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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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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Air Pollution: The Most Widespread Environmental Carcinogen
Oct19

Air Pollution: The Most Widespread Environmental Carcinogen

By Roberta Attanasio Exposure to outdoor air pollution causes lung cancer in humans – this is the conclusion drawn by leading experts after thoroughly reviewing the latest available scientific literature.  The same experts evaluated particulate matter separately and reached a similar conclusion. Therefore, particulate matter is now classified as carcinogenic to humans. These conclusions apply to all regions of the world as they are based on findings from large epidemiologic studies that include millions of people living in different continents. The experts were convened by the IARC Monographs Programme. IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) is the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO). The IARC Monographs identify environmental factors that can increase the risk of human cancer. These factors include chemicals, complex mixtures, occupational exposures, physical agents, biological agents, and lifestyle factors. National health agencies can use such information as scientific support for their actions to prevent exposure to potential carcinogens. The IARC Monographs Programme announced the findings related to air pollution, particulate matter and human cancer on October 17, 2013. Both air pollution and particulate matter are now considered Group 1 carcinogens. The Group 1 category is used when there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans. Dr. Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Section, said “The air we breathe has become polluted with a mixture of cancer-causing substances. We now know that outdoor air pollution is not only a major risk to health in general, but also a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths.” The major sources of air pollution across the globe are emissions from motor vehicles, industrial processes, power generation and household combustion of solid fuel. The precise chemical and physical features of air pollution, which comprises a myriad of individual chemical constituents, vary around the world due to differences in the sources of pollution, climate, and meteorology, but the mixtures of ambient air pollution invariably contain specific chemicals known to be carcinogenic to humans. The disease burden due to air pollution is substantial, with millions of death caused by cardiovascular disease. According to “Air Pollution and Cancer”, IARC Scientific Publication No. 161, the most recent data indicate that in 2010, air pollution caused 223,000 deaths from lung cancer worldwide. Dr. Christopher Wild, IARC Director, said “Classifying outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans is an important step. There are effective ways to reduce air pollution and, given the scale of the exposure affecting people worldwide, this report should send a strong signal to the international community to take action without further delay.” Don’t forget: You can help keep the air cleaner — every day!...

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Fine Particulate Matter: The Global Toll
Oct18

Fine Particulate Matter: The Global Toll

By The Editors Particulate matter, also known as particle pollution or PM, is a complex mixture of very tiny solid and liquid particles made up of several components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles. Fine particles (PM2.5) are found in smoke and haze and are 2.5 micrometers in diameter and smaller. Sources of fine particles include all types of combustion — motor vehicles, power plants, residential wood burning, forest fires, agricultural burning, and some industrial processes. Fine particles cause serious health problems such as heart disease, lung cancer and asthma attacks as they can get deep into the lungs — some may even get into the bloodstream. Results from a study published in July 2013 in the journal Environmental Research Letters and entitled “”Global premature mortality due to anthropogenic outdoor air pollution and the contribution of past climate change” indicate that 2.1 million deaths occur worldwide each year as a direct result of exposure to fine particles. Results from the study also indicate that climate change has a minimal effect on current deaths related to air pollution. Co-author of the study, Jason West, from the University of North Carolina, said: “Our estimates make outdoor air pollution among the most important environmental risk factors for health. Many of these deaths are estimated to occur in East Asia and South Asia, where population is high and air pollution is severe.”   The map shown here is from the NASA Earth Observatory. It is based on data provided by West and depicts the model estimate of the average number of deaths per 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles) per year due to air pollution. In their study, West and collaborators used estimate mortality for changes in air pollution relative to the the difference in pollution levels between 1850 (modeled preindustrial conditions) and 2000 as a measure of human-caused air pollution. Dark brown areas have more premature deaths than light brown areas. Blue areas have experienced an improvement in air quality relative to 1850 and a decline in premature deaths. Fine particulate matter takes an especially large toll in eastern China, northern India, and Europe — all areas where urbanization has added considerable quantities of PM2.5 to the atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution. A few areas — such as the southeastern United States — saw PM2.5 concentrations decline relative to pre-industrial levels (shown in blue). In the southeastern United States, the decrease in PM2.5 is likely related to a decline in local biomass burning that has occurred over the last 160 years. Of the estimated 2.1 million deaths occurring  worldwide each year as a direct result of exposure to fine particles, 93% are caused...

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