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April, 2013:

Air Pollution and Atherosclerosis: New Evidence to Support Air Quality Policies

PLOS Medicine

Air Pollution and Atherosclerosis: New Evidence to Support Air Quality Policies

  • Nino Künzli

Citation: Künzli N (2013) Air Pollution and Atherosclerosis: New Evidence to Support Air Quality Policies. PLoS Med 10(4): e1001432. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001432

Published: April 23, 2013

Copyright: © 2013 Nino Künzli. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Funding: No specific funding was received for writing this article.

Competing interests: The author has declared that no competing interests exist.

Abbreviations: CVD, cardiovascular disease; IMT, intima-medial thickness; MESA, Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis and Air Pollution; PM, particulate matter

Provenance: Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.

Linked Research Article

This Perspective discusses the following new study published in PLOS Medicine:

Adar S, Sheppard L, Vedal S, Polak JF, Sampson PD, et al. (2013) Fine Particulate Air Pollution and the Progression of Carotid Intima-medial Thickness: A Prospective Cohort Study from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis and Air Pollution. PLoS Med 10(4): e1001430. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001430

In a prospective cohort study, Sara Adar and colleagues find that decreasing levels of fine particulate matter in multiple US urban areas are associated with slowed progression of intima-medial thickness, a surrogate measure of atherosclerosis.

Increasing attention is being paid to the subject of air pollution, with the bulk of previous work being done in animal models suggesting that exposure to air pollution causes atherosclerosis—stiffening and calcification of the arteries—in rabbits and mice [1],[2]. The new findings of Sara Adar and colleagues, published in this week’s PLOS Medicine [3], take us a step forward in clarifying the broader implications of air pollution by offering further evidence in humans that ambient particulate matter (PM) contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

CVDs are now the world’s leading causes of death [4]. The most important underlying pathology resulting in CVD is atherosclerosis, known to be a life-long process with a long and silent pre-clinical phase. It has been known since the last century that ambient air pollution can trigger acute cardiovascular morbidities [5], and a comparative risk assessment of established triggers of myocardial infarctions concluded that a rather substantial fraction of these acute and life-threatening events can be attributed to current levels of air pollution [6]. However, it is of importance to understand the causes of atherosclerosis, given that its prevention or deceleration could drastically delay and reduce the burden of CVDs.

The hypothesis that ambient air pollution could play a role in these chronic processes was first addressed and confirmed in rabbits and mice [1],[2]. Adar et al. have now provided important human-based results based upon the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis and Air Pollution (MESA). It is only the second longitudinal study about the impact of air pollution on the progression of atherosclerosis and is the first one based on a general population sample free of CVD at study onset. The authors here share their early findings of MESA, which examined associations of common carotid artery intima-medial thickness (IMT), a surrogate of atherosclerosis, with long-term PM2.5 concentrations among over 5,300 people over an average of two-and-a-half years. They report that higher long-term PM2.5 concentrations are associated with increased IMT progression and that greater reductions in PM2.5 are related to slower IMT progression. MESA replicates findings observed in the first longitudinal study, which was based on data from five clinical trials conducted in volunteers from Los Angeles [7]. Both research teams used IMT as a marker of atherosclerosis [8]. With only two longitudinal studies, it is worth discussing three important issues that need to be addressed in the future, namely the contributing role of noise, the link between cross-sectional and longitudinal findings, and the identification of susceptibility factors.

Future Research Needs

First is the issue of noise. Although the MESA findings are said not to be sensitive to adjustment for perceived noise, the discussion about the atherogenic role of traffic-related night-time noise (e.g., via its impact on blood pressure) and its potential confounding effect in cardiovascular air pollution research is not settled and must be explored in future research. MESA used “perceived noise,” which is attractive if the subjective experience of noise matters more than the objective levels. Other studies use instead objective measures of noise; however, they are estimated outdoors at the façade. Both approaches fail to capture personal noise exposure during night time, which heavily depends on coping behaviours such as sleeping away from the noise, keeping windows closed, wearing ear plugs, or taking sleeping pills—adaptations that may indeed be determined by the perception of noise. Given that the correlation between personal night-time noise and air pollution exposure is not known, claims that air pollution findings are not confounded by noise remain at least uncertain.

Second is the issue of consistency between cross-sectional and longitudinal findings. These two longitudinal studies now provide the first data to connect and interpret cross-sectional results [7],[9][11]. The use of IMT as a marker of the cumulated long-term exposures to atherogenic risk factors is appealing [8]. Depending on those risk patterns, the IMT of a participant may progress slower or faster, and Figure 1 of Adar and colleagues’ paper provides the respective data [3]. Are the cross-sectional associations with PM2.5 consistent with the observed impact on progression? Adar and colleagues include two approaches (seen in their Tables 2 and 3), and for each an “overall” estimate and a “within-city” estimate for cross-sectional and progression data are provided. The Los Angeles studies provide another pair of data [7],[11]. One can use those five pairs of data to calculate the number of years needed (progression) to reach the observed cross-sectional contrasts, given e.g., long-term exposure to 10 µg/m3 higher PM2.5 levels. For the within-city main model, the derived time is extremely short (1 month). Based on data from the Los Angeles trials, one would need 12 years to reach the published cross-sectional differences. The MESA “overall” models result in 15 to 22 years—thus, we end up with a broad range that remains hard to explain but should be further explored.

It is also a challenge to connect findings given the very substantial differences in the absolute progression of IMT reported in these different study populations. In MESA, annual IMT progression was some 5–10 times larger than in the Los Angeles trials (10–20 µm/y compared to 2 µm/y) despite similar IMT means, follow-up duration, and age structures. This may relate to lab-specific differences in sonographic IMT measurement methods and it should not affect the validity of the air pollution analyses within studies. But the issue also needs careful evaluation and comparison with other studies prior to translating the IMT results into health impact assessments.

Third is the issue of susceptibility factors. While women are better protected against atherogenesis during the fertile life span, the pathology becomes relevant and is a leading cause of female morbidity and death in peri- and post-menopausal life. Like in the Los Angeles clinical trial study [7], air pollution effects in MESA were larger in women. This was also observed in the cross-sectional analyses of the Los Angeles trials [11], with associations being particularly strong in women >60 years of age. However, other cross-sectional studies could not replicate this pattern [8]. Future research should focus in more general terms on the identification of modifying factors. A better understanding of the role of metabolic pathologies such as diabetes and obesity is particularly warranted given the epidemic of these conditions [12]. The Los Angeles study observed the largest effects in the trial conducted with diabetics. The MESA study reported somewhat larger estimates among diabetics too, but no modification by obesity. If obese people are more affected by air pollution, the ongoing obesity epidemic could jeopardize the benefits of air quality improvements now seen in many countries [12].

In sum, the MESA study further supports an old request to policy makers, namely that clean air standards ought to comply at least with the science-based levels proposed by the World Health Organization [13]. And we know it works: better air quality improves health [14]—in rabbit, mice, men, and women alike.

Author Contributions

Wrote the first draft of the manuscript: NK. ICMJE criteria for authorship read and met: NK. Agree with manuscript results and conclusions: NK.


  1. 1. Suwa T, Hogg JC, Quinlan KB, Ohgami A, Vincent R, et al. (2002) Particulate air pollution induces progression of atherosclerosis. J Am Coll Cardiol 39: 935–942. doi: 10.1016/S0735-1097(02)01715-1. Find this article online
  2. 2. Araujo JA, Barajas B, Kleinman M, Wang X, Bennett BJ, et al. (2008) Ambient particulate pollutants in the ultrafine range promote early atherosclerosis and systemic oxidative stress. Circ Res 102: 589–596. doi: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.107.164970. Find this article online
  3. 3. Adar SD, Sheppard L, Vedal S, Polak JF, Sampson PD, et al. (2013) Fine particulate air pollution and the progression of carotid intima-medial thickness: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis and Air Pollution. PLoS Med 10 ((4)) e1001430 doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001430. .
  4. 4. Salomon JA, Vos T, Murray CJ (2013) Disability weights for vision disorders in Global Burden of Disease study – authors’ reply. Lancet 381: 23–24. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(12)62131-x. Find this article online
  5. 5. Künzli N, Perez L, Rapp R (2010) Air quality and health. Lausanne, Switzerland: ERS. 72 p.
  6. 6. Nawrot TS, Perez L, Kunzli N, Munters E, Nemery B (2011) Public health importance of triggers of myocardial infarction: a comparative risk assessment. Lancet 377: 732–740. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(10)62296-9. Find this article online
  7. 7. Künzli N, Jerrett M, Garcia-Esteban R, Basagana X, Beckermann B, et al. (2010) Ambient air pollution and the progression of atherosclerosis in adults. PLoS ONE 5: e9096 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009096. . doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009096.
  8. 8. Kunzli N, Perez L, von Klot S, Baldassarre D, Bauer M, et al. (2011) Investigating air pollution and atherosclerosis in humans: concepts and outlook. Prog Cardiovasc Dis 53: 334–343. doi: 10.1016/j.pcad.2010.12.006. Find this article online
  9. 9. Wang H, Dwyer-Lindgren L, Lofgren KT, Rajaratnam JK, Marcus JR, et al. (2012) Age-specific and sex-specific mortality in 187 countries, 1970–2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet 380: 2071–2094. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(12)61719-x. Find this article online
  10. 10. Diez Roux AV, Auchincloss AH, Franklin TG, Raghunathan T, Barr RG, et al. (2008) Long-term exposure to ambient particulate matter and prevalence of subclinical atherosclerosis in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. Am J Epidemiol 167 ((6)) 667–675. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwm359. Find this article online
  11. 11. Künzli N, Jerrett M, Mack WJ, Beckerman B, LaBree L, et al. (2005) Ambient air pollution and atherosclerosis in Los Angeles. Environ Health Perspect 113: 201–206. doi: 10.1289/ehp.7523. Find this article online
  12. 12. Lozano R, Naghavi M, Foreman K, Lim S, Shibuya K, et al. (2012) Global and regional mortality from 235 causes of death for 20 age groups in 1990 and 2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet 380: 2095–2128. Find this article online
  13. 13. World Health Organization (2006) WHO air quality guidelines for particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide – global update 2005. Geneva: WHO Office for Europe.
  14. 14. Henschel S, Atkinson R, Zeka A, Le Tertre A, Analitis A, et al. (2012) Air pollution interventions and their impact on public health. Int J Public Health 57 ((5)) 757–768. doi: 10.1007/s00038-012-0369-6. Find this article online

An incinerator isn’t our only choice

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Letter from Mr. Fish to Prof.Wong on Westinghouse Plasma Gasification


Last 30 years were the warmest in the last 1,400 years

April 21, 2013

From 1971 to 2000, the world’s land areas were the warmest they have been in at least 1,400 years, according to a new study in Nature Geoscience. The massive new study, involving 80 researchers from around the world with the Past Global Changes (PAGES) group, is the first to look at continental temperature changes over two thousand years, providing insights into regional climatic changes from the Roman Empire to the modern day. According to the data, Earth’s land masses were generally cooling until anthropogenic climate change reversed the long-term pattern in the late-19th Century.

“Even just a few years ago we would have aimed for a single worldwide temperature series,” says co-author Ulf Büntgen with the Swiss Federal Research Institute (WSL) and PAGES. “Nowadays, we know how important it is to have a better understanding of regional differences.”

Scientists were able to reconstruct continental temperatures across every continent except Africa, where data is still lacking. They found that continents could still show important idiosyncrasies even in the midst of global trends.

“Distinctive periods, such as the Medieval Warm Period or the Little Ice Age stand out, but do not show a globally uniform pattern,” explains co-author Heinz Wanner with the University of Bern and a member of PAGES.

The researchers found that such temperature changes occurred during different times on continents. For example, the Medieval Warm Period occurred from around 830 to 1100 AD in the northern hemisphere, but a similar warm-up period doesn’t show up in the southern hemisphere until 1160 to 1370 AD, a lag time of 300 years. Meanwhile, the Little Ice Age began decades earlier in the northern hemisphere than in the southern. The oddest continent proved to be Antarctica, which bucked trends elsewhere during several periods.

Looking at the temperature data over 30 years intervals allowed scientists to note that the most recent period (1971-2000) held the title for the warmest on record. Still, zooming into a continental view showed a slightly more diverse picture: for example, temperatures in Europe from 21-80 AD may rival those of 1971-2000. But globally the picture remains the same: over a thousand years of cooling, replaced suddenly by warming beginning in the late 19th Century. According to climatologists, temperatures have risen about 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in the last hundred years over land and sea due to burning fossil fuels, deforestation and other land-use changes, and industrial agriculture. The most recent decade was the hottest yet.

Scientists measured temperatures through numerous means, including data taken from tree rings, corals, pollen, sediment and ice cores, and stalagmites in caves. The PAGES organization was essential in bringing the data and researchers together.

“A key aspect of the consortium effort was to engage regional experts who are intimately familiar with the evidence for past climate changes within their regions,” explains Wanner.

From PAGES 2k Network et al: “Continental-scale temperature reconstructions. 30-year mean temperatures for the seven PAGES 2k Network regions, standardized to have the same mean…North America includes a shorter tree-ring-based and a longer pollen-based reconstruction. Dashed outlines enclose intervals of pronounced volcanic and solar negative forcing since ad 850 (see Methods). The lower panel shows the running count of number of individual proxy records by region.” Click to enlarge.

CITATION: PAGES 2k Network. Continental-scale temperature variability during the past two millennia. Nature Geoscience. 2013. DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1797.

An ounce of prevention

Pre-empting pandemics

An ounce of prevention

As new viruses emerge in China and the Middle East, the world is poorly prepared for a global pandemic

Apr 20th 2013 | Bangkok and New York |From the print edition

IN FEBRUARY an 87-year-old man was admitted to hospital in Shanghai. What started as a cough progressed to a fever. One week later, unable to breathe and with his brain inflamed, he died. Shortly afterwards, a 27-year-old pork butcher was admitted to the same hospital with similar symptoms. He died too, within a week. A 35-year-old housewife who went to hospital in Anhui on March 19th lasted only slightly longer. On March 31st officials confirmed these were the first three cases of a strain of influenza, H7N9, that had never before been seen in humans.

The government responded quickly—a far cry from its reaction, ten years ago, to a similar cluster of cases in Guangdong. That infection turned out to be SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). At first, officials tried to hide that disease. The deceit served to ensure its spread and it went on to kill nearly 800 people. Much has changed in the past decade. This time officials quickly posted H7N9’s genetic sequence, then published a detailed report in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Even so, H7N9 has infected at least 82 people and killed 17 of them. The virus’s path of transmission is not well understood. The recent detection of H7N9 in a boy with no apparent symptoms suggests people can carry the virus unwittingly. Meanwhile a new coronavirus (the family of viruses that SARS belongs to) is circulating in the Middle East. It has killed 11 people since it was noticed in September. Though Saudi Arabia has welcomed some foreign investigators, other scientists claim the country should be more transparent.

Be prepared

These cases illustrate both how far the world has come, and how far it still has to travel, on the journey towards building a system that can identify new infectious diseases and snuff them out before they become threatening. As the case of AIDS shows, a novel pathogen that spreads around the world unnoticed by the medical authorities can wreak havoc. More recently, cheap air travel has proved a boon to pathogens keen for a global tour. Fortunately the world has learned from the cases of SARS, H5N1 bird flu (in 2005) and H1N1 swine flu (in 2009). Systems are being put in place to spot potentially pandemic diseases and stop them quickly. These systems, though, are still piecemeal. At present it looks unlikely that either H7N9 or the new coronavirus will become pandemic. But if they do—or if some other powerful new virus or bacterium emerges—it is unclear whether the world will be ready.

SARS and H5N1 gave people a shock, and in their wake a lot of progress has been made—and not only in China. In 2005 the members of the World Health Organisation (WHO) agreed on a new set of International Health Regulations, with rules for responding to outbreaks that are of global concern. For example, all members must alert the WHO to any risky-looking pathogen that might move beyond their borders. The regulations also include measures to dissuade people from imposing unnecessary restrictions on travel and trade. In the past, fear of such bans discouraged governments from reporting outbreaks. Meanwhile individual countries have started making their own plans for dealing with a pandemic. As of 2011, 158 had official provisions in place.

Surveillance has moved on by leaps and bounds, too. ProMED and HealthMap, two online reporting programmes at the International Society for Infectious Diseases and Boston Children’s Hospital respectively, use a range of sources to provide quick information on emerging threats. Google Flu Trends, run by the eponymous internet firm’s charity, monitors flu-related searches to estimate the disease’s prevalence. Such electronic systems complement conventional epidemiology, rather than replacing it (and are not always reliable; in America’s most recent flu season Google Flu Trends overestimated the number of those sickened). But traditional surveillance methods have improved, too.

Improved techniques, for instance, allow segments of DNA to be amplified rapidly, so viruses can be identified quickly. The cost of full genetic sequencing continues to fall. And countries’ surveillance efforts are now better co-ordinated. A model of co-operation can be seen north of Bangkok, where Thailand’s health ministry includes a National Influenza Centre. As one of the WHO’s designated regional laboratories, it tests samples from the whole of South-East Asia. This laboratory has also been supported for the past decade by America’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an organisation well equipped to identify new medical threats. (It was the CDC that spotted AIDS.)

Many countries are better equipped than before to respond to an outbreak. America leads the way. The authorities have stockpiled 68m courses of antiviral drugs, 18m respirators and 31m face masks, and are investing in research to create better ones. The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), an American government agency, contracts with companies to develop new ways to counteract biological threats. It has 130 products in development, including 45 for influenza.

The world’s biggest cities, often with aid from national governments, have honed their strategies, too. Shanghai watches for 15 categories of infectious disease at more than 5,700 sentinel sites. It has several emergency plans, tailored for outbreaks of different intensities. New York collects data from hospitals, laboratories and even pharmacies, to look for signs of new infections. The city cannot forcibly vaccinate its citizens, but it can order the unvaccinated to stay at home.

Even such extraordinary measures, though, may be ill-matched for a virus. H1N1 proved how much can go wrong. It was contagious but not particularly deadly, so officials were confused about how to convey its risks. Research published in the Public Library of Science on April 15th estimates that half the Tamiflu (an antiviral drug made by Roche) prescribed in England at the time of the H1N1 outbreak went unused, based on an analysis of traces of the drug in sewage. Vaccines took months to deploy, delayed by fundamental problems (the time needed to develop them) and trivial ones (American shipments had to wait for the pallets carrying vaccines to receive a fumigation certificate). An independent committee issued a discouraging review of the WHO’s response. “They made it very clear”, says Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s top influenza official, “we are not ready for anything big.”

Since then the WHO and others have tried to improve things. In 2011 the WHO’s members created a new framework for sharing flu viruses—in 2006 Indonesia refused to share samples of H5N1 with the WHO out of concern that companies would use an Indonesian virus to develop treatment unaffordable to Indonesians. GlaxoSmithKline is the first company to sign a deal with the WHO under the new framework. The pharmaceutical giant will donate 7.5% of its vaccine production in the event of a pandemic. A further 2.5% will be sold at tiered prices, depending on a country’s income.

There is also new capacity to make the vaccines themselves. Last year BARDA awarded contracts for three new centres, to be led by Novartis, Emergent BioSciences (a firm in Maryland) and Texas A&M University, in collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline. These will develop and manufacture medical countermeasures, including vaccines. In November Novartis won approval for the first flu vaccine made from cultured cells rather than eggs—a technology that will help produce vaccines more quickly. There has also been progress in poor countries. The WHO has given grants to flu-vaccine manufacturers in 14 countries. Four of these are ready to go.

And researchers continue to test new tools that may help. For example, Marta González of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has modelled how diseases spread by plane. In the early days of an outbreak, such models may help officials decide which routes to cancel to contain a virus. America is paying scientists to patrol rapidly changing environments in Africa, Asia and Latin America, where viruses are prone to hopping from beast to man. The hope is that the scientists will find dangerous viruses early, before they spread.

Next candidate…

There remains, nevertheless, much to be done. Many countries now have plans to prepare for a pandemic, but it is unclear which are operational. Dr Fukuda estimates that the world has the capacity to make enough vaccine for about 2 billion people—an improvement, but still short of what might be needed. Adding to the problem, governments are hardly flush with cash. The WHO has an influenza budget of $7.7m, less than a third of what the city of New York devotes to public-health emergencies. The main question is whether progress will continue, and whether it will pre-empt a more serious threat.

It is hard to say if either H7N9 or the new coronavirus will be pathogens that put the world to the test. The coronavirus in particular is still poorly understood. Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands was the first to sequence its genome. He annoyed Saudi Arabia by patenting the result (though gene patents are a controversial area anyway—see “Natural justice” at the end of this section). He argues that the Saudi government should be more forthcoming with information. Saudi officials say they are working as quickly as possible and are collaborating with foreign epidemiologists.

The work around H7N9 has been relatively transparent. China has already shipped samples of the virus to laboratories all over the world. But the virus itself is still spreading in China, and people continue to die. Vaccines, once developed, may be ineffective. “H7” and “N9” refer to particular types of two proteins, haemagglutinin and neuraminidase, that help influenza viruses invade host cells. Other H7 vaccines have not created a strong immune response, according to Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota. It is also unclear if the virus may become more contagious—at the moment it does not seem to jump from person to person. Last year two groups of scientists, one led by Dr Fouchier, described specific mutations that might make H5N1 transmissible from human to human. H7N9 contains mutations implicated in this switch. If the virus mutates further, it might become airborne. And if that did happen, the world’s pandemic-protection system might be put to the test quite suddenly.

From the print edition: Science and technology

Metal body parts from cremations recycled into road signs–hips-leg-screws-skulls-used-in-lamp-posts-car-parts-112558907.html#S4ukGX5

Steel hips, plates and screws from legs and skulls are being used in lamp posts and car parts under a Dutch company’s recycling scheme in Britain.

Some of the metal objects retrieved from crematoriums – including metal body parts – which are then used as road signs. (SWNS)

Metal body parts from the dead are being recycled into road signs, lamp posts, car parts and aircraft engines.

Steel hips, plates and screws from legs and skulls are collected after cremation and sent off for recycling as part of a nationwide scheme.

Even metal plates from false teeth and tiny fragments from fillings can be recovered and re-used, together with metal fittings on coffins.

The money-saving scheme came about as some crematoriums easily fill a large recycling bin with metal body parts every month.

High value metals which survive the 1000-degree cremation are then sold for use in the automobile and aeronautical industries.

Road signs similar to this one are made with the help of recycled metal body parts (SWNS)

They include cobalt and titanium, found in some implants and dental work, with cobalt used in aircraft engines.

But other less valuable metals are melted down and sold for more general use – including road signs, motorway barriers and lamp posts.

The metal salvaged from cremations is put in large wheelie bins at the crematoriums and collected by contractors who take it to specialist plants for recycling.

Money made is donated to charity and almost £1million has been raised for good causes since the project began in Britain in 2004.

The Dutch company behind the recycling says around half Britain’s 260 crematoriums have signed up to the scheme which is generating 75 tonnes of metal a year.

Relatives are asked if they want to keep metal parts of loved ones before cremations by the centres taking part in the scheme.

The vast majority say they have no need for them and sign a consent form agreeing to the recycling.

When the cremation is over the ashes and other remaining items go into a compartment in the cremator and then into a special cremulator machine which separates any metal from remaining pieces of bone.

One of the crematoriums in the scheme is at Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, which has an average of four to five services a day.

Around one large bin a month is filled with the unwanted metal body parts for recycling.

The crematorium at Haycombe in nearby Bath has around 2,000 cremations a year and also recycles unwanted metal body parts.

A spokesman for the council-owned crematorium said: “We subscribe to a not-for-profit recycling scheme for all metals recovered from the cremation process.

“Applicants may opt to retain the metals but they must take them away and they cannot be returned afterwards.”

The recycling schemes are governed by strict criteria set down by the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management.

Bristol City Council, which operates two cemeteries, is considering joining the scheme.

Currently metal body parts are buried in the grounds of the crematoria but new legislation means this will no longer be possible.

Ruud Verberne (corr), owner of OrthoMetals (corr), the Dutch company behind the recycling, said: “Metals reclaimed from cremations are being increasingly re-used.

“High value metals such as cobalt go into the aircraft or automotive industries.

“Others are sold to smelters and foundries and it is possible that they end up as roadsigns or motorway barriers – there’s no way of knowing.

“What is important is that the metals are being recycled, and this is a growing business both in Britain and elsewhere in Europe.”

Europe’s cap-and-trade program is in trouble. Can it be fixed?

20 April 2013
By Brad Plumer
The Washington Post
The European Union has long prided itself on taking the lead in tackling climate change. But, this week, the continent’s flagship program — a cap-and-trade program for carbon-dioxide emissions — ran into serious trouble. So can it be fixed, or is the situation hopeless?
Not sure what’s going on here, but it’s a dramatic Europe-related image. (Michael Probst/AP)
Let’s start with some background. The E.U.’s Emissions Trading Scheme works by setting an overall cap on carbon emissions for about half of Europe’s industries. Companies get a certain number of pollution permits that they can trade among themselves. As the cap ratchets down each year, the number of permits is supposed to dwindle and the “price” on pollution keeps rising.
Over the last few years in Europe, however, there has been a glut of permits. Policymakers initially gave too many away, and then there was a huge recession. So Europe’s emissions are well under the cap and permit prices had been hovering below $9 per ton since 2011. Companies have little incentive to make any drastic changes. Polluting is cheap:
The European Parliament wanted to change this by delaying a scheduled release of new permits. This policy, known as “backloading,” would have been the first of several possible reforms to the ETS. But backloading failed by a vote of 334 to 315 this week. Immediately after, the price of carbon plunged to around $3.40 per ton and analysts were calling the trading scheme “completely toothless.” The prospect for further reforms is uncertain.
So what can we learn from all this? Basically, the E.U.’s climate policy seems to be somewhat confused. There are a couple big things going on here:
1) From one angle, the cap-and-trade program is working — emissions are down. Since the ETS came into existence, Europe has been meeting its emissions goals. Yes, that’s partly because the continent has been grinding along in an economic depression, but emissions are still far lower than one would otherwise expect:
This is, essentially, how cap-and-trade is supposed to work. When meeting the targets is easy (and it’s much easier when the economy is in the toilet), then the price of carbon goes down. If the euro zone ever recovered from its pit of endless despair, then the price of polluting would presumably rise again.
Poland has made this point often, as FT Alphaville’s Kate Mackenzie points out — and this was the Polish delegation’s reason for voting against the backloading proposal: “Growth will return and the price will find its equilibrium again. No administrative meddling is needed or else we might create the impression that such measures are standard practice.”
Now, Poland’s position is arguably too sanguine. Europe’s cap-and-trade program has a number of other flaws that may need fixing — such as the fact that policymakers gave away too many permits initially. Still, there’s an argument that low prices aren’t inherently a problem.
2) Yet many people in Europe want a high price on carbon. Many politicians and analysts weren’t satisfied with simply staying under the cap. They wanted a high price on carbon that would drive big changes to the continent’s energy supply. And, it’s true, the ETS wasn’t providing that. As a recent report (PDF) from the International Energy Agency points out, Europe would need prices to rise to $65 per ton before power plants would switch from coal to natural gas. Instead, prices have been at $7 per ton.
David Hone of Shell had been making a similar argument. In his view, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) for coal plants is an essential technology for tackling climate change. And since CCS is a difficult technology to develop, utilities need to start working on it now, or they’ll never be able to deploy it in time to cut emissions sharply by 2050. Yet the price on carbon isn’t nearly high enough to spur CCS development.
Even for people who aren’t fans of natural gas or CCS, the same argument holds. Companies aren’t going to develop complicated clean-energy technologies of the future without a much higher price on carbon.
3) What’s more, Europe is undermining its cap-and-trade system with “complementary” policies. German economist Hans-Werner Sinn has made this point often. In addition to cap-and-trade, Europe also has a renewable energy mandate and an energy-efficiency mandate. Since utilities and companies already are already required to meet those, they have a much easier time meeting their pollution targets. So, naturally, that puts downward pressure on carbon prices in the trading scheme.
4) So it’s worth asking, should Europe just get a carbon tax instead? When you add these all up, it’s hard to escape the idea that many people in Europe seem to want a carbon tax. A carbon tax that rises slowly over time would keep the price of emitting greenhouse-gases stable — and the price would remain high even if European policymakers wanted to tack on renewable mandates and other policies.
Oxford’s Hans Dieter has used this graph to make the point:
Yes, a carbon tax is less flexible to changes in circumstance — it would keep energy prices high even during a recession. But many policymakers seem to find that flexibility in cap-and-trade a problem.
Trouble is, there’s no reason whatsoever to think a carbon tax would be politically easy. For one, any major change to the E.U.’s climate policy would take many years to negotiate and approve. All 27 countries would need to take a vote. And countries like Poland, for one, seem quite happy with the current low pollution prices.
That means Europe is likely stuck with trying to reform its cap-and-trade program. According to Point Carbon, further big changes aren’t likely to happen until 2016 at the earliest.
In any case, Europe’s experience will certainly provide a lesson to other countries. Australia is currently preparing its own cap-and-trade system (assuming that the Liberals don’t come to power and scrap it), and a cap in California just went into effect. So there are a lot of lessons here in how to design — or how not to design — a climate policy.
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In Hong Kong, political will is the key to clean air

Thursday, 18 April, 2013, 12:00am

CommentInsight & Opinion


SCMP Editorial

We could do without the air pollution we have suffered this week, but it does serve to remind the administration of the declaration by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying that the quality of the air we breathe is a core livelihood issue. Roadside readings in Central on Monday were so bad that everyone was advised to steer clear of areas with heavy traffic – not just those with breathing or heart problems. The last two days have brought no relief.

Contributing factors were light winds that failed to clear the air and, as usual, pollution originating on the mainland. But these underline how important it is for Hong Kong to strive for an acceptable living environment with concrete efforts to reduce home-grown pollution. It is self-evident that this has not been the case, since roadside pollution originates locally.

The government recently revealed a plan which anticipates new air-quality targets to be officially unveiled next year, and aims to meet them by 2020. It includes HK$10 billion in cash incentives to get the dirtiest commercial vehicles off our streets by 2019, and retrofitting 1,400 franchised buses with diesel emission controls. As a result, officials say, roadside pollution could be significantly lower in four to five years. The exception will be nitrogen dioxide, which is expected to still be double the new standard by 2020. Indeed, a high concentration of nitrogen dioxide is mainly responsible for this week’s pollution.

The current administration has raised public expectations by vowing to do better than its predecessors. That will require political will to do what it takes. Environment undersecretary Christine Loh Kung-wai has said that more pedestrian-only areas or traffic diversions might be necessary to tackle nitrogen dioxide emissions. For the sake of our health, officials should be prepared to look at any option, even from critics such as Friends of the Earth, which says they might get more value for HK$10 billion if they focused on the worst polluters – pre-Euro-standard, Euro-I and Euro-II vehicles – before tackling Euro-III.


Air Pollution in Hong Kong

Air Pollution

Roadside pollution


Public Health

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Air pollution health impact worse than previously thought

Air pollution has a significant impact on health

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The dangers of air pollution could be worse than was previously thought, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

According to WHO, air pollution is actually one of the “greatest hazards to human health”.

This stark warning came at the latest meeting of the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), which took place in Paris, France on April 6th and 7th.

It comes as the organisation pushed further with its call for immediate worldwide action on air pollution.

Speaking at the meeting, WHO director of public health and environment Dr Maria Neira, commented: “The estimations we have now tell us there are 3.5 million premature deaths every year caused by household air pollution, and 3.3 million deaths every year caused by outdoor air pollution.

“Air pollution is becoming one of the biggest health issues we have in front of us at the moment,”

WHO warned that an additional 200,000 people die every year due to ground-level ozone pollution. Furthermore, indoor air pollution has become the leading risk factor in South Asia when it comes to ‘burden of disease’, it said. Furthermore, it came second in Eastern, Central and Western Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as third in Southeast Asia.

This burden of disease is calculated based on the years of life lost combined with years lived in sickness.

At the meeting, UNEP called for fast-action on short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), as these are major culprits when it comes to damage to health, as well as the cause of crop loss and climate change.

Tackling SLCPs could “dramatically” cut the number of annual air pollution deaths, according to UNEP.

SLCPs are released through a number of sources, including diesel engine exhaust, smoke and soot from inefficient cooking stoves, natural gas production and leaking and flaring from oil.

– See more at:

Findings on an Assessment of Small-scale Incinerators for Health-care Waste

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Hong Kong travel to Philippines surges despite government’s black alert

Wednesday, 17 April, 2013, 12:00am



Howard Winn

A meeting of minds

We are waiting with some anticipation for the public forum on Thermal Technology for Waste Management in Metropolises on May 7 where the case for incineration will be put. There will be five speakers including Dr Lee Potts, technical manager (energy) for AECOM, which is the consultant to the Hong Kong government on waste. He has argued in favour of incineration over other technologies such as plasma gasification.

However, elsewhere his firm evidently thinks differently. AECOM has announced that it is to design, build and operate a plasma gasification plant in Britain. In the US, AECOM has declared its enthusiasm for plasma gasification.

It will also be interesting to hear what Professor Umberto Arena has to say. He is a specialist in waste to energy from Second University of Naples. A primary school teacher from Naples has just been announced as one of the winners of the 2013 Goldman Prize for his campaign to oppose incinerators in Naples. As an organising member of Zero Waste International, his campaign to encourage recycling and waste reduction has led to 117 municipalities across Italy closing incinerators and committing to zero-waste strategies. He even persuaded a bishop to declare the use of incinerators to burn waste was “immoral”.

Then there’s Peter Simoes, technical director of Afval Energie Bedrijf. His company operates the world’s largest incinerator which was ranked the 484th most polluting facility in the 2011 European Energy Association report on environmental pollution. It should be an interesting forum.

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