Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

Air Pollution

Air pollution: Toxin-trapping trees can clean up streets

Download (PDF, 1.91MB)

Air pollution likely to increase coronavirus death rate, warn experts

Download (PDF, 46KB)

Dirty air is deadlier than war, Aids and smoking combined

Download (PDF, 142KB)

Dutch health gains from reduced air pollution

https://airclim.org/acidnews/dutch-health-gains-reduced-air-pollution

A recent scientific study by researchers from the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) has investigated how much the air quality and associated health effects have improved in the Netherlands since 1980.

It also estimated how much of this change can be attributed to reductions in emissions in the Netherlands itself, and how much to emissions reductions in other countries, as well as which source sectors, domestic and foreign, and which policy measures contributed most to the improvements in air quality.

International air pollution control policies include those under the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) as well as measures resulting from EU legislation. Additional emission reductions have also resulted from specific national and local initiatives.

Quantification was done by computer model calculations with high spatial resolution for concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO₂), particulate matter (PM₁₀, PM₂.₅), and elemental carbon (EC) in the Netherlands from 1980 to 2015, using two emission scenarios.

The first scenario follows the officially reported emissions of the relevant air pollutants in all European countries. It serves as a reference for the second scenario, in which it was assumed that no air quality policies had been adopted from 1980 onwards and that the emissions of air pollutants had continued to grow, largely in line with the growth in economic activity. Emission changes resulting from other effects, such as changes in the economic structure or improvements in energy efficiency, are said to be taken into account using activity data.

Benefits from emission reductions were quantified in terms of fewer exceedances of air quality limit values in the Netherlands, and lowered exposure of the Dutch population to high concentrations of air pollutants, including related reductions in health damage.

According to the study, the largest health effects of air pollution are associated with exposure to PM₂.₅ (about 85%), with a smaller contribution from exposure to NO₂ (about 15%).

In the scenario without policies, the average PM₂.₅ concentration in the Netherlands increased from 59 μg/m3 in 1980 to 102 μg/m3 in 2015. In reality, however, the concentrations decreased to about 12 μg/m3.

Similarly, the average NO₂ concentration increased from about 30 μg/m3 in 1980 to 45 μg/m3 in 2015 in the no-policy scenario, while the real development shows a reduction to about 15 μg/m3.

Ambient Particulate Air Pollution and Daily Mortality in 652 Cities

Download (PDF, 1.76MB)

Polluting diesel vehicles used by the commercial sector will be taken off the streets

Download (PDF, 456KB)

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.

Air pollution is the ‘tobacco of the 21st century’, warn experts

Bad air is the source of ‘huge illness which is entirely preventable if we take the issue seriously’, IPPR researcher says

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/air-pollution-tobacco-21-century-quality-breathing-health-problems-lungs-experts-ippr-a7846761.html

Air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels is the “tobacco of the 21st century”, an expert has warned after a report found some cities in northern England were breaching legal safety limits by up to 150 per cent.

It is estimated that the air we breathe causes about 40,000 premature deaths a year in Britain, mainly affecting children, elderly people and those with respiratory conditions.

The report, by the Institute for Public Policy Research North think tank, noted that all but two of 11 air quality reporting zones in the North exceeded legal limits for nitrogen dioxide, according to the Government’s own figures.

Some areas, including Merseyside and Teesside, were up to 150 per cent above the legal limit for the pollutant, which inflames the lining of the lung and reduces immunity to infections such as bronchitis.

Within the next few weeks, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is expected to publish its third attempt at an air quality plan designed to bring pollution to within legal safety limits.

Its previous attempts have been widely regarded as half-hearted at best with environmental group ClientEarth twice winning court orders forcing Ministers to produce a more effective plan.

Darren Baxter, a research with IPPR North, compared the debate over what to do about air pollution to the realisation that smoking was harmful to health about 50 years ago.

“This is the tobacco of the 21st century and every single preventable death is a failure of government action,” he said.

“Michael Gove [the Environment Secretary] must get a grip on this crisis which is killing literally thousands of children and adults a year.

“This is a huge illness which is entirely preventable if we take the issue seriously and take the sort of big actions that governments took on policy for smoking in the 1960s onwards when the public health effects became clear.

“So for this it means clean air zones, phasing out diesel and huge expansion in electric cars.”

Mr Baxter said that “too often” the focus of concern about air pollution had been on London.

“But the reality is that it’s poisoning thousands in our regional cities too,” he said.

“Michael Gove must show that the Government is not prepared to sit on its hands while up to 40,000 people are killed every year from dirty air.

“We need to see radical plans to ditch diesel, introduce incentives for electric cars and bring in Clean Air Zones in our major cities.”

The report called for an “explicit pledge” to phase out diesel cars and “formally investigate even more ambitious targets” after the publication of the Air Quality Plan.

A network of new clean air zones should be created to cover “all major urban areas in the UK”.

“The potential socio-economic and environmental gains from the realisation of a cleaner, more efficient transport system are enormous,” the report said.

But it warned the UK risked slipping behind other countries that are embracing cleaner forms of transport.

“There could be much to learn from abroad; other countries are beginning to overtake the UK in ushering in a new mobility system. Germany, in particular, is undergoing an explicit mobility transition (Verkehrswende); the UK could and should do the same,” the report said.

A Defra spokesperson said: “We are firmly committed to improving the UK’s air quality and cutting harmful emissions.

“That’s why we have committed more than £2bn since 2011 to increase the uptake of ultra-low emissions vehicles and support greener transport schemes, and set out how we will improve air quality through a new programme of Clean Air Zones.”

Exposure to pollution in Hong Kong is worst in the home, study reveals

It’s not just on the city’s streets where we are at risk from dangerous PM2.5 particulates – three-quarters of daily personal exposure is indoors

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2097540/exposure-pollution-hong-kong-worst-home-study

Your home may be your refuge in Hong Kong, but not from air pollution. It’s probably worse.

Exposure to PM2.5 particulates small enough to lodge deep in the lungs and most harmful to human health have been found to be just as high – or higher – inside people’s homes as they are outdoors or during the commute to work on an average weekday.

A two-year study by think tank Civic Exchange and City University, funded by investment bank Morgan Stanley, found that most urban dwellers are exposed to concentrations of PM2.5 during their daily commute that are almost always above average limits set by the World Health Organisation, and generally above readings at the nearest air quality monitoring station.

Breathe easier, Hong Kong is on course to hit global air pollution target

While the Environmental Protection Department’s 16 stations can monitor and assess ambient and roadside air quality across districts, the study fills a relatively wide gap in statistics on individual-level exposure to pollution in different “micro-environments”.

Co-author Dr Zhi Ning reported finding that people were exposed to air pollution risks not just outdoors but also indoors at home or the office.

“Your 24 hours are spent in different environments,” the City University air pollution expert said. “You may think that even if its very polluted outside, you are more safe inside. But it really depends on what that indoor environment is like.”

The researchers employed 73 volunteers who carried lunchbox-sized “personal exposure kits” fitted with sensors and GPS, 24 hours a day for a year around the city.

They found that most spent more than 85 per cent of each weekday indoors, which broke down to 42 per cent of the day at home, 34 per cent in the office, 4 per cent commuting and 11 per cent outdoors or in other indoor areas.

Homes were found to contribute 52 per cent of an individual’s personal exposure to PM2.5 compared with 13 per cent for offices, 4 per cent while commuting, 18 per cent outdoors and 14 per cent in other indoor areas.

The average PM2.5 concentration measured in homes – 42.5 micrograms per cubic metre – was three to four times lower than outdoors but slightly higher than while commuting and three times higher than in the office.

Factors for the PM2.5 build up in homes, Ning surmised, could range from cooking and the type of gas used to proximity to a construction site or smoking tobacco. And this was exacerbated by poor ventilation and dirty air filters. Offices tended to have better ventilation systems. Flats on lower floors were also exposed to more pollution.

But Ning found little correlation between personal exposure and district pollution. A person who spent more time in better ventilated indoor areas in heavily polluted Sham Shui Po, for example, could have a lower exposure to PM2.5 than the station reading and vice versa.

“Right now we only rely on [the department’s] data but they only provide a general, ballpark figure,” Civic Exchange research fellow and co-author Simon Ng Ka-wing said.

“It is important to know how much air pollution we are exposed to on a personal level. This would allow us to make better decisions as to when to go or not to go somewhere.”

The study recommended the government do more to promote better indoor air quality in homes and implement a comprehensive management programme.

A government spokesman said: “The EPD has been conducting promotional and educational activities, including exhibitions and seminars, to promote practices to achieve good indoor air quality.”

Additional reporting by Brian Wong

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.