Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

Study

Rise in atmospheric CO2 slowed by green vegetation

The growth in the amount of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere has been slowed by the increased ability of plants to soak up the gas.

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-37909361

A new study says that green vegetation has helped offset a large fraction of human related carbon emissions between 2002 and 2014.

Plants and trees have become more absorbent say the authors, because of so much extra CO2 in the atmosphere.

The slowdown, though, can’t keep pace with the overall scale of emissions.

Over the past 50 years, the amount of CO2 absorbed by the Earth’s oceans, plants and vegetation has doubled and these carbon sinks now account for about 45% of the gas emitted each year because of human activities.

Researchers now report that since the start of the 21st century there has been a significant change in the amount of carbon dioxide taken up by the plants and trees. The new analysis suggests that between 2002 and 2014 the amount of human caused CO2 remaining in the atmosphere declined by around 20%.

Reports earlier this year indicated that there has been an increase in the number of trees and plants growing on the Earth, the so-called greening of the planet. But the authors of this new study believe that this isn’t the main cause of the slowdown in the rise of CO2.

Image copyright BERKELEY LAB Image caption The black line is the observed growth rate and the beige line is the modelled rate. The blue line indicates no increasing trend between 2002 and 2014.

“There have been reports of the greening of the land surface but what we found was that was of secondary importance to the direct effect of CO2 fertilisation on the plants that are already there,” lead author Dr Trevor Keenan told BBC News.

“We have a huge amount of vegetation on the Earth and that was being fertilised by CO2 and taking in more CO2 as a result.”

Another important element in the story is the impact of a hiatus in global temperature increases on the behaviour of plants. Between 1998 and 2012 temperatures went up by less than in previous decades. This has impacted the respiration of vegetation.

“The soils and ecosystem are respiring so as temperatures increase they respire more, releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere,” said Dr Keenan.

“In the past decade or so there hasn’t been much of an increase in global temperatures, so that meant there wasn’t much of an increase in respiration and carbon release so that was fundamentally different in the past decade or so compared to previous periods.”

One consequence of a warming world that has been expected to increase was the number of droughts around the world. However, this new study suggests that, on a global scale, there has been little or no change in the prevalence of drought over recent decades.

Overall though the slowdown caused by vegetation hasn’t stemmed the total rise of carbon which has now passed the symbolically important level of 400 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere.

Image copyright SPL Image caption Green vegetation has limited the growth of CO2 in the atmosphere over the last decade

“This study highlights just how sensitive the natural environment is to a changing climate and how important it is to protect natural vegetation so it continues to absorb part of our carbon emissions,” said Prof Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“Fundamentally, though, the carbon sinks help but their help is not enough to stop the planet getting warmer – far from that – carbon emissions have to drop to almost zero to stop global warming.”

One of the big lessons from the new report is that land carbon sinks are not set in stone and do have the potential to change over time. If they could be managed properly, it might help some countries to cut their emissions and limit climate change.

The authors of the study say that the pause in the growth of atmospheric carbon will almost certainly be a temporary phenomenon. As temperatures rise, these green sinks could in fact become sources of CO2.

“Now we are seeing plants slow down the rate of climate change,” said Dr Keenan.

“But if we are not careful and we don’t do anything about climate change all that CO2 could be put back in the atmosphere later and that would really accelerate the rate of warming.

“It may be hitting the brakes right now but it can really punch the accelerator later.”

The study has been published in the journal Nature Communications

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.

js/bur-vs/jm

Air pollution could be to blame for hundreds of traffic accidents, warn researchers

Air pollution could be responsible for hundreds of car accidents a year, according to the London School of Economics.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/10/03/air-pollution-could-be-to-blame-for-hundreds-of-traffic-accident/

A study looking a five years of data showed that when levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) rise just one microgramme per cubic metre, the number of collisions rises by two per cent.

Although it might seem that effect could be explained by more traffic on the roads, and therefore more pollution and more accidents, the researchers found that the increase remained even when adjusting for the extra traffic

Instead, they believe that the toxic air impairs driver fitness, while watery eyes and an itchy nose could also be distracting for motorists.

A recent study found that air pollution inside a car can be more than double that on the outside because the NO2 builds up in a small space.

Lead researcher Lutz Sager of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the LSE said: “Although it has already been shown that air pollution adversely affects human health and the ability to carry out mental tasks, this is the first published study that assesses the impact on road safety.

“The analysis identifies a causal effect of air pollution on road accidents, but I can only speculate about the cause of the link.

“My main theory is that air pollution impairs drivers’ fitness. However, other explanations are possible such as air pollution causing physical distractions, perhaps an itching nose, or limiting visibility.”

Air pollution can result from many different toxins, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, small particulate matter and ozone. But it was NO2 which was found to have the biggest impact.

Mr Sager, a postdoctoral candidate, divided the UK into a grid of 32 areas each covering about 4784 square miles (7700 sq km) and mapped accidents to the level of air pollution between 2009 and 2014 provided by the Department for the Environment (Defra)

He found a rise in the concentration of nitrogen dioxide of just one microgramme per cubic metre above the daily average is sufficient to increase the average number of accidents each day by two per cent, with the biggest effect occurring in cities.

Mr Sager calculated that in the area containing west London, which suffers from some of the highest levels of air pollution, a cut of about 30 per cent in the concentration of NO2 could reduce the number of road accidents every day by almost 5 per cent.

Levels of NO2 in polluted areas of London can reach beyond 97 microgrammes per cubic metre on average.

There are around 150,000 collisions in which someone is injured in Britain every year so preventing just two per cent of crashes could avert thousands of accidents.

Mr Sager added: “Whatever the exact mechanisms responsible, the robust finding of a significant effect of air quality on road safety is important given the high cost of road traffic accidents through damage to vehicles and deaths and injuries to people every day.

“Although this analysis has used data for the United Kingdom, I think my findings are relevant to other parts of the world. These additional costs from traffic accidents strengthen the case for reducing air pollution, particularly in congested cities.

“My analysis suggests that the causal effect of air pollution on road traffic accidents measured in this study more likely stems from nitrogen dioxide or other pollutant gases rather than particulate matter.”

However other experts were more sceptical about the link between air pollution and accidents.

AA president Edmund King said: “If you think about areas which are high in air pollution they are a lot busier, with taxis and buses and lorries and where you have a greater mix of traffic you tend to have more accidents.

“It would be hard to tease apart whether a crash is caused by a driver wiping his eyes because of pollution or the type of traffic which is to blame.

“If you look at Mumbai and New Delhi where you have some of the worst air pollution, yes you have far more accidents, but it is also far more chaotic.

“So I think this research may be far-fetched as I think it would be very difficult to prove that a driver’s fitness is impaired by pollution.”

The results of the study are published today as a working paper, and will be submitted for peer review in the coming weeks.

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.

Alzheimer’s could be caused by toxic air pollution particles found in brain tissue

Abundance of magnetite in brains of people from Mexico City and Manchester described as “dreadfully shocking”

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/alzheimers-toxic-air-pollution-particles-brain-tissue-magnetite-barbara-maher-a7227891.html

Minute magnetic particles typically found in air pollution have been detected in “abundant” quantities in human brain tissue for the first time.

The tiny particles of iron oxide, known as magnetite, are toxic and it has been suggested they could play a role in causing or hastening the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, in which brain tissue samples from 37 people were collected from those who had lived in Mexico City and in Manchester in the UK, is the first to prove magnetite particles found in air pollution have made their way into the brain.

Magnetite naturally occurs in angular formations in the brain. But for every one natural angular particle, researchers found as many as 100 smooth, spherical particles.

The smooth shape of the observed magnetite particles is characteristic of high temperature formation, such as from vehicle (particularly diesel) engines, power stations or open fires, researchers said.

The toxic magnetite particles disrupt normal cellular functions in the brain by causing oxidative stress, and by the creation of unstable free radicals – particles which damage essential structures in brain cells.

Though no definite link between magnetite and Alzheimer’s has been established, previous studies have found a correlation between high quantities of the compound and the disease in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers.

The study was led by scientists at Lancaster University and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The World Health Organisation warned as many as three million premature deaths every year were the result of air pollution.

In the UK it is thought as many as 50,000 people die each year due to air pollution. A further 520,000 are affected by Alzheimer’s, a common form of dementia.

Physicist Barbara Maher, co-director of the Centre for Environmental Magnetism and Paleomagnetism at Lancaster University said in a statement: “Our results indicate that magnetite nanoparticles in the atmosphere can enter the human brain, where they might pose a risk to human health, including conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

“The particles we found are strikingly similar to the magnetite nanospheres that are abundant in the airborne pollution found in urban settings, especially next to busy roads, and which are formed by combustion or frictional heating from vehicle engines or brakes.”

Speaking to the BBC she added: “It’s dreadfully shocking. When you study the tissue you see the particles distributed between the cells and when you do a magnetic extraction there are millions of particles, millions in a single gram of brain tissue – that’s a million opportunities to do damage.”

Professor David Allsop, a specialist in Alzheimer’s at the University of Lancaster and co-author of the study, said: “This finding opens up a whole new avenue for research into a possible environmental risk factor for a range of different brain diseases.”

Geophysicist Joe Kirschvink at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who first detected naturally formed magnetite particles in the brain 25 years ago, told the journal Science, he believes the presence of the particle in the brain is “disturbing”.

He said: “Once you start getting larger volumes of [environmental] magnetite, the chemical reactivity goes way up.

“That nanoparticles of industrially generated magnetite are able to make their way into the brain tissues is disturbing.”

Dr David Reynolds, chief scientific officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, told the Press Association: “Little is known about the role of magnetite nanoparticles in the brain and whether their magnetic properties influence brain function.

“It’s interesting to see further research investigating the presence of this mineral in the brain, but it’s too early to conclude that it may have a causal role in Alzheimer’s disease or any other brain disease.

“We know that air pollution can have a negative impact on certain aspects of human health, but we can’t conclude from this study that magnetite nanoparticles carried in air pollution are harmful to brain health.”

Policymakers should take note of the results, Professor Maher told Science.

“It’s an unfortunately plausible risk factor, and it’s worth taking precautions. Policymakers have tried to account for this in their environmental regulations, but maybe those need to be revised,” she said.

Parma proves 70% recycling and 100kg residual waste can be achieved in only 4 years

This case study confirms that ZWE’s proposals for the Circular Economy package can be achieved in very little time

Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) has published today a new case study on the city of Parma, Italy, which highlights how with political will and citizen involvement it is possible to radically reduce residual waste, create jobs and save the taxpayers money.

Parma, with 190,284 inhabitants, had separate collection stagnated around 45% for some years. However a citizens-led initiative to move away from waste disposal managed in 2012 to transform waste policies and brought a zero waste plan for Parma.

The new plan copied and improved what is already working well in other towns of the zero waste network; intensive kerbside collection and pay-as-you-throw systems together with lots of education and keeping the system flexible to accomodate further improvements.

parma-graph

The indicator that the town used to measure success was the reduction of residual waste (what is sent for landfilling and/or WtE incineration) per capita which was reduced by a staggering 59%, from 283kg to 117kg, in only 4 years. By 2015 the separate collection was raised to 72% and the quality of the materials separated for recycling had also increased.

The new system of collection is more labour intensive which has meant that the number of waste collectors has increased from 77 to 121 with a number of other indirect jobs being created whilst the city has saved €453,736 in comparison with the former system.

parma-graph-2

But the transition is far from over. By end of 2016 Parma will be generating less than 100kg of residual waste per person and have achieved 80% separate collection and plans are to continue on the path to zero waste.

Joan Marc Simon, Director of ZWE said “Some spend their time finding excuses not to deliver in 2030, others like the city of Parma prove that a target of 70% recycling and 100kg residual waste per capita is achievable in less than 5 years”.

This case study and the case for a target on residual waste per capita will be presented in Brussels next Wednesday 22nd June by the Councilor for Environment of the city of Parma, Gabriele Folli, in the conference Towards Zero Waste Cities: How local authorities can apply waste prevention policies taking place at the Committee of the Regions.

Air pollution becomes leading risk factor for stroke worldwide

http://www.news-medical.net/news/20160613/Air-pollution-becomes-leading-risk-factor-for-stroke-worldwide.aspx

Three quarters of strokes worldwide could be prevented by addressing behavioural risk factors such as smoking, poor diet and low physical activity

Air pollution – including environmental and household air pollution – has emerged as a leading risk factor for stroke worldwide, associated with about a third of the global burden of stroke in 2013, according to a new study published in The Lancet Neurology journal.

The findings, from an analysis of global trends of risk factors for stroke between 1990-2013, also show that over 90% of the global burden of stroke is linked to modifiable risk factors, most of which (74%) are behavioural risk factors such as smoking, poor diet and low physical activity. The authors estimate that control of these risk factors could prevent about three-quarters of all strokes.

The study is the first to analyse the global risk factors for stroke in such detail, especially in relation to stroke burden on global, regional and national levels. The researchers used data from the Global Burden of Disease Study to estimate the disease burden of stroke associated with 17 risk factors in 188 countries. They estimated the population-attributable fraction (PAF) of stroke-related disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) – ie. the estimated proportion of disease burden in a population that would be avoided if exposure to a risk factor were eliminated.

Every year, approximately 15 million people worldwide suffer a stroke – of these, nearly six million die and five million are left with permanent disability. Disability may include loss of vision and/or speech, paralysis and confusion.

Globally, the ten leading risk factors for stroke were high blood pressure, diet low in fruit, high body mass index (BMI), diet high in sodium, smoking, diet low in vegetables, environmental air pollution, household pollution from solid fuels, diet low in whole grains, and high blood sugar (figure 2). About a third (29.2%) of global disability associated with stroke is linked to air pollution (including environmental air pollution and household air pollution). This is especially high in developing countries (33.7% vs 10.2% in developed countries).

In 2013, 16.9% of the global stroke burden was attributed to environmental air pollution (as measured by ambient particle matter [PM] pollution of aerodynamic diameter smaller than 2·5 μm) – almost as much as that from smoking (20.7%) (paper, table). From 1990 to 2013, stroke burden associated with environmental air pollution (PM25) has increased by over 33% (Appendix, table 4).

“A striking finding of our study is the unexpectedly high proportion of stroke burden attributable to environmental air pollution, especially in developing countries. Smoking, poor diet and low physical activity are some of the major risk factors for stroke worldwide, suggesting that stroke is largely a disease caused by lifestyle risk factors. Controlling these risk factors could prevent about three-quarters of strokes worldwide.” says lead author Professor Valery L Feigin, of Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand.

“Our findings are important for helping national governments and international agencies to develop and prioritise public health programmes and policies. Governments have the power and responsibility to influence these risk factors through legislation and taxation of tobacco, alcohol, salt, sugar or saturated fat content, while health service providers have the responsibility to check and treat risk factors such as high blood pressure,” he says.

“Taxation has been proven to be the most effective strategy in reducing exposure to smoking and excessive intake of salt, sugar and alcohol. If these risks take a toll on our health, and taxation is the best way to reduce exposure to these risks, it logically follows that governments should introduce such taxation and reinvest the resulting revenue back into the health of the population by funding much needed preventative programmes and research in primary prevention and health. All it takes is recognition of the urgent need to improve primary prevention, and the good will of the governments to act,” says Professor Feigin.

The relative importance of risk factors varied depending on age group, country and region:

  • Household air pollution was a more important risk factor for stroke in central, eastern, and western sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia (ranked 3rd), compared to North America, central, eastern and western Europe (where it was not in the top 10 risk factors) (paper, figure 2)
  • Low physical activity was a much greater risk factor for stroke among adults over 70 than among adults aged 15-69 (Appx, table 2)
  • Globally, the risk factor that was most reduced between 1990 and 2013 was second-hand smoke (31% reduction in stroke-related DALYs). The greatest reduction was in developed countries (Appx, table 4), but the contribution of second-hand smoke to global stroke burden still remains noticeable at 3.1% for 15-49 year olds, especially in developing countries where it reaches 3.2% (Appx, table 2).
  • The risk factor that was most increased was a diet high in sugar-sweetened beverages (63.1% increase in stroke-related DALYs). The greatest increase was in developed countries (Appx, table 4) but the contribution to stroke burden remains low at 1.6% for 15-49 year olds (Appx, table 2).
  • Air pollution, environmental risks, tobacco smoke, high blood pressure and dietary risks were more important risk factors for stroke in developing countries compared to developed countries.
  • Low physical activity was a more important risk factor for stroke in developed countries compared to developing countries.

The authors say that because of a lack of data, they could not include some important risk factors for stroke such as atrial fibrillation, substance abuse or other health conditions. They were also unable to account for patterns of some risk factors such as levels of smoking, BMI level or underlying genetic risk factors. The data does not differentiate between ischaemic and haemorrhagic strokes but the authors say that while the risk factors for different types of stroke may vary slightly at the individual level, global, regional and national policies tend to look at the overall risk of stroke.

The study also provides information on the contribution of all 17 risk factors for stroke for 188 countries, for example the top 5 risk factors for stroke in the following countries were:

  • UK & USA: high blood pressure, high BMI, diet low in fruit, diet low in vegetables, smoking (Appx, table 7 and 8).
  • India: high blood pressure, diet low in fruit, household air pollution, diet low in vegetables, diet high in sodium (Appx, table 7 and 8).
  • China: high blood pressure, diet low in fruit, diet high in sodium, smoking, environmental air pollution (Appx, table 7 and 8).

Writing in a linked Comment, Professor Vladimir Hachinski, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada and Dr Mahmoud Reza Azarpazhooh, Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, Mashhad, Iran, say:

The most alarming finding was that about a third of the burden of stroke is attributable to air pollution. Although air pollution is known to damage the lungs, heart, and brain, the extent of this threat seems to have been underestimated. Air pollution is not just a problem in big cities, but is also a global problem. With the ceaseless air streams across oceans and continents, what happens in Beijing matters in Berlin. Air pollution is one aspect of the fossil fuel and global warming problem, which is itself partly a result of westernisation and urbanisation, especially in India and China. In 1900, only about 15% of the world’s population lived in cities; now more than half the world’s population does. In cities, particularly in megacities (>10 million inhabitants), getting unhealthy food is easy and getting exercise is hard, emphasising the difficulty of achieving a healthy lifestyle in an unhealthy environment.

Hidden danger: keeping your house clean can harm your kids’ health, Hong Kong study finds

Researchers suggest limiting frequent exposure to chemicals to avoid rhinitis

Blocked noses, headaches, sneezing and other allergic symptoms among children in Hong Kong could be caused by household cleaning products, an alarming news study
has found.

Research by Chinese University of Hong Kong – the first to examine such products’ health effects on children in Asia – found that frequent use of the chemicals at home could increase the risk of children having rhinitis, or inflammation of the lining of the nose, by between 29 and 97 per cent.

The condition affecting up to 50 per cent of local primary school students could impair their quality of life as well as their scholastic performance, the researchers warned.

How living near a landfill can be harmful to health, especially for children ( Dr Xiangqian Lao, an assistant professor at Chinese University’s school of public health and primary care, said the findings suggested it was “necessary to develop healthier cleaning products”.

“Parents are also recommended to prevent triggering rhinitis in children by reducing their exposure to chemical cleaning products at home,” he said.

The three-year study surveyed over 2,299 students from 21 local primary schools on the use of 14 cleaning products at home.

It found the youngsters were most often exposed to kitchencleaning products, followed by floor-cleaning and bathroomcleaning products.

Children with the highest level of exposure to cleaning products – tallying more than 3.2 hours per week – had a 29 per cent higher risk of experiencing occasional rhinitis, a 97 per cent higher risk of frequent rhinitis, and a 67 per cent higher risk of persistent rhinitis.

Every additional hour of exposure was associated with a 2.1 per cent higher risk of occasional rhinitis, a 3.6 per cent higher risk of frequent rhinitis, and a 1.2 per cent higher risk of persistent rhinitis.

The results suggested the ensuing health effect could be due to one’s total exposure to an array of cleaning products rather than to just a single type of product.

But no such associations were observed regarding the use of clean water for daily household cleaning.

Hong Kong children wait more than a year for mental health treatment as list increases to 27,000 (The researchers suggested that common household cleaning products contained harmful chemicals, including propylene glycol, ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid or EDTA, and volatile organic compounds.

They said their study was in line with others noting the adverse effect of cleaning products, especially relating to various respiratory health outcomes like infections and
wheezing.

The study was published this month in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

According to the World Health Organisation, allergies affect up to 40 per cent of the world’s population, and the rate is rising, with allergic rhinitis being the most common.

Exposure to air pollution raises your blood pressure, Chinese study shows

Even brief exposure to chemicals found in air pollution can adversely affect blood pressure. Also in the news: women smokers more likely to give up by timing their quit date with their period

Both short- and long-term exposure to some air pollutants commonly associated with coal burning, vehicle exhaust, airborne dust and dirt are associated with the development of high blood pressure, according to new research in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension.

“In our analysis of 17 previously published studies we discovered a significant risk of developing high blood pressure due to exposure to air pollution,” says Tao Liu, lead study author from the Guangdong Provincial Institute of Public Health in China. “People should limit their exposure on days with higher air pollution levels, especially for those with high blood pressure; even very short-term exposure can aggravate their conditions.”

The 17 studies involved a total of more than 108,000 hypertension patients and 220,000 non-hypertensive controls. The meta-analysis found high blood pressure was significantly associated with short-term exposure to sulphur dioxide, which mainly comes from the burning of fossil fuel, and particulate matter (PM2.5, the most common and hazardous type of air pollution, and PM10). It was also significantly associated with long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is produced from combustion, and PM10.

No significant associations were found between hypertension and short-term effects of ozone and carbon monoxide exposure. Researchers said ozone and carbon monoxide’s links to high blood pressure requires further study.

Female smokers more likely to kick the habit by ‘timing’ their quit date with their menstrual cycle

Women who want to quit smoking may have better success synchronising their quit date with the period of time following ovulation and prior to menstruation, according to a new study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. This period, according to the study published in Biology of Sex Differences, is when brain circuitry involved in making “good decisions” is optimal.

Penn researchers recruited 38 physically healthy, premenopausal women aged between 21 and 51 years of age who smoke and who were not taking hormonal contraceptives. Functional MRI scans were done on the women to examine how regions of the brain that help control behaviour are functionally connected to regions of the brain that signal reward.

Results revealed that during the follicular phase – which begins at menstruation and continues until ovulation – there was reduced functional connectivity between brain regions that helps make good decisions and the brain regions that contain the reward centre, which could place women in the follicular phase at greater risk for continued smoking and relapse. Using smoking cues (pictures of smoking reminders such as an individual smoking) was associated with weaker connections between cognitive control regions in follicular females.

“Interestingly, the findings may represent a fundamental effect of menstrual cycle phase on brain connectivity and may be linked to other behaviours, such as responses to other rewarding substances (ie alcohol and foods high in fat and sugar),” says study senior author Teresa Franklin.

Long-term memory test could aid earlier Alzheimer’s diagnosis

People with Alzheimer’s disease could benefit from earlier diagnosis if a long-term memory test combined with a brain scan were carried out, a study suggests. University of Edinburgh scientists, in collaboration with colleagues in the US, studied long-term memory in young mice, some of which had the equivalent of very early stage Alzheimer’s disease, and some of which were healthy.

They say testing memory over a long timescale reveals early deficits in the brain’s ability to remember that go undetected by checks for short-term forgetfulness, which is the current practice for diagnosis. They add that the type of memory loss revealed by such tests could potentially be reversed by the development of new treatments.

In the study, the mice were taught to locate a hidden platform in a pool filled with water, using signs on the wall of the room to navigate. When tested shortly after the initial task, both groups of mice were able to remember the way to the platform. However, when tested one week later, the mice in the Alzheimer’s group had significantly more difficulty remembering the route.

Professor Richard Morris, who led the research, says: “We recognise that tests with animals must be interpreted with caution, but the use of these genetic models in conjunction with appropriate testing is pointing at an important dimension of early diagnosis.”
________________________________________
Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/health-beauty/article/1962643/exposure-air-pollution-raises-your-blood-pressure-chinese

Why air pollution is damaging more than just your breathing

The worse the pollution gets, the higher the costs multiply for business

Air pollution caused some 1.6 million people in China to die prematurely in 2013, according to research presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) early this year.

The University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health found that air pollution caused some 2,000 premature deaths in Hong Kong and public health costs amounted to HK$27 billion in 2015.

And late last year, severe smog caused the government to issue Beijing’s first ever pollution “red alert”, closing down schools.

Most of us are well aware of the health effects brought by airborne pollution and the resulting costs this brings with it. But less known is the psychological effect it has on our behaviour, and consequently our performance in the workplace.

Such psychological effect is seldom considered when assessing pollution’s true economic impact.

In a recent research study. My research colleagues and I examined the effect of air pollution on workplace behaviour in the city of Wuhan in central China – a country infamous for having some of the most dangerously polluted urban environments in the world.

In our study we focused on a behavioural theory that essentially says that an individual’s self-control draws upon a limited pool of mental resources, one that can be used up and needs opportunities to restore.

Air pollution can drain our self-control resources psychologically, causing a range of conditions including insomnia, feelings of anxiety or even depression.

Through a study of 161 full-time employees across different industries, our research examined how pollution affects two kinds of behaviour – organisational citizenship behaviour and counterproductive workplace behaviour.

Organisational citizenship behaviour relates to employee actions that contribute towards the functioning of the firm, but are optional and not specifically part of their job.

Some might label it “going above and beyond the call of duty” which includes actions such as willingness to be helpful to others, to engage with their team beyond their job scope, or to take action that protects or improves the firm’s image.

The second behaviour is just the flipside. Counterproductive behaviour includes a range of negative employee actions such as working on personal matters during work hours, as well as rudeness, hostility or even outright bullying towards colleagues. A common term for this might be “deviance at the workplace”.

In our research we asked participants to record daily diary entries rating their perception of pollution levels, their level of mental resource depletion as well as organisational citizenship and counterproductive workplace behaviours.

We found a clear link between high air pollution and decreased levels of organisational citizenship behaviour. Likewise increased pollution saw a corresponding and marked increase in counterproductive workplace behaviour.

Taking into account variations for gender and age, we observed that air pollution leads to a decrease in self-control resource, which in turn leads to increased counterproductive and decreased organisational citizenship behaviours. Specifically the data gathered showed that the severity of air pollution accounted for an average of around 10 per cent of an individual’s daily self-control resource depletion.

The impact of air pollution makes us less giving or engaged at work and more deviant.

Moreover, in line with ego depletion theory it is apparent that both the direct physiological impact of air pollution and the individual’s own perception of its severity act to deplete resources affecting self-control.

A worker may experience little or no health effects from pollution while another in the same office may suffer badly. Likewise one individual’s perception of what constitutes “severe” pollution may be very different from another.

An essential factor in determining an individual’s ability to manage the effects of drained self-control resources is the support they receive – or feel they receive – from those around them. For example, demonstrations of active support from the firm can go some way to replenish an employee’s mental resource pool.

Indeed our study also found that the negative effects of air pollution on employees’ behaviour were mitigated when organisational support was high – i.e. when the employee perceived that their supervisor or firm was concerned for their well-being.

We also came across firms taking active steps to tackle the immediate effects of pollution, such as installing more effective air filters in their offices.

Similarly supportive firms might provide additional work breaks or the option to work from home on high pollution days, or they may provide easier and better access to
healthcare.

While this favours an argument that firms should do all that they can to support employees exposed to severe air pollution, all of this comes with a cost to the firm.

The worse the pollution gets, the higher the costs multiply for business – so at a broader level the best option would obviously be if there were no pollution at all.

By conducting studies like ours we can better understand the true social and economic implications of pollution, and in turn add weight to the financial argument for stronger and more effective policies to tackle pollution at source.

And in turn, create a cleaner and healthier environment for Hong Kong and China’s next generation to grow up in.

Sam Yam Kai Chi is Assistant Professor of Management & Organization at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School.

Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/business/article/1942630/why-air-pollutiondamaging-more-just-your-breathing