The Global Fool

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Clean Air: The Effects of U.S. Power Plant Carbon Standards on Human Health
May04

Clean Air: The Effects of U.S. Power Plant Carbon Standards on Human Health

By Roberta Attanasio A little more than a year ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that in 2012 around 7 million people died — accounting for one in eight of total global deaths — as a result of exposure to air pollution. These estimates more than doubled the previous ones, and confirmed that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk. The WHO concluded that reducing air pollution globally could save millions of lives. But, what policy changes would be most effective at saving lives? The answer comes from a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change (May 4, 2015.) The study, (US power plant carbon standards and clean air and health co-benefits), was based on data from the Census Bureau as well as detailed maps of the more than 2,400 fossil-fuel-fired power plants operating across the U.S. It outlines how changes in carbon dioxide emissions could lead to considerable health benefits for the U.S population. According to the WHO, the diseases caused by air pollution include ischemic heart disease (40%), stroke (40%), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (11%), lung cancer (6%), and acute lower respiratory infections in children (3%). For the new study, the researchers analyzed three possible policy options for power plant carbon standards. The policy option leading to the biggest health benefits was the one that included changes proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on June 2, 2014, in the Clean Power Plan. Modeling analysis indicated that this option could prevent an expected 3,500 premature deaths in the U.S. every year, and avert more than a thousand heart attacks and hospitalizations annually from air pollution-related illness. Thus, according to the study, the formula presented in the draft Clean Power Plan is on the right track to provide large health benefits, and these health benefits depend entirely on critical policy choices that will be made by the EPA in the final Clean Power Plan expected in July. The Plan is the nation’s first attempt to establish standards for carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. It is also viewed as an important signal of U.S. leadership in the run-up to international climate negotiations in Paris in December. Jonathan Buonocore, one of the researchers involved in the study, said in a press release: “If EPA sets strong carbon standards, we can expect large public health benefits from cleaner air almost immediately after the standards are implemented.” Power plants are the nation’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change. However, they release not only carbon dioxide, but also other pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter — precursors to smog and...

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Prenatal Exposure to Air Pollutants: Links to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Apr11

Prenatal Exposure to Air Pollutants: Links to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

By Roberta Attanasio PHAs — short for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons — are bad actors: they’re toxic, ubiquitous pollutants that readily cross the placenta, causing damage to the fetal brain. Now, results from a new study show that PHA-induced fetal brain damage may lead to severe behavioral problems during early childhood, including aggression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The deleterious effects of air pollution — greater risk of stroke, heart attacks and cognitive deterioration — are widely recognized. However, the new study assessed prenatal exposure and identified specific physical damage in the brain. The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to measure the brains of 40 children from a cohort consisting of more than 600 mother-baby pairs. The mothers were either Latina (Dominican) or African American nonsmoking women from minority communities in New York City, aged 18 to 35 years. During the third trimester of pregnancy, the women carried personal backpack monitors that measured exposure to eight common PAHs over 48 hours. Such exposure occurred by breathing contaminated air. PHAs — common components of air pollution — are often found together in groups of two or more and persist in the environment for long periods of time. They’re generated by motor vehicles, waste incineration, wildfires and agricultural burning, and oil and coal burning for heat and electricity. Cooking (especially charred foods), tobacco smoke, and space heaters are indoor sources of PHAs. Low-income, urban, and minority communities are disproportionately exposed to these air pollutants. The researchers had previously demonstrated that exposure of the pregnant women from the same cohort to airborne PAHs was associated with multiple neuro-developmental disturbances. Results form the new study indicate that such disturbances have a biological root in the altered architecture of the brain. Specifically, PHA exposure was linked to reductions of the white matter surface in later childhood. These reductions were confined almost exclusively to the left hemisphere of the brain, and involved almost its entire surface. The researchers don’t know why the left side seemed to be affected more, but they suspect the compounds interfere with an early biochemical process that helps the fetal brain divide into slightly asymmetrical hemispheres. Results from the study also show that postnatal PAH exposure correlates with white matter surface measures in other regions of the brain, the dorsal prefrontal regions. Thus, the children involved in the study were exposed to “a double hit”, first as developing fetuses, and then at an early age. Indeed, Bradley Peterson, lead author of the study, told the Los Angeles Times: “It’s a double hit. They have the abnormality from prenatal life throughout the left hemisphere and then on top of that they have...

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J.M.W. Turner’s Sunsets: A Guide to Air Pollution
Mar27

J.M.W. Turner’s Sunsets: A Guide to Air Pollution

By Roberta Attanasio During the past few weeks, London-born Joseph Mallord William Turner — one of Britain’s greatest landscape painters — has been in the news more than one time. His latest paintings were considered by his critics the result of a senile mind. Now, they’re presented as evidence of his radical brilliance. Many of these paintings will be shown at an exhibition in London, which will start in September 2014 and, in 2015, will go to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Sam Smiles, the co-curator of the exhibition, told The Guardian: “The myth is that Turner’s mind and hand increasingly failed him, especially after 1845, that his work declined and he deliberately withdrew from active engagement with the public and critics, This exhibition will demonstrate that this is very far from the truth.” The forthcoming film of Mike Leigh is on Turner’s personality. Leigh says in a video: “He is so complex and there’s so much of him to get your head around. Turner was a compulsive artist. Turner had to paint, had to draw, all the time … it was an absolute obsession.” Now, a study published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (Further evidence of important environmental information content in red-to-green ratios as depicted in paintings by great masters) on March 25, 2014, shows that the colors of sunsets painted by famous artists —  including J.M.W. Turner — can be used to estimate past air pollution levels. On April 10, 1815, the Tambora volcano in Indonesia produced the largest known eruption on the planet during the past 10,000 years and sent more than 36 cubic miles of pulverized rock into the atmosphere. Entire villages were buried under thick pumice deposits. The ash and gas spewed into the atmosphere formed an aerosol layer and circled the planet. Average temperatures dropped over the next year, turning 1816 into the “year without a summer”. The aerosol particles scattered sunlight and produced bright red and orange sunsets in Europe for up to three years after the eruption. J.M.W. Turner was one of the artists who painted these stunning sunsets. For the study, researchers used his paintings — along with paintings from other artists — to estimate the past composition of the atmosphere. They found that red-to-green ratios measured in the sunsets of paintings by great masters correlate well with the amount of volcanic aerosols in the atmosphere, regardless of the painters and of the school of painting. Skies more polluted by volcanic ash scatter sunlight more, so they appear more red. Thus, they identified a methodology to obtain information on the atmosphere conditions from times when instrumental measurements were not available and to evaluate how pollution levels in...

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Cooking and Indoor Air Pollution
Jan03

Cooking and Indoor Air Pollution

By Roberta Attanasio Cooking releases some of the same pollutants usually found outdoors in smog. Therefore, without proper ventilation, people can be exposed — indoors — to pollution able to cause serious adverse health effects. A study published in 2012 by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) found that, in the United States, poor indoor air quality — of which cooking is the major source — is responsible for adverse health effects as significant as those caused by all traffic accidents or infectious diseases. The researchers highlighted the hazards posed by specific indoor air pollutants — secondhand smoke, radon, formaldehyde, acrolein and PM2.5, or particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. Jennifer Logue, the lead author of the study, told the New York Times “When you live in a small building, you cook a lot and don’t use your range hood, which may not be very effective anyway, then you’re probably going to have a problem with pollutants from cooking.” In a more recent study (2014) Logue and colleagues focused on California homes to understand the air pollution hazards caused by natural gas cooking. They found that in homes in which natural gas burners are used for cooking without venting range hoods, occupants are exposed to levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and formaldehyde (HCHO) higher than those deemed acceptable if found outdoors. NO2, CO and HCHO cause respiratory problems as well as other disorders. The researchers are now working to find solutions to these indoor pollution problems. These solutions include for example testing for the hazardous pollutants and developing science-based ventilation standards for residential buildings. Below are Berkeley Lab’s tips for buying and using range hoods: Turn on the hood every time you cook, and set the fan to the highest setting that the noise is tolerable. Make sure it vents to the outdoors. If it doesn’t, the hood will simply recirculate air in the kitchen. If your range hood does not extend over the front burners, cooking on the back burners could make the hood up to twice as effective at removing pollutants. If buying a new hood, it should cover your front burners and have a setting that moves at least 200 cubic feet of air per minute. If having a range hood is not possible, opening a window while cooking does...

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750 Miles of Smog
Dec14

750 Miles of Smog

By The Editors Thick haze stretching over a distance of about 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) has been captured a few days ago (December 7, 2013) by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. In the image below, the brightest areas are clouds or fog. Polluted air appears gray. The haze stretched from Beijing (top) to Shanghai (bottom), China. You can read more about this severe bout of air pollution here (NASA Earth...

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