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PM2.5

Causeway Bay has worst air in Hong Kong, statistics show

District exceeded the WHO’s limit on the concentration of small particulates in the air on 227 days of 2016

http://www.atimes.com/article/causeway-bay-worst-air-hong-kong-statistics-show/

Causeway Bay, on Hong Kong Island, had the poorest air in the city in 2016, followed by Tuen Mun in the New Territories West and Mong Kok in Kowloon, according to chief of the city’s Environment Bureau, citing from analyses by the Environmental Protection Department.

Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing made a written reply to the Legislative Council on Wednesday regarding concern over high-level air pollution in Hong Kong.

The World Health Organization’s guidelines state that the concentration of small particulates PM2.5 over a 24-hour period should not exceed 25 micrograms per cubic metre.

In 2016, Causeway Bay exceeded the limit on 227 days of the year, while for Tuen Mun and Mong Kok the numbers were 173 days and 171 days respectively. Other locations in Hong Kong monitored by the government averaged 100 days.

Pollution from the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong Province and tropical cyclones are often blamed for Hong Kong’s poor air quality.

Over 80% of high pollution days were said to be caused by the downdraught effect of tropical cyclones, which results in the accumulation of ozone and fine suspended particulates in the Pearl River Delta. Wong explained that the pollutants are then brought to the city by westerly or northwesterly winds.

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.”

Hong Kong’s official air quality index failing to warn on deadly health hazard

Paul Stapleton warns that the Air Quality Health Index is creating a false sense of security by consistently failing to consider dangerous levels of PM2.5, the fine particulate matter associated with lung disease

Each morning after waking up, I look out of the window at the clarity of the air and then check two websites that give air pollution readings for Hong Kong.

Admittedly, my first action is very subjective. Air clarity is a crude way to measure pollution levels, especially during months that tend to be foggy. This is why I check the indexes on those two sites. Then, I decide whether to go out for a jog or stay indoors on the treadmill.

One of the websites is run by the Environmental Protection Department. It makes air-quality forecasts and generates a real-time Air Quality Health Index [2] scaled from 1 to 10+, or “low” to “serious”. The other site is the reputable World Air Quality Index (aqicn.org) [3], which measures only particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5), one-thirtieth the width of a human hair.

These microscopic particles that just hang in the air are known to penetrate deep into our lungs when we breathe. They mostly come from vehicle exhausts, the burning of coal to make electricity and other industrial activities.

They are also known to be hazardous to health, especially of children; PM2.5 is associated with lung diseases, including cancer, as well as cardiovascular disease.

During the past week, the air pollution forecast on the local TV news each day, presumably taken from the government service, was for “low” to “medium” levels. However, at the World Air Quality Index, PM2.5 levels have been in excess of 100 for several days running. The US Environmental Protection Agency puts the 24-hour and annual standard for PM2.5 at 35 and 15 respectively. Thus, on days when Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department was informing the public that the level of air pollution was forecast to be low to medium, the amount of PM2.5 – arguably the mostly deadly pollutant – exceeded safe levels by a big margin.

In defence of the Air Quality Health Index, many other pollutants, such as ozone, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, are included in its composite measure, and their levels may have been “low”. However, even if their levels are low and only the PM2.5 is high, that does not mean it is safe to be outdoors for extended periods, especially for young children whose lungs are particularly prone to damage [6] by pollutants in the air.

Unfortunately, the discrepancy I noticed this past week is not an isolated incident. Regularly, the index forecasts the level of air pollution in Hong Kong to be “low to moderate” on the following day when the PM2.5 reading turns out to be at levels much higher than that acceptable by international standards. Sadly, the government’s daily forecast lends a false sense of security about air quality. In the end, it may be best to look out of the window and judge for oneself.

Paul Stapleton is an associate professor at the Education University of Hong Kong

________________________________________
Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/2061239/hong-kongs-official-air-quality-index-failing-warn-deadly

Hong Kong enjoys a breath of fresh air but it’s not enough to meet annual quality goals

Lower concentrations of harmful pollutants were recorded last year but roadside-dominant nitrogen dioxide remains a headache for the city

Lower concentrations of harmful pollutants were recorded last year, including the tiny particulates that can penetrate deep into the lungs – but roadside- dominant nitrogen dioxide remains a headache for the city, with most figures failing annual air quality targets.

And while ambient concentrations of hazardous ozone fell for the second consecutive year, they are proving stubbornly hard to cut having increased 15 per cent since 1999.

The preliminary air quality data for 2016 was released by the Environmental Protection Department yesterday.

At roadsides, concentrations of respirable suspended particulates (PM10) dropped by 15 per cent, fine suspended particulates (PM2.5) by 12 per cent, and sulphur dioxide
(SO2) by 10 per cent.

Similar drops were recorded at general stations. Fewer hours and days of high health risk air were recorded at both ambient and roadside stations last year.

But although roadside concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – a product of fuel combustion – fell by 17 per cent, the average annual concentration of 82 micrograms per cubic metre of air was still more than double the annual air quality objective target of just 40.

All three roadside monitoring stations also fell short of the air quality objectives for acceptable annual NO2 levels last year.

“Roadside NO2 remains a very big challenge as reduction technologies available now are not that sophisticated,” assistant director of air policy Mok Wai-chuen said.

At roadsides, concentrations of respirable suspended particulates (PM10) dropped by 15 per cent, fine suspended particulates (PM2.5) by 12 per cent, and sulphur dioxide
(SO2) by 10 per cent.

Similar drops were recorded at general stations. Fewer hours and days of high health risk air were recorded at both ambient and roadside stations last year.

But although roadside concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – a product of fuel combustion – fell by 17 per cent, the average annual concentration of 82 micrograms per cubic metre of air was still more than double the annual air quality objective target of just 40.

All three roadside monitoring stations also fell short of the air quality objectives for acceptable annual NO2 levels last year.

“Roadside NO2 remains a very big challenge as reduction technologies available now are not that sophisticated,” assistant director of air policy Mok Wai-chuen said.

He believed improvements in particulate pollution were a result of policy measures such as an ongoing scheme to phase out old diesel commercial vehicles progressively and new laws requiring ships at berth to switch to low- sulphur fuel.

“This proves our policies to tackle particulate matter have been effective,” he said, adding that other measures such as tightening emission controls are being looked at.

Mok claimed the most severely polluted days were a result of ozone, a regional problem, either from pollution blowing in from the Pearl River Delta or meteorological
conditions such as tropical cyclones.

Ozone is formed through a reaction of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air and under sunlight. It is a main component of photochemical smog – which gives a dusk sky a lurid, orange tint – and at elevated levels, can cause or aggravate respiratory diseases.

Asked if the toxic smog plaguing northern China could have drifted south, he said “it could not be ruled out” but “was of low possibility”.

The Clean Air Network’s Loong Tsz-wai said Mok’s meteorological explanations diverted attention from the most pressing issue, which was roadside pollution and the
“uncontrolled growth” of road vehicles.

“Most of our exposure to bad air is at roadside,” he said. “NO2 concentrations may be going down but the effectiveness of exhaust pipe policies could be easily offset over the years if the number of private cars is not curbed.”

Wang Tao, chair professor of atmospheric environment at Polytechnic University, said the increase in regional ozone had indeed slowed since 2013, but not fallen. More control of precursors, such as VOC and NOX, were needed on both sides of the border, he said.

Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/healthenvironment/article/2059691/hong-kong-enjoys-breath-fresh-air-its-not-enough

World’s Worst Air Has Mongolians Seeing Red, Planning Action

If you think air pollution in China has been bad, just look at Mongolia.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-22/world-s-worst-air-has-mongolians-seeing-red-planning-protest

Levels of particulate matter in the air have risen to almost 80 times the recommended safety level set by the World Health Organization — and five times worse than Beijing during the past week’s bout with the worst smog of the year.

Mongolian power plants working overtime during the frigid winter belch plumes of soot into the atmosphere, while acrid smoke from coal fires shrouds the shantytowns of the capital, Ulaanbaatar, in a brown fog. Angry residents planned a protest, organized on social media, on Dec. 26.

The level of PM2.5, or fine particulate matter, in the air as measured hourly peaked at 1,985 micrograms a cubic meter on Dec. 16 in the capital’s Bayankhoshuu district, according to data posted by government website agaar.mn. The daily average settled at 1,071 micrograms that day.

The World Health Organization recommends PM2.5 exposure of no more than 25 micrograms over 24 hours.

800x-1

In Beijing, the year’s worst bout of noxious smog prompted officials to issue the year’s first red alert and order 1,200 factories to close or cut output. Earlier this week, PM2.5 levels exceeded 400 in the capital, and Chinese officials on Tuesday canceled 351 flight departures because of limited visibility. The highest daily average in the past week, on Wednesday, registered 378. Worse, the PM2.5 reading in Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei, exceeded 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter earlier this week, according to the China National Environment Monitoring Center.

Mongolia’s contracting economic growth and a widening budget gap have left authorities few resources to fight the dangerous smog.

Tariff Eliminated

After first cutting the nighttime electricity tariff by 50 percent to encourage residents to heat their homes with electric heaters instead of raw coal or other flammable material that is often toxic, Prime Minister Erdenebat Jargaltulga announced Friday that the tariff would eliminated entirely as of Jan. 1. Longer term, he proposed building apartments to replace makeshift housing using a loan from China, doing more to encourage electric heating, and reducing poverty to slow migration to the capital, according to a government statement.

The conversion of ger districts, where hundreds of thousands of people live in makeshift homes including tents, into apartment complexes has so far been stymied by an economic crisis that has pushed the government to seek economic lifelines from partners including the International Monetary Fund and China.

On Wednesday, Defense Minister Bat-Erdene Badmaanyambuu announced that a 50-bed wing of Ulaanbaatar’s military hospital will open up for children with pneumonia, as city hospitals were filled to capacity, according to a statement on the government’s website.

Public Anger

Public anger over the government’s handling of pollution has been growing on social media, where residents share pictures of the smog, encourage methods of protection and call on the government to do more to protect citizens. The latest trend Friday had Mongolians changing their profile pictures on Facebook to show themselves wearing air pollution masks.

The air pollution protest next week was being organized for Sukhbaatar Square, the capital’s central plaza. A crowdfunding campaign to purchase 100 air purifiers for hospitals and schools raised more than $1,400 in five days.

“The hospital I visited today did not have any air purifiers, even though 40 mothers were scattered along a narrow corridor, each with a sick baby in their arms,” Onon Bayasgalan, an environmentalist who organized the crowdfunding campaign, said Thursday. “They sleep on fold out cots in the corridors, as the hospital rooms are full of pneumonia cases.’’

Impending Crisis

Earlier this month, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned of an impending crisis if the smoke levels are not reduced, calling children under 5 and those still in the womb the most vulnerable.

“Children are projected to suffer from unprecedented levels of chronic respiratory disease later in life,” the UNICEF report said, warning of the rising economic costs of these diseases unless “major new measures” are urgently enacted. “The alarming levels of air pollution in Ulaanbaatar during the long winter cannot be neglected any longer, as their short- and long-term negative health impact has been demonstrated, especially for children.’’

A 2013 study by Canada’s Simon Fraser University concluded that 10 percent of deaths in Ulaanbaatar were related to complications from air pollution.

“Most of my colleagues’ children are hospitalized or at home struggling with respiratory problems,’’ Lhagva Erdene, news director at Mongol TV station, said in an e-mail. “We feel helpless and frustrated for the inaction of our government.’’

Neither the ministers for foreign affairs nor the environment replied to requests for comment.

Byambasaikhan Bayanjargal, who heads the Business Council of Mongolia in the capital, said he and his family try to stay indoors as much as possible and spend weekends outside the city.

“There have been shifting policies, and that is frustrating,” he said. “There needs to be consistent policy and stability so businesses can find solutions to this problem.’’

Friday’s PM2.5 levels in northern Ulaanbaatar peaked at 932 at noon, while the monthly average for December so far was 518. Meanwhile in Beijing, where the government lifted its pollution warning Thursday, skies were clear and air quality improved.

New watered-down EU air pollution targets

Compared to the Commission’s proposal, the relaxed targets finally agreed by member states and parliament will result in thousands of additional cases of premature death.

http://airclim.org/acidnews/new-watered-down-eu-air-pollution-targets

On 30 June, the last day of the Dutch EU Presidency, the Council and the European Parliament reached a provisional agreement on a new National Emission Ceilings (NEC) directive.

The new directive establishes national limits for the emissions of five pollutants: sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC), ammonia and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). The limits are set as binding National Emission Reduction Commitments (NERC), expressed as percentage reductions from the base year 2005.

The NERCs for 2020 to 2029 are identical to those to which the member states are already committed in the revised Gothenburg protocol under the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution. Since these limits in many cases allow emissions that are even higher that what is expected to result from countries implementing already adopted legislation, they have widely been criticised for their weakness.

More importantly, new stricter NERCs from 2030 have now been agreed. These are set to reduce the health impacts of air pollution by 49.6 per cent in 2030, compared to 2005. While the Commission and the Parliament aimed for an ambition level that would result in a 52 per cent reduction in premature deaths from air pollution, the Council (i.e. the member states) argued for a significantly less ambitious target of 48 per cent. The compromise now agreed has been estimated to result in some 10,000 additional annual premature deaths in 2030, on top of more than a quarter of a million annual premature deaths that are expected to remain if the Commission’s proposal was to be implemented.

Looking at the specific NERCs for each member state, and comparing these with the Commission’s proposal, it was agreed to lower 79 of the 140 targets for 2030, while agreeing to keep 40 at the level proposed by the Commission, and setting more ambitious targets in just 21 cases (see Table).

At the bottom of the league among member states we find Bulgaria, Greece and Romania, who have all chosen to weaken their NERCs for all five pollutants, while Austria, Denmark, Italy, Poland and the UK lowered targets for four of the pollutants.

In contrast, Finland accepted all its targets, closely followed by Belgium, France and Sweden, which stick to four out of the five targets. As icing on the cake, Finland has opted for a tougher target for ammonia, and Sweden has opted for tougher targets for both sulphur dioxide and PM2.5.

For the EU as a whole, ammonia and NMVOC are the pollutants for which the ambition level has been downgraded the most, by six percentage points. This outcome for ammonia is particularly remarkable as the emission cuts achieved so far for this pollutant have been very modest compared to those for the other pollutants, especially considering that the proposed reduction target for 2030 was much less ambitious than for the other pollutants.

Member states managed to remove the ozone precursor methane completely from the directive, despite objections from the Parliament and the Commission. Here, the industrial farming lobby was instrumental in pushing through both the drastically lowered ambition for ammonia and the removal of methane.

Moreover, member states succeeded in introducing a variety of additional flexibilities in order to make it easier for them to comply. While the Commission had already included three flexibilities in its proposal, five more have now been added to the final text. Environmental organisations have strongly criticised these flexibilities, claiming that they will result in higher emissions; delayed reductions; more avoidable deaths and environmental damage; more unnecessary administration; and an unenforceable directive.

Because of the lax 2020 targets, and to better ensure that countries really are on track to meet their 2030 NERCs, the Parliament had also pushed for binding targets for the intermediate year 2025. The Commission’s proposal included only indicative (i.e. non-binding) targets for that year. Here, member states succeeded in watering down even the already weak Commission proposal, so that now there are only vague guiding figures for 2025.

Commenting on the outcome, Louise Duprez, senior air quality policy officer at the EEB, said: “EU action to cut air pollution is welcome and will help Europeans breathe more easily. But all in all this is a missed opportunity that will still leave tens of thousands of citizens exposed to avoidable air pollution. The Parliament and the Commission were defeated by member states, including the UK, France, Italy, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, which preferred to allow industry and agriculture to carry on polluting rather than focusing attention on measures to save people’s lives.”

On 12 July, the Parliament ’s environment committee voted to support the provisional NEC deal, with 43 votes in favour and 14 against. Before it comes into force, the NEC proposal will go to the Parliament for a vote in plenary in November, and after that the Council will need to officially endorse the text.

Christer Ågren

Table: Country-by-country national emission reduction commitments (NERC) for 2030 in per cent as compared to the base year 2005. Left column shows the Commission’s proposal, as adjusted in early 2015; Right column shows the final outcome, as agreed on 30 June 2016.

Table: Country-by-country national emission reduction commitments (NERC) for 2030 in per cent as compared to the base year 2005. Left column shows the Commission’s proposal, as adjusted in early 2015; Right column shows the final outcome, as agreed on 30 June 2016.

OECD warns of rising costs of air pollution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

global-welfare-costs

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

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

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

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

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

Christer Ågren

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

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

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

Christie Tse and Joyce Au find out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information visit cleartheair.org.hk.

Air pollution causes wrinkles and premature ageing, new research shows

Toxic fumes may be the primary cause of skin ageing in polluted cities such as London, New York and Beijing, scientists say

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/15/air-pollution-causes-wrinkles-and-premature-ageing-new-research-shows

Air pollution is prematurely ageing the faces of city dwellers by accelerating wrinkles and age spots, according to emerging scientific research.

The effects of toxic fumes on skin are being seen in both western cities, such as London and New York, as well as in more visibly polluted Asian cities and in some cases may be the primary cause of ageing. The pollution is also being linked to worsening skin conditions such as eczema and hives.

The scientific discoveries are now driving the world’s biggest cosmetics companies to search for solutions, including medicine-like compounds that directly block the biological damage. But doctors warn that some common skin care routines, such as scrubs, make the damage from air pollution even worse.

Poisonous air is already known to cause millions of early deaths from lung and heart diseases and has been linked to diabetes and mental health problems. But perhaps its most visible impact, the damage caused to skin, is just beginning to be understood.

“With traffic pollution emerging as the single most toxic substance for skin, the dream of perfect skin is over for those living and working in traffic-polluted areas unless they take steps to protect their skin right now,” said Dr Mervyn Patterson, a cosmetic doctor at Woodford Medical clinics in the UK.

“Unless people do more they will end up wearing the pollution on their faces in 10 years’ time. It is definitely something people now need to take seriously.”

Prof Jean Krutmann, director at the Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine in Germany, said: “UV [damage from the sun] was really the topic in skin protection for the last 20-30 years. Now I think air pollution has the potential to keep us busy for the next few decades.”

Air pollution in urban areas, much of which comes from traffic, includes tiny particles called PMs, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and chemicals such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). “What is very clear is that PMs are a problem for skin,” said Krutmann, whose work has shown PMs increase age spots and wrinkles.

But one of the his newest studies showed NO2 also increases ageing. They studied people in both Germany and China and discovered that age spots on their cheeks increased by 25% with a relatively small increase in pollution, 10 microgrammes of NO2 per cubic metre. Many parts of the UK have illegally high levels of NO2, with London breaking its annual limit in the first week of 2016, with levels reaching over 200 microgrammes of NO2 per cubic metre.

Krutmann said other factors, such as UV exposure, nutrition and smoking contribute to ageing: “But what we can say is that, at least for the pigment spots on the cheeks, it seems air pollution is the major driver.”

“It is not a problem that is limited to China or India – we have it in Paris, in London, wherever you have larger urban agglomerations you have it,” he said. “In Europe everywhere is so densely populated and the particles are being distributed by the wind, so it is very difficult to escape from the problem.”

The accelerated skin ageing was seen in relatively young people and Patterson said: “If you are seeing these changes in middle age, these are worrying trends.”

Other recent research is summed up in a review paper in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science, which concluded: “Prolonged or repetitive exposure to high levels of these [air] pollutants may have profound negative effects on the skin.”

Understanding exactly how air pollution causes the skin damage is at an early stage, according to Krutmann: “We are just now dipping into the mechanisms.” But many of the pollutants are known to pass easily through the skin and cause a variety of impacts.

“These agents have a very irritating effect and once they get into the skin, they activate multiple pathways of inflammation,” said Patterson. “Some pathways ignite the melanocytes, which create far too much pigment and end up giving you unwanted sun spots.”

“Other pathways ignite messengers that make blood vessels grow, that’s what results in increased redness and potentially rosacea,” he said. “Also, if you damage skin, it goes into repair mode and excites enzymes which re-adsorb damaged collagen. When you have too much chronic inflammation, these enzymes remove more collagen than your skin can create. This produces skin laxity and that’s where fine lines and wrinkles come in.”

Dr Debra Jaliman, a skin expert based in New York City, says her patients are now worrying about the impact of air pollution on their skin, which she said can cause darkening of the skin and acne-like eruptions, as well as ageing.

“At the moment, there are not many products for prevention [of air pollution damage], however it may be a trend in the coming years as it becomes a much bigger issue,” she said.

Major beauty companies have begun their own research and are launching the first products formulated to battle skin damage from toxic air. Dr Frauke Neuser, senior scientist for Olay, a Procter and Gamble brand, has run studies showing significantly lower skin hydration in people living in polluted areas and lab studies showing that diesel fumes and PMs cause inflammation in skin cells.

Her team then screened for ingredients that could counteract some of the damaging effects. “We found niacinamide – vitamin B3 – to be particularly effective,” she said. “We have recently increased its level in several products by as much as 40%.”

Frauke’s work has also shown direct correlations between spikes in PM air pollution in Beijing and an increase in hospital visits by people with skin conditions including hives. “This indicates that not only skin ageing but also skin health are affected by air pollution,” she said.

L’Oreal, another cosmetics giant, published a medical study in 2015 showing that eczema and hives were more common in people in Mexico exposed to higher levels of air pollution, a conclusion supported by separate research in Canada. “The next step is to understand more deeply the environment-induced damages, in order to develop skin ageing prevention routines and products,” said Dr Steve Shiel, scientific director at L’Oreal.

Clinique, a big makeup brand, has already launched a sonic face cleansing brush it claims better removes pollution. “This [air pollution] is not going to go away. This is not a problem that is easily fixed,” said Janet Pardo at Clinique.

However, researchers are now working on medicine-like compounds that block the damage from air pollution from occurring in the first place. Krutmann’s lab helped Symrise, one of the world’s biggest suppliers of cosmetics ingredients, identify one, though the lab has no commercial stake in the product, which is called SymUrban.

“We found one molecule that can do the job,” he said, and it is now being registered as cosmetic ingredient. “In a few years from now I expect we will see cosmetic products that can specifically protect against skin ageing from air pollution.”

Patterson said it is possible for people to give themselves some protection now. “You don’t have to sit back passively and put up with it. You can take sensible, easy steps that will make a difference.”

“If your skin is really healthy, it is quite a good barrier,” he said, explaining that the top layer is like a roof – flattened cells like tiles separated by protective lipids.

“Certain skin care products are very disruptive to the surface of the skin,” he warned. “So a darling of the industry is retinoids, but these have a very profound negative effect on barrier function. Another darling of the industry is glycolic acid, but it is also very disruptive to the external skin barrier. People think these are good skin care, making the skin look smoother, but they are not helpful for the overall health of the skin barrier.”

Patterson is also dismissive of face scrubs: “The skin is trying its damnedest to make this wonderful defence mechanism and what do women and men do? They scrub the hell out of it. It just doesn’t make sense.” He said products that help repair the skin barrier, by delivering the pre-cursor lipids the cells need, are beneficial, as are ones that tackle inflammation.

“You can also put on a very nice physical shield in the form of good quality mineral makeup,” he said. “That produces an effect like a protective mesh and probably has some trapping effect, protecting against the initial penetration of particles. But you also need always to try to remove that shield in the evening, washing the slate clean every night.”

A New Air Pollution Database Is Good, but Imperfect

WHO’s most recent atlas of air quality leaves significant gaps in coverage

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released its latest global urban air pollution database, including information for nearly 3,000 cities—a doubling from the 2014 database, which itself had data from 500 more cities than the previous (2011) iteration. These increases in coverage in air pollution measurement and reporting is encouraging, but the WHO numbers reveal that we still have a ways to go to construct a comprehensive and accurate picture of global air quality.

WHO singles out Onitsha, Nigeria and Zabol, Iran as the cities with the world’s worst air pollution, the first for elevated coarse particulate, or PM10, levels and the second for extreme fine particulate, or PM2.5, concentrations.

Yet these dubious rankings come with many uncertainties and stir more questions than they answer. “It is difficult to get accurate measurements in Africa,” a WHO spokeswoman said. “[I]deally the measurements should be done over a year to include different seasons and times of day. The reading in Onitsha may be representative but not altogether reliable.”

The air in Onitsha and Zabol is, in other words, bad, though just how bad we cannot say with certainty. Global air quality is worsening, human exposure to air pollution is on the rise, and deaths caused by these toxins have increased from 4.8 million in 1990 to 5.5 million in 2015. These trends are not, however, represented evenly throughout the world. Developing nations, those experiencing rapid industrial and urban expansion, bear the brunt of air pollution’s pernicious effects. The air in cities like Onitsha and Delhi has worsened as their populations and polluting industries have grown, while New York and London’s air quality has steadily improved.

And yet it is developing cities and nations that are least equipped to monitor and manage their ambient environment. WHO’s latest air quality database underscores this problem, as nations with the most resources have steadily increased air quality monitoring and reporting and have seen their air quality steadily improve. Developing countries have experienced deteriorating air quality alongside economic growth, as measurement in these places lags behind.

The vast majority of ground-based monitors are located in Europe and North America meaning there are major “blindspots” obfuscating where air pollution is affecting the most people in the most pernicious ways. These blindspots are why we need new ways to monitor global air pollution. The 2016 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) reveals the extent to which ground-based air monitoring and reporting is missing areas suffering from some of the world’s worst air pollution. Using satellite data, researchers at Dalhousie University have estimated ground-based exposures to fine particulate pollution or PM2.5—microscopic particles that can penetrate deep into human lung and blood tissue, leading to cardiovascular disease and other serious health impacts.

These satellite data have advantages as well as their disadvantages compared to ground-based information. Satellites offer a globally-consistent, long-term, and dynamic view of air pollution levels, exposures and trends. Satellite data provide a picture of the average PM pollution that an individual living in a particular place would be exposed to on a typical day, potentially smoothing out outlying spikes in air toxin concentrations. These data can be used to gauge pollution’s impacts on human health – in total, Global Burden of Disease estimates outdoor and indoor air pollution is responsible for 5.5 million premature deaths a year. Satellites do not, however, measure air pollution at the ground level, where people live and breathe, which is why governments need to invest in ground-based monitors.

Here we present four visualizations from Data-Driven Yale’s latest research on global air pollution and a fifth graphic from recent studies on pollution sources with original analysis:

1. Nearly half of the world’s people breathes unsafe air, with populations in developing countries disproportionately exposed. One-third (1.3 billion) of these people live in the East Asia and Pacific region, where in China and South Korea more than 50 percent of their populations are exposed to unsafe levels of fine particulate matter. In India and Nepal, the percentage is nearly 75 percent – a figure reinforced by WHO’s 2016 database, showing that 16 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities are in India. In our interactive map areas shaded red or darker experience air pollution that exceeds 10 micrograms/m3 – the threshold WHO considers unsafe for people to breathe. The map shows that East Asia, Northern India, and Northern Africa have the world’s highest levels of fine particulate pollution.

GLOBAL EXPOSURE (IN MICROGRAMS PER CUBIC METER) TO FINE PARTICULATE POLLUTION (PM.5).

GLOBAL EXPOSURE (IN MICROGRAMS PER CUBIC METER) TO FINE PARTICULATE POLLUTION (PM.5).

2. Nitrogen dioxide pollution, produced mainly from fossil fuel combustion, is a precursor of ozone and smog and mostly affects Europe and East Asia. In Europe, tax policies dating back to the 1970s and regulations from the 1990s designed to limit tailpipe CO2 emissions have encouraged the production and use of diesel vehicles, resulting in elevated NO2 levels. While diesel vehicles generate 15 percent less CO2 than their gasoline counterparts, diesel engines emit four times more NO2. In London, NO2 pollution is linked to 9,500 deaths annually. These data, derived from satellite estimates, show that air pollution is not only a developing world problem, but that industrialized countries also suffer from foul air. European cities, however, are implementing ambitious policies to reduce air pollution, such as the British capital’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone, which is expected to cut central London’s pollution in half by 2020. Overall air quality has improved in Europe in the last decade, while pollution continues to worsen in most of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

GLOBAL EXPOSURE (IN PPM) TO NITROGEN DIOXIDE (NO2).

GLOBAL EXPOSURE (IN PPM) TO NITROGEN DIOXIDE (NO2).

3. Global monitoring is improving, primarily in developed countries. Figure 3 shows increases in the number of cities monitoring air pollution from the WHO’s 2011, 2014 and 2016 databases. Cities monitoring air pollution have increased in number to the greatest extent in Europe and high-income countries in the Americas in the last five years. Progress in lower to middle-income countries has been much slower.

NUMBER OF CITIES WITH AIR POLLUTION DATA IN WHO’S URBAN AIR POLLUTION DATABASE IN 2011, 2014 AND 2016. DATA SOURCE: WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION

NUMBER OF CITIES WITH AIR POLLUTION DATA IN WHO’S URBAN AIR POLLUTION DATABASE IN 2011, 2014 AND 2016. DATA SOURCE: WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION

4. Governments that have implemented policies to control air pollution have reduced deaths. New data released in February of this year as part of the Global Burden of Disease (GDB) project show that 5.5 million premature deaths occur each year due to air pollution. Looking at GBD data over 10 years (Figure 4), key trends emerge. Air pollution-related deaths in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia have worsened more dramatically than other regions the last decade. The United States, European Union, and Australia have significantly reduced air pollution-related deaths, largely due to policy interventions targeted at industrial pollution control, reducing fossil fuel consumption, and improving fuel quality in the transport sector.

PERCENTAGE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AIR POLLUTION-RELATED DEATHS IN 2000 AND 2013. DATA SOURCE: GLOBAL BURDEN OF DISEASE (GDB)

PERCENTAGE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AIR POLLUTION-RELATED DEATHS IN 2000 AND 2013. DATA SOURCE: GLOBAL BURDEN OF DISEASE (GDB)

5. New sources of air pollution detected. Recent studies show that a major contributor to air pollution is shipping. This finding is particularly salient in coastal regions in East Asia. Forty-two percent of Hong Kong’s particulates, for instance, are from the maritime sector. And East Asia has experienced the highest number of shipping-related air pollution deaths. A new study shows that air pollution from the agriculture sector exceeds anthropogenic sources of particulate pollution in the United States and Europe (Figure 5). These studies underscore air pollution’s complex origins, as airborne toxins come from many different sources and activities, both natural and human-driven. The mix of sources makes it ever more challenging to design policies and interventions to address this class of pollutants. Despite the challenges, the imperative is clear: more efforts must be made to reverse the current trends, to reduce human exposure to air pollution and to improve global air quality.

DOMINANT CONTRIBUTOR TO PM2.5 CONCENTRATIONS WITH RESPECT TO NATURAL (BEIGE), ANTHROPOGENIC (WITHOUT AGRICULTURE IN RED), AND AGRICULTURAL SOURCES (GREEN). SOURCE: BAUER ET AL. (2016).

DOMINANT CONTRIBUTOR TO PM2.5 CONCENTRATIONS WITH RESPECT TO NATURAL (BEIGE), ANTHROPOGENIC (WITHOUT AGRICULTURE IN RED), AND AGRICULTURAL SOURCES (GREEN). SOURCE: BAUER ET AL. (2016).

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/a-new-air-pollution-database-is-good-but-imperfect/