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Air pollution likely to increase coronavirus death rate, warn experts

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Dirty air is deadlier than war, Aids and smoking combined

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Ambient Particulate Air Pollution and Daily Mortality in 652 Cities

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Breakthrough research reveals hypoxia can cause transgenerational reproductive impairment

A team led by The Education University of Hong Kong (EdUHK) has revealed for the first time that hypoxia, a deficiency in oxygen, can cause transgenerational reproductive impairment in fish. This major breakthrough in environmental science was the result of a four-year joint project with team members from four other Hong Kong universities, and is testimony to EdUHK’s high quality research with global impact.

http://www.qswownews.com/2017/08/08/breakthrough-research-reveals-hypoxia-can-cause-transgenerational-reproductive-impairment/

From 2012 to 2016, the team compared the reproductive ability of marine medaka fish and the subsequent three generations of their offspring raised in seawater under normal and low levels of oxygen (hypoxia).

This important discovery has been published in the authoritative scientific journal Nature Communications. Team leader Professor Rudolf Wu, research chair professor of biological sciences at EdUHK, said that “recent climate change has caused the sea temperature to rise and oxygen level to drop. This, together with the large amount of nutrient-rich wastewater being disposed of in the ocean has caused excessive phytoplankton growth, which has led to hypoxia.”

To determine how the imminent threat of hypoxia would affect marine life, the team put marine medaka fish into two groups: one group kept in seawater with normal levels of oxygen and the other group in seawater with low oxygen (the hypoxic group). The offspring produced by the hypoxic group were then divided into two groups, with one returned to seawater with normal oxygen and the other kept under the low oxygen condition. The team then compared the reproductive ability, epigenetics and protein and gene expression of all three groups.

The team found that the second and third generations produced by hypoxic fish had lower levels of male hormones, poorer sperm quality and lower sperm motility and fertilisation success, despite having lived in seawater with a normal oxygen level throughout their lives. The observed reproductive impairment was associated with relevant epigenetic changes and changes in gene and protein expressions. This transgenerational effect revealed is of particular importance to Hong Kong and China, where hypoxia caused by pollution commonly occurs over large areas.

This breakthrough also has significant implications for humans. There is clinic evidence showing that men suffering from sleep apnea, who experience oxygen deprivation while sleeping, have lower sex hormone levels and sex drives. Other studies have shown that people who live at high altitudes with lower oxygen levels have lower sex hormone levels than those who live in lowlands. “Since the epigenetics and sex hormone regulation mechanisms are highly conserved and similar in both fish and humans, hypoxia may also lead to transgenerational reproductive impairment in male adult humans,” said Professor Wu.

This new finding by Professor Wu’s team shows that the adverse consequences of hypoxia are much more severe than currently perceived. “Despite some people arguing that improvements in environmental quality must be cost-effective,” he said, “we must also take into account that pollution may cause permanent reproductive impairments in future generations.”

The EdUHK-led team’s findings sound a very timely warning note for us all – if appropriate environmental protection measures are not taken now, the damage to both human and marine life may well be irreversible and unbearable.

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-…