final plan could have meant thousands of avoidable premature deaths, all in service of not wanting to jeopardise a marginal number of votes in an election that it is on course to win handsomely. It’s a sick calculus.

The good news is that air pollution is easier to tackle than other environmental and public health challenges. Unlike climate change, it is relatively localised: city-scale actions to address pollution levels can have a marked effect on their air quality. Much (though by no means all) of the problem comes down to emissions from diesel vehicles and, to a greater extent than in other areas of public health, consumers are highly responsive to financial incentives. The irony is that we know this because many have switched from petrol to diesel as a result of sweeteners introduced back when diesel was thought to be more environmentally friendly due to its lower carbon emissions.

But heavy lobbying from the car industry in Westminster and Brussels has staved off firm action. European emissions tests for diesel cars have been far easier to manipulate than in the US; as a result, 97% of modern diesel cars exceed the official limit for NOx pollution. Behind the scenes, the British government has tried to block tougher testing. It’s a familiar story: the government similarly watered down plans to tackle childhood obesity in the face of special pleading from the food and drink industry.

The high court ruling puts the ball back in the government’s court. It should choose to accept it, rather than appeal. But either way, it has been exposed as a government willing to privilege marginal political advantage and the lobbying efforts of big business over the health of the nation.

Lung disease costs the United Kingdom £11bn every year – report

https://uk.news.yahoo.com/lung-disease-costs-united-kingdom-11bn-every-report-015300294.html

New figures show lung disease is costing the UK more than £11bn every year, prompting criticism the NHS and governments are not doing enough to tackle one of the country’s biggest killers.

A report by the British Lung Foundation (BLF) says, despite such a large healthcare bill for respiratory conditions, there has been little change in mortality rates over the last 10 years.

The Foundation says 115,000 people die from lung disease every year – one person every five minutes.

More than 12 million people are living with a lung condition in the UK.

It also claims the UK has the highest mortality rates for children with asthma in Europe.

According to the BLF, of the £11.1bn that lung disease costs every year, £9.9bn is spent by the NHS.

A further £1.2bn is lost in the wider economy through things like days off work.

There are calls for the governments and NHS in both England and Scotland to create special taskforces for lung health, and produce new five-year strategies for tackling lung disease.

Dr Nicholas Hopkinson, Medical Adviser for the British Lung Foundation, told Sky News air pollution is a major part of the problem.

He said: “In this country, the estimate from the Royal College of Physicians is that there are about 40,000 excess deaths per year caused by air pollution and one of the things in parallel with a respiratory task-force would be a new Clean Air Act.

“We need for the Government to be setting strong binding targets and actions to reduce this air quality problem.”

At the Hospice of St Francis in Hertfordshire, a group of patients with pulmonary fibrosis take part in a fortnightly exercise group.

Their condition will get worse. Some will take years to deteriorate and others will worsen more quickly.

One of the patients, Peter Bryce, runs the Pulmonary Fibrosis Trust. He told Sky News groups like his offer vital support.

“Coming here is like joining a family. The people understand the nature of this illness and it’s easy to relate to them and share experiences and support each other. It’s brilliant,” he said.

The Hospice only receives 20% of its funding from the NHS – but it is this sort of support group campaigners want to see more of to help those with lung conditions.

The Department of Health insists it is doing more to tackle lung conditions.

A DoH spokesperson told Sky News: “It is plainly wrong to suggest that tackling lung disease is not a priority – government research funding has risen to over £25 million, our policies have helped reduce smoking rates to a record low and Public Health England has extended its successful ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ campaign to raise awareness of the symptoms.”

Hong Kong can create its own smog, researchers say

Scientists from Hong Kong and Macau found one day in which pollutants were formed when dirty air was not blowing from the north

Smoggy days are often blamed on regional pollution and weather, but at least one recent scientific study has shown that the city can, under the right conditions, “form its own smog”.

The study by Hong Kong and Macau air scientists argued that a rapid build-up of particulate matter in the air – a key component of smog – was possible even in the absence of northerly winds that can transport pollutants from afar.

The evidence boiled down to at least one particular sunny September day in Hong Kong in which a “land-sea breeze” pattern formed along with weak winds far below average speeds.

The scientists observed a rapid rise of photochemical activity during mid-afternoon, in which ozone and nitrogen dioxide skyrocketed along with increasing sunshine.

“It is clear that there was a rapid increase in particulate matter (PM) concentration on this day when we were not really affected by external meteorological conditions. It’s not easy to argue in this case that winds were blowing PM to Hong Kong from the region ,” said co-author Professor Chan Chak-keung, dean of City University’s school of energy and environment.

The culprits, he said, were most likely local sources such as vehicles or industrial emissions, which contain nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. The latter pollutant is also found in products such as organic solvents, paints and printer inks.

Chan’s team investigated “episodes” – days with high PM concentrations – in one-month periods in each of the four seasons from 2011 to 2012 at the University of Science and Technology’s air quality research supersite.

Other episodes across the seasons were also observed with high local photochemical activity, but those days also came under the influence of transported air from the north, making it less clear what was actually local or regional.

The paper was published in scientific journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics in November.

“Of course, regional sources play a role but [this research] shows that under the right conditions, PM can build up and Hong Kong can form its own photochemical smog.”

Photochemical smog is created when nitrogen oxides react with volatile organic compounds in the air under sunlight. It leads to the formation of ozone. This hazardous pollutant facilitates the formation of the tiny particles, small enough to be inhaled deep into the lungs and even into the bloodstream.

The particulate matter in the air lowers visibility, turning the sky smoggy and gives it a lurid orange tint at dusk.

The Environmental Protection Department usually points to meteorological influences such as northeast monsoons when the air quality health index hits “very high” health risk levels.

During a bout of high pollution last Thursday, it said: “Hong Kong is being affected by an airstream with higher background pollutant concentrations. The light wind hinders effective dispersion of air pollutants.”

It added that the formation of ozone and fine particulates during the daytime resulted in high pollution in the region.

Chan said most smoggy days were doubtless a result of regional factors or pollution. But he said the study’s findings warranted more research on how PM was formed and pinpointing its sources.

Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2076236/hong-kong-can-create-its-own-smog-researchers-say

India reported 1.1 million deaths due to air pollution in 2015, says a global study

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/environment/pollution/india-reported-1-1-million-deaths-due-to-air-pollution-in-2015-says-a-global-study/printarticle/57145119.cms

The government here may be in denial mode on linking premature deaths to air pollution, but a new study on global air pollution by the US-based institutes claims that the India’s worsening air pollution caused some 1.1 million premature deaths in 2015 and the country now “rivals China for among the highest air pollution health burdens in the world.”

The special report on ‘global exposure to air pollution and its disease burden’, released on Tuesday, noted that the number of premature deaths in China caused by dangerous fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, has stabilised in recent years but has risen sharply in India.

It also said that both the countries together were responsible for over half of the total global attributable deaths while India had registered an alarming increase of nearly 50% in premature deaths from particulate matter between 1990 and 2015.

Besides data analysis on air pollution, the report also carries an interactive website on the issue highlighting that 92% of the world’s population lives in the areas with unhealthy air.

“We are seeing increasing air pollution problems worldwide, and this new report and website details why that air pollution is a major contributor to early death,” said Dan Greenbaum, President of the Health Effects Institute (HEI), the global research institute that designed and implemented the study.

He said, “The trends we report show that we have seen progress in some parts of the world – but serious challenges remain.”

The State of Global Air 2017 is the first of a new series of annual reports and accompanying interactive website, designed and implemented by the Health Effects Institute in cooperation with the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington and the University of British Columbia.

The IHME is an independent population health research center that publishes the annual Global Burden of Diseases — a systematic scientific effort to quantify the magnitude of health loss from all major diseases, injuries, and risk factors in populations across the world. Its results are published every year in The Lancet medical journal.

“Although there are many parts of the world where air pollution has grown worse, there has also been improvement in the US and Europe. The US Clean Air Act and actions by the European Commission have made substantial progress in reducing people exposed to PM pollution since 1990,” said a statement issued by the HEI.

Referring to the study, it said, “The US has experienced a reduction of about 27% in average annual population exposures to fine particulate matter with smaller declines in Europe. Yet some 88,000 Americans and 258,000 Europeans still face increased risks of dying early due to PM levels today”.

The report noted that the highest concentrations of combustion-related fine particulate matter were in South and Southeast Asia, China and Central and Western Sub-Saharan Africa in 2015 where household solid fuel use, coal-fired power plants, transportation, and open burning of agricultural and other wastes were among the most important contributors to outdoor air pollution.

“The Global Burden of Disease leads a growing worldwide consensus – among the WHO, World Bank, International Energy Agency and others – that air pollution poses a major global public health challenges,” said Bob O’Keefe, Vice President of HEI and Chair of Clean Air Asia.

He said, “Nowhere is that risk more evident than in the rapidly growing economies of Asia.”

The study finds that increasing exposure and a growing and aging population have meant that India now rivals China for among the highest air pollution health burdens in the world, with both countries facing some 1.1 million early deaths from air pollution in 2015.

It said the long-term exposure to fine particulate matter — the most significant element of air pollution — contributed to 4.2 million premature deaths and to a loss of 103 million healthy years of life in 2015, making air pollution the 5th highest cause of death among all health risks, including smoking, diet, and high blood pressure.

India has, however, always been sceptical of such reports. Though the government here did never deny the negative impact of air pollution on human healths, it preferred not to speak about numbers.

Even recently during Budget session of the Parliament, the government had on February 6 said that there was no conclusive data to link deaths exclusively with air pollution. It, however, admitted that the air pollution could be one of the triggering factors for respiratory ailments and diseases.

“There is no conclusive data available in the country to establish direct co-relationship of death exclusively with air pollution. Health effects of air pollution are synergistic manifestation of factors which include food habits, occupational habits, socio-economic status, medical history, immunity, heredity etc. of the individuals,” said the country’s environment minister Anil Madhav Dave.

Dave, in his written response to a Parliament question in Rajya Sabha, had said, “Air pollution could be one of the triggering factors for respiratory associated ailments and diseases.”

The surprising link between air pollution and Alzheimer’s disease

http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-air-pollution-alzheimers-20170131-story.html

With environmental regulations expected to come under heavy fire from the Trump administration, new research offers powerful evidence of a link between air pollution and dementia risk.

For older women, breathing air that is heavily polluted by vehicle exhaust and other sources of fine particulates nearly doubles the likelihood of developing dementia, finds a study published Tuesday. And the cognitive effects of air pollution are dramatically more pronounced in women who carry a genetic variant, known as APOE-e4, which puts them at higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

In a nationwide study that tracked the cognitive health of women between the ages of 65 and 79 for 10 years, those who had the APOE-e4 variant were nearly three times more likely to develop dementia if they were exposed to high levels of air pollution than APOE-e4 carriers who were not.

Among carriers of that gene, older women exposed to heavy air pollution were close to four times likelier than those who breathed mostly clean air to develop “global cognitive decline” — a measurable loss of memory and reasoning skills short of dementia.

While scientists have long tallied the health costs of air pollution in asthma, lung disease and cardiovascular disease, the impact of air pollutants on brain health has only begun to come to light. This study gleans new insights into how, and how powerfully, a key component of urban smog scrambles the aging brain.

Published Tuesday in the journal Translational Psychiatry, the research looks at a large population of American women, at lab mice, and at brain tissue in petri dishes to establish a link between serious cognitive decline and the very fine particles of pollution emitted by motor vehicles, power plants and the burning of biomass products such as wood.

All three of these biomedical research methods suggest that exposure to high levels of fine air pollutants increases both dementia’s classic behavioral signs of disorientation and memory loss as well as its less obvious hallmarks. These include amyloid beta protein clumps in the brain and the die-off of cells in the brain’s hippocampus, a key center for memory formation.

Using air pollution standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, researchers found significant differences on all those measures between those who breathed clean air and those exposed to pollution levels deemed unsafe.

In lab mice, breathing air collected over the 10 Freeway in Los Angeles led to brain concentrations of amyloid protein that were more dense and more likely to form dangerous clumps than breathing air that satisfied EPA standards before 2012. When lab mice were bred with a strong predisposition to develop dementia and its hallmarks, the brain differences between pollution-breathing animals and those that breathed clean air were starker.

In 2011, a study in the journal Lancet found that those who lived close to densely trafficked roads were at a far higher risk of stroke and dementia than those who lived farther away. A year later, a team led by Alzheimer’s disease researcher Dr. Samuel Gandy at Mt. Sinai in New York first established that air pollutants induced inflammation, cell death and the buildup of amyloid protein in the brains of mice.

The new study extends those findings.

Authored by geriatric and environmental health specialists at USC, the new study estimates that before the EPA set new air pollution standards in 2012, some 21% of new cases of dementia and of accelerated cognitive decline could likely have been attributed to air pollution.

There is potential legal significance to the researchers’ finding that women (and mice) who carried a genetic predisposition to developing Alzheimer’s disease were far more sensitive to air pollution’s effects. In devising pollution standards, the EPA is currently required to consider their health impact on “vulnerable populations.” The agency is also required to use its regulatory authority to take steps to protect those populations.

Air pollution has been declining steadily since the EPA promulgated new standards in 2012. But Dr. Jiu-Chiuan Chen, an environmental health specialist at USC’s Keck School of Medicine and the study’s senior author, said it’s not clear that even current standards are safe for aging brains, or for brains that are genetically vulnerable to Alzheimer’s.

The Trump administration has signaled it will look to scrap or substantially rewrite Obama administration regulations that tightened emissions from power plants and established tougher fuel efficiency standards for cars in an effort to curb climate change and reduce air pollution.

“If people in the current administration are trying to reduce the cost of treating diseases, including dementia, then they should know that relaxing the Clean Air Act regulations will do the opposite,” Chen said.

Air pollution costs trillions

Premature deaths due to air pollution cause annual global costs of about US$225 billion in lost work days, and more than US$5 trillion in welfare losses, according to a new study.

http://airclim.org/acidnews/air-pollution-costs-trillions

Exposure to air pollution increases the risk of contracting cancers and heart, lung and respiratory diseases. According to the latest available estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), 5.5 million premature deaths worldwide, or 1 in every 10 deaths, in 2013 were attributable to indoor and outdoor air pollution.

A joint study, entitled “The Cost of Air Pollution: Strengthening the economic case for action”, published by the World Bank and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, has estimated the costs of premature deaths related to air pollution.

Using the WHO estimates of premature mortality attributable to air pollution, the study valued the economic costs following two different approaches: Firstly a welfare-based approach that monetizes the increased fatality risk from air pollution according to individuals’ willingness to pay, and secondly an income-based approach that equates the financial cost of premature mortality with the present value of forgone lifetime earnings.

In 2013, the cost to the world’s economy of welfare losses due to exposure to ambient and household air pollution amounted to some US$5.11 trillion. In terms of magnitude, welfare losses in South Asia and East Asia and the Pacific were the equivalent of about 7.5 per cent of the regional gross domestic product (GDP), while in Europe and North America they were equal to respectively 5.1 and 2.8 per cent of GDP. At the low end, losses were still equal to 2.2 per cent of GDP in the Middle East and North Africa.

It is pointed out that the full costs of air pollution to society are even greater than is reported in the study. Examples of other costs not included in this report are the costs of illnesses (e.g. hospital care, medication), reduced output of agricultural crops, damage to natural ecosystems and cultural heritage, and lowered economic competitiveness of growing cities.

On top of being a major health risk, air pollution is also a drag on development. By causing illness and premature death, air pollution reduces the quality of life. By causing a loss of productive labour, it also reduces productivity and incomes.

According to the study, annual labour income losses cost the equivalent of 0.83 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in South Asia. In East Asia and the Pacific, where the population is ageing, labour income losses represent 0.25 per cent of GDP, while in Sub-Saharan Africa, where air pollution impairs the earning potential of younger populations, annual labour income losses represent 0.61 per cent of GDP.

“Air pollution is a challenge that threatens basic human welfare, damages natural and physical capital, and constrains economic growth. We hope this study will translate the cost of premature deaths into an economic language that resonates with policy makers so that more resources will be devoted to improving air quality. By supporting healthier cities and investments in cleaner sources of energy, we can reduce dangerous emissions, slow climate change, and most importantly save lives,” said Laura Tuck, Vice President for Sustainable Development at the World Bank.

Christer Ågren

The report: https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/25013

World Bank press release, 8 September 2016: http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2016/09/08/air-pollution-…

Hongkongers could benefit from new air pollution mask that’s six times more effective than rivals

After months of development, a successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign and many pre-orders, a Swedish start-up has launched the Airinum Urban Breathing Mask to meet growing global demand

http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/health-beauty/article/2050738/hongkongers-could-benefit-new-air-pollution-mask-thats-six?cx_tag=recommend_desktop#cxrecs_s

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When Alexander Hjertstrom moved from his native Sweden to the western Indian city of Ahmedabad in the autumn of 2014, he suffered the return of an old fiend: asthma.

The intense air pollution in the city had caused his long-gone respiratory condition to return.

Hjertstrom, then a master’s student on a six-month exchange at the Indian Institute of Management, found that wearing an anti-pollution breathing mask was the most effective way to protect himself. However, he found most masks on the market were primitive and far from perfect in design and construction. They were certainly not appealing to wear every day.

Upon his return to Sweden after finishing a research project on air pollution while in India, Hjertstrom discussed the problem with three friends. Living in Sweden, the clean Scandinavian air was something all four had taken for granted.

“Given how acute the problem of air pollution was and the poor product offerings we could find, we decided to do something about it,” says Fredrik Kempe, a childhood friend of Hjertstrom.

They came up with the Airinum Urban Breathing Mask, which its founders term a “next generation anti-pollution mask”. In tests it has been shown to protect wearers up to six times better than other widely available masks.

After months of development, a very successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign and large number of pre-orders, the company opened their online shop for worldwide sales on December 1.

“Compared to all other civilian masks that we’ve found, purchased and tested, our mask really works,” says Kempe, Airinum’s co-founder and chief marketing officer, who has a master’s degree in innovation management.

“Many masks out there today either lack proper filter technology, or they have a poor fit, resulting in leakage and poor filtration. Our mask uses high-quality filters tested here in Sweden in collaboration with Camfil, a global leader in the air filter industry. The construction of the mask has been developed, tested and iterated over the past year to achieve the perfect fit.”

Anti-pollution masks are big business, particularly in smoggy China, where face masks even feature on fashion show catwalks. Sales of masks in China reached 1.7 billion units in 2014, a 20 per cent increase year on year, according to Chinese market research firm Daxue Consulting.

Airinum looks similar to other high-end masks on the market, such as Vogmask, currently the leading face mask in China, and Cambridge Mask. But Kempe says Airinum’s Urban Breathing Mask is “completely different”. For one thing it has a unique changeable filter system, while Vogmask’s filter is permanently sewn into the mask and does not have reusable exhalation valves. So once Vogmask’s filter reaches the end of its useful life (hundreds of hours), or starts to leak, a new mask has to be bought.

Airinum’s mask has proprietary changeable filters that use a three-layer, hi-tech filter technology which protects against up to 99 per cent of viruses, bacteria, allergens and smog. External tests have shown the mask to have better filtration efficiency than the N95 filter mask requirements set forth by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. For easy breathing, the mask has two custom-made exhalation valves – essential to let warm, moist air out of the mask.

For the perfect fit, the mask uses stretchable material that fits the contours of the wearer’s face. Adjustable ear loops and an elastic binding surrounding the mask ensure a tight seal around the face. The mask comes in five sizes to suit both children and adults.

For some aesthetic flair, the founders sought the expertise of renowned Scandinavian creative minds – Mattias Wiklund, the menswear pattern maker at Swedish fast fashion chain H&M, and Kemal Alidzikovic, who works with Swedish fashion/function brands such as Acne and Haglofs.

The Kickstarter campaign, which ran for five weeks in November and December 2015, gathered up €70,743 (HK$581,522) from 1,386 backers in more than 30 markets, including Hong Kong. Airinum also received funding from the Swedish government, business angels and an accelerator programme in Stockholm.

The Urban Breathing Mask costs US$75 and the price includes the mask and two filters, which last up to 200 hours. The company plans to offer a long-term subscription service for filters.

300 million children breathe heavily toxic air: UNICEF

Some 300 million children live with outdoor air so polluted it can cause serious physical damage, including harming their developing brains, the United Nations said in a study released Monday.

Nearly one child in seven around the globe breathes outdoor air that is at least six times dirtier than international guidelines, according to the study by the UN Children’s Fund, which called air pollution a leading factor in child mortality.

UNICEF published the study, “Clear the Air for Children,” a week before the annual UN climate-change talks, with the upcoming round to be hosted by Morocco on November 7-18.

The agency, which promotes the rights and well-being of children, is pushing for world leaders to take urgent action to reduce air pollution in their countries.

“Air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600,000 children under five every year, and it threatens the lives and futures of millions more every day,” said Anthony Lake, executive director of UNICEF.

“Pollutants don’t only harm children’s developing lungs. They can actually cross the blood-brain barrier and permanently damage their developing brains and, thus, their futures. No society can afford to ignore air pollution,” Lake said.

Toxic air is a drag on economies and societies, and already costs as much as 0.3 percent of global gross domestic product, the broad measure of economic activity, UNICEF said.

Those costs are expected to increase to about one percent of GDP by 2060, it said, as air pollution in many parts of the world worsens.

UNICEF points to satellite imagery which it says confirms that about two billion children live in areas where outdoor air pollution exceeds minimum air-quality guidelines set by the World Health Organization.

The air is poisoned by vehicle emissions, fossil fuels, dust, burning waste and other airborne pollutants, it said.

South Asia has the largest number of children living in such areas at about 620 million, followed by Africa with 520 million and the East Asia and Pacific region with 450 million.

The study also looked at indoor air pollution, typically caused by burning coal and wood for cooking and heating.

Together, outdoor and indoor air pollution are directly linked to pneumonia and other respiratory diseases that account for almost one death in 10 in children under the age of five, or nearly 600,000 children, making air pollution a leading danger to children’s health, UNICEF said.

The agency noted that children are more susceptible than adults to indoor and outdoor air pollution because their lungs, brains and immune systems are still developing and their respiratory tracts are more permeable.

Children breathe twice as quickly as adults and take in more air relative to their body weight.

The most vulnerable to illnesses caused by air pollution are children living in poverty, who tend to have poorer health and little access to health services.

– Better protect children –

To combat these noxious effects, UNICEF will call on the world’s leaders at the UN’s 22nd meeting on climate change in Marrakesh, known as COP22, to take urgent action to better protect children.

“Reducing air pollution is one of the most important things we can do for children,” UNICEF said in its report.

At the government level, UNICEF said steps should be taken to reduce fossil-fuel emissions and increase investments in sustainable energy and low-carbon development.

The agency, noting that air quality can fluctuate rapidly, also called for better monitoring of air pollution to help people minimize their exposure.

Children’s access to good-quality healthcare needs to be improved and breastfeeding in the child’s first six months should be encouraged to help prevent pneumonia.

Policymakers should “develop and build consensus on children’s environmental health indicators,” the report urged.

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OECD warns of rising costs of air pollution

Outdoor air pollution could cause up to nine million premature deaths a year by 2060 and cost US$ 3.3 trillion annually as a result of sick days, healthcare expenditure and reduced agricultural output, unless action is taken.

http://airclim.org/acidnews/oecd-warns-rising-costs-air-pollution

In 2010, outdoor air pollution caused more than three million premature deaths worldwide, with elderly people and children most vulnerable. New projections presented in an OECD report “The Economic Consequences of Outdoor Air Pollution” imply a doubling, or even tripling, of premature deaths from particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone (O3) – or one premature death every four or five seconds – by 2060.

The projected increase in concentrations of PM2.5 and ozone will result in significant economic costs to society. The direct market impact of air pollution in terms of lower worker productivity due to illness, higher spending on health care, and lower crop yields, could exceed US$ 3,000 billion annually by 2060, equal to one per cent of GDP. For example, between now and 2060, the number of annual work days lost to air-pollution-related illness is expected to jump from 1.2 to 3.7 billion.

These estimates of economic market impacts do not however reflect the true costs of air pollution because shortening of people’s lives and pain and suffering from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases do not really have a market price. The OECD has therefore also estimated the non-market welfare costs by using economic studies on how people value their health and how much they would be prepared to pay to reduce the health risks, i.e. by introducing policies and measures that would cut air pollutant emissions.

Based on this data, the current (2015) annual global welfare costs of mortality and morbidity from outdoor air pollution are estimated at US$ 3,440 billion, and by 2060 they would amount to between US$ 20,000 and 27,000 billion a year (see table).

Table: Total global welfare costs of air pollution (billions US$)

global-welfare-costs

It should be noted that air pollution damage to ecosystems, biodiversity and our cultural heritage has not been assigned any monetary value and is therefore not included in these economic estimates.

According to the projections, the biggest rises in air pollution mortality rates are expected in India, China, Korea and Central Asian countries, where rising populations and congested cities mean more people are exposed to high levels of pollution. The premature death rates are forecast to be up to three times higher in 2060 than in 2010 in China and up to four times higher in India. Mortality rates are however seen to be stabilising in the United States and falling in much of Western Europe thanks in part to efforts to move to cleaner energy and transport.

Projected GDP losses will be biggest in China, Russia, India, Korea and countries in Eastern Europe and the Caspian region, as health costs and lower labour productivity hit output.

“The number of lives cut short by air pollution is already terrible and the potential rise in the next few decades is terrifying,” said OECD Environment Director Simon Upton. “If this is not motivation enough to act, this report shows there will also be a heavy economic cost to not taking action. We must prevent these projections from becoming reality.”

“It is time for governments to stop fussing about the costs of efforts to limit air pollution and start worrying about the much larger costs of allowing it to continue unchecked. Their citizens’ lives are in their hands,” concluded Simon Upton.

Christer Ågren

Something in the air: Is Hong Kong’s pollution problem worsening?

https://www.timeout.com/hong-kong/blog/something-in-the-air-is-hong-kongs-pollution-problem-worsening-092116

The government is trumpeting recent figures that show air pollution is significantly decreasing but is the news as good as it sounds? And what other forms of pollution should Hongkongers worry about?

Christie Tse and Joyce Au find out

“See the people walking by right now? Leisurely walking past, enjoying life, breathing the fresh air?” asks Dr Bob Tsui, vicechairman of NGO Clear The Air, as he points out his office window overlooking the streets of Jordan. You are being ‘attacked through your eyes, your cornea, your nostrils, your mouth and your skin” all the time, he follows up. As you’re reading this, tiny deadly pollution particles called magnetites are slowly moving up your nostrils, penetrating your brain tissue, nervous system and lungs. In a crowded, polluted city like Hong Kong, your body is constantly under attack, every second of every day according to Dr Tsui.

According to government statistics, though, air pollution has been decreasing for several years now. The Environmental Protection Department reckons that between 2011 and 2015, average concentrations of PM10, PM2.5, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide at roadside monitoring stations fell by 26 percent, 21 percent, 19 percent and 33 percent, respectively. The figures sound impressive and the government has been running adverts on TV trumpeting its success at clearing the air.

However, all is not rosy. Recent studies conducted by scientists in Mexico City have discovered a correlation between 100 and 200 nanometer magnetites released through the exhaust pipes of taxis and buses and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. This new information has sparked concern in the local scientific community since roadside pollution remains one of the leading causes of air pollution in our jam-packed city. “In the past 20 years, Hong Kong has not once met its own Air Quality Index standard or that of the World Health Organisation’s,” exclaims Patrick Fung, CEO of NGO Clean Air Network. Paul Zimmerman, Southern District councillor, believes this is unforgiveable, as ‘it’s almost like violence is around you the whole time’, he tells us.

And that’s not the half of it. You may think you can avoid pollution by simply turning recluse and staying at home, but you’d be very wrong.

Studies conducted at the University of Hong Kong reveal that our own kitchens discharge carcinogenic particles into the air every time food is made with vegetable oil. Dr Tsui states that vegetable oil is ‘the most dangerous oil you can use’ since it contributes to air pollution. Clear The Air has published an article that details the process by which vegetable oil, when subjected to high temperatures, oxidises into cancer causing chemicals. “People wonder how they get sick because they eat well all their lives,” Dr Tsui remarks, “but they don’t realise they’re constantly surrounded by these cancerous particles.”

The worst part of all of this is that the toxic kitchen discharge is completely preventable. According to Dr Tsui, the government has the ability and resources to go into restaurants and check their deep friers for dangerous particles.

“It’s a simple test strip and they can do it very easily,” he tells us. “But I have made this announcement for years and the government has not taken any action!” By placing steam jet filters in the kitchen stove, the carcinogenic particles could be released into water. This wouldn’t contaminate the water, according to Dr Tsui, because by the time the dangerous particles pass through the filter and hit the water, many things happen chemically to make the particles no longer harmful.

And cooking oil and air pollution are not the only worries we need have in Hong Kong. After the waves of rubbish that washed up on our beaches over the summer, Hongkongers should be acutely aware of the problem of landfill. Around 30 percent of landfill is made of Styrofoam and in 500 years, that same Styrofoam will still not have decomposed. What’s worse, Styrofoam is mainly composed of styrene, an extremely dangerous chemical that has been linked to cancer, vision and hearing loss, impaired memory and concentration, damage to the nervous systems and depression. “Styrene is dangerous,” Dr Tsui declares. “Styrene is vicious. Styrene should not exist in the food chain and yet, every restaurant [in Hong Kong] today still uses Styrofoam takeout boxes.” Worryingly, when we eat hot food or drink hot liquid from Styrofoam plates, boxes or cups, it’s possible for us to consume the styrene that leaches out of the hazardous material.

Once we’ve ingested these dangerous chemicals, they can swim into our bloodstreams, penetrate our organs and cause irrevocable damage to our bodies. Even Styrofoam that’s out in the ocean can ultimately affect us since when marine life, such as fish, consume it, styrene enters the food chain and eventually, Dr Tsui believes, ‘we’ll eat the darn thing’.

Dr Tsui asks: “How can the government be so blind and be so idiotic to allow this to go on?” Just as toxic kitchen discharges are preventable, so too is the use of Styrofoam. Not just in the food industry but all industries. Instead of using Styrofoam boxes for takeaway meals, companies should start using biodegradable containers, Clear The Air advocates. This minor innovation is also very much within the grasp of companies’ capabilities. Fibre generated from corn can be made to make the boxes and then coated in honey wax. Best of all, these resources are biodegradable.

Another solution that the government and corporations can consider implementing, according to Clear The Air, is changing the original chemical composition used to make Styrofoam. The government could order corporations to put titanium dioxide polymers in the Styrofoam so that once the material is dumped on landfill or into the ocean and exposed to UV light, the Styrofoam will disintegrate into carbon dioxide and water, which equates to less harmful pollution.

There are many little things we can do to contribute to a more environmentally friendly society, such as switching off the lights when we leave a room, turning off the air conditioner when we leave the house, adding insulated panels to our windows and attaching solar panels to our roofs. The list is endless. But while every little helps, these changes are too-little-too-late because, ultimately, it is up to our local authority to enact the kind of legislative reform required to make a real difference. As Dr Tsui so clearly puts it: “No matter how rich or how poor you are, you are subjected to this kind of invisible attack. The government needs to stop with the [political games] and start working on practical solutions to eradicate pollution-induced cancer.”

Unfortunately, when it comes to asking the government for help, every issue seems like an urgent matter. Compared to global threats such as deadly diseases like the zika virus or even more mundane local issues like affordable housing, the largely invisible problem of pollution is all too often pushed to the bottom of the list of priorities.

The public, not just the government, underestimate the drastic consequences of air contamination since the effects are not as apparent as many other similarly pressing matters. But pollution is an urgent problem because it surrounds us all. It’s in the air we breathe, the places we walk and the supposedly safe confines of our own homes. We live and breathe pollution whether we like it or not, so it’s about time we paid attention.

For more information visit cleartheair.org.hk.