Monday, January 31, 2011

Noise from Wind Turbines and Health Impacts

Icon of Wind TurbinesImage via WikipediaHealth effects of turbines? We already know (Brantford Expositor, Jan. 13, 2011)

Today’s review article focuses on health impacts on people exposed to sound from wind turbines, citing regulations in Ontario, Canada and potential impacts from other countries with wind farm experience and calls for bylaws to limit the use of wind turbines near municipalities.

Key Quotes:

“The Province of Ontario has noise restrictions..'Sound Levels for Stationary Sources' NPC-232… no installation shall exceed a maximum noise level of 40 decibels during the evening and 45 during the day.”

“how disruptive is noise of 40-45 decibels from an industrial complex (such as the wind farm) when it is located in a natural environment with an ambient noise level of 25- 30 decibels (or 15-20 decibels less)?”

“science informs us that when the volume of any noise is increased by three decibels that noise becomes noticeable. Increases of five decibels are loud enough to be considered annoying. Increases of 10 decibels represent a doubling of volume to the human ear. Therefore, 40 decibels is twice as loud as 30 decibels to humans”

“health implications, citing increased headaches, possible nausea and sleep deprivation as the most common symptoms. Prolonged exposure increases stress and the risk of depression, anxiety and cardiovascular disease”

“the Vestas wind turbines destined for Silcote Corners have a sound power rating between 95 decibels and 103 decibels per turbine, depending on wind velocity. When they are clustered together there is an incremental increase in the sound power as each turbine is added.. to meet NPC-232 requirements wind turbines are "set back" 550 metres from a receptor…In Germany, if a wind farm is built in an environment characterized by a 35 decibel ambient noise level, the setback from any receptor is 1.5 km.”

“every organ in the human body can resonate or vibrate from exposure to low frequency noise. As examples; low frequency noise of 50 Herz stimulates vibration in the chest cavity; at 30 Hz abdominal organs can do the same; at 17 Hz vision can be blurred due to vibration of optic nerves”

“The Japanese, at the end of 2009, curtailed installations of wind farms and initiated a four-year epidemiological study on people living near turbines to understand the issue of cell damage in the human body due to low frequency noise exposure”

“We need municipal politicians to use the knowledge we have, take the next steps beyond a moratorium and construct bylaws to get the sources of environmental noise away from inhabitants”
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Friday, January 28, 2011

The Risk of Lung Cancer from Living near Traffic

Europe - Mortality rate for men of lung cancer...
Image via Wikipedia

Lung Cancer Incidence and Long-Term Exposure to Air Pollution from Traffic (33 page pdf, Environ Health Perspect ,  Jan. 12, 2011)

The article under review today comes from Denmark where exposure to traffic within 200 m was correlated with the incidence of lung cancer over a 12 year period. Not surprisingly, a clear statistical connection was made.

Key Quotes:

“the overall picture is an increased risk for lung cancer in association with various measures of exposure to air pollution with a strength of the association for traffic-related air pollution being comparable with that of environmental tobacco smoke”

“In the study reported here, we tested the hypothesis that exposure to air pollution from traffic increases the risk for lung cancer. We used data from a large Danish cohort and applied detailed data on traffic and a dispersion model with high spatial resolution to calculate the concentrations of air pollution at the actual residential addresses over a 30-year period“

“During 1993–1997, 57 053 men and women aged 50–64 years living in Copenhagen and Aarhus areas were recruited into the Diet, Cancer and Health cohort study

“In conclusion, this study showed associations between risk for lung cancer and different markers of air pollution from traffic near the residence, in line with the weight of the epidemiological evidence to date”





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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Public Health Impacts from Climate Change

Climate change prompts debate among experts about spread of tropical diseases (Washington Post, Jan. 10, 2011)

Also discussed here: Is Global Warming Harmful to Health? (7 page pdf, Scientific American, Aug. 2000)

In addition to the growing public health risks from vehicle emissions in cities, climate warming allows the spread of infectious diseases carried by insects from the tropics to eastern US and Canada and central Europe where they are not a major concern. The article reviewed today also looks at impacts resulting from more extreme weather events in these same areas by experts in the field and the debate over causes and most effective solutions to these threats, particularly in cities.

Key Quotes:

“Biological first principles suggest that warmer weather, by causing organisms to grow faster, will expand the range of disease-carrying insects and microbial pathogens.”

Extreme weather events such as heavy flooding and drought - thought to be linked to the warming of the oceans and to changes in the precipitation cycle - create conditions for waterborne illnesses that may be becoming more common in the United States,”

“dengue fever, a tropical disease that has exploded in South and Central America and across much of Asia in recent years..threatens temperate zones of the continental United States where mosquito vectors continue to expand,"

"It seems plausible that the geographic distribution of some infectious diseases may actually experience a net decline with climate change.. with, say, malaria declining in areas too hot for the malarial mosquitoes to live even as the disease spreads into previously cooler highland areas”

[on the other hand] "widespread claims that rising mean temperatures have already led to increases in worldwide malaria morbidity and mortality are largely at odds with observed decreasing global trends... dengue's resurgence in parts of the tropics has resulted from urbanization and the failure of mosquito eradication campaigns, rather than climate change"

“cholera bacterium lives, often in a dormant state, in brackish estuaries and on zooplankton. As these tiny organisms multiply rapidly during warm periods, cholera can spring back to life”

"Climate change is definitely affecting disease dynamics, but the big question - will diseases be a bigger problem in a warmer, wetter, sometimes dryer world? - can't be separated from the factor of diligent public health systems that are in place"

"I think it makes more sense to use our money on research and public health than carbon trading..We could do an awful lot, around the world, with not very much money"

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Designing a Sustainable City with Local Farming and Waste Management


Optimizing Urban Material Flows and Waste Streams in Urban Development through Principles of Zero Waste and Sustainable Consumption (29 page pdf, Sustainability 2011, 3(1), 155-183, Jan. 11, 2011)

Also discussed here: Zero Waste Australia

Today’s review article caught my attention because it focussed on urban farming and waste reduction and the large contributions to waste from the construction and demolition sector as a city progresses toward sustainability. These are all important aspects of Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, which is the larger by area than all of the other large Canadian cities by population put together- and contains more farmland than any other city in Canada. Its large area and loose controls on urban boundaries have resulted in sprawl and a very large road network which funnels the working population into its centre every day with downtown congestion and health impacts. The article makes recommendations that have been implemented in Australia under a “zero waste” and local food objectives.

Key Quotes:

“urban farming has emerged as a valid urban design strategy, where food is produced and consumed locally within city boundaries, turning disused sites and underutilized public space into productive urban landscapes and community gardens.”

“reports on best practice of urban design principles in regard to materials flow, material recovery, adaptive re-use of entire building elements and components..and other relevant strategies to implement zero waste by avoiding waste creation, reducing wasteful consumption and changing behaviour in the design and construction sectors”

“Today, no other sector of industry uses more materials, produces more waste and contributes less to recycling than the construction sector”

“Emerging complex global issues, such as health and the environment, or lifestyles and consumption, require approaches that transcend the traditional boundaries between disciplines. The relationship between efficiency and effectiveness is not always clear: high efficiency is not equal to high effectiveness, while recovery offers another side of those two notions. Today, it is increasingly understood that the same way we discuss energy efficiency; we need also to discuss resource effectiveness and resource recovery. “

Organic waste is playing an increasingly important role. ..a recommended split for a city can be found, where no waste goes to landfill:

  • Recycling and reusing min. 50–60%

  • Composting of organic waste 20–30%

  • Incineration of residual waste (waste-to-energy) max. 20%”

“recycling in itself is inefficient in solving the problem, as it does not deliver the necessary ‗decoupling‘ of economic development from the depletion of non-renewable raw materials “

“Australia is the third highest generator of waste per capita in the developed world. In July 2006, only around 50% of waste collected in the state of New South Wales (NSW) was recycled”

“Cities are resource-intensive systems. By 2030, we will need to produce 50% more energy and 30% more food on less land, with less water and fewer pesticides, using less material“

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Paying for Roads and Pricing Transportation

The control point at Liljeholmen, Stockholm.
Image via Wikipedia

Do Roads Pay for Themselves? Setting the Record Straight on Transportation Funding (45 page pdf, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Jan. 2011)

Also discussed here: do roads pay for themselves? (Human Transit, Jan. 6, 2011)

Although the report reviewed today examines how roads are paid for in the USA (and how that is not just sales tax on gas), many of its conclusions apply elsewhere in these times of “shovel-ready” projects which often are aimed at road paving or building. Several recommendations concern road pricing and congestion charges as a more effective economic tool.

Key Quotes:

Gasoline taxes aren’t “user fees:

  • Fees” are not connected to “use”

  • State gas taxes are often not entirely

  • Federal gas taxes have typically not been devoted exclusively to highways

  • Many states use gas tax revenue for a variety of purposes”

“most of the money that is spent on local roads and streets—which account for the majority of public road lane-miles and about 13 percent of vehicle travel—comes not from “user fees” but from other taxes, often local property taxes”

“Unlike gasoline taxes, tolls are true user fees—users pay them, non-users don’t, and users generally pay in proportion to the amount of the service they consume”

How Best to Price Transportation:

*Economic principles suggest that in a competitive market, the price of a good or service will align with its “marginal cost”—that is the cost of producing one additional unit of the good or service. Transit service provides a good example..”

*prices should reflect the total costs imposed by additional users—including costs on the rest of society.. A weekday afternoon bus rider may impose little in the way of external costs, but a weekday afternoon driver will, in the form of air pollution, oil consumption, and a range of other impacts.

*In the case of automobile travel, an optimal pricing system might include congestion pricing, fees for emissions of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants, an end to free or subsidized parking, and the shifting of some costs (such as auto insurance) from lump-sum charges to charges that vary based on the number of miles driven

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Back-up Beepers and Noise Pollution

self made. en:childrens, noises. gl:nenos, ruí...
Image via Wikipedia


Vehicle Motion Alarms: Necessity, Noise Pollution, or Both? (4 page pdf, Environ Health Perspect 119, Jan. 1, 2011)

Today’s article looks at the latest health threat from beepers which were supposed to provide a safety warning to those who may be struck by a truck backing up. Poor design and even poorer results and the significant addition they make to nocturnal urban noise pollution in particular are noted. The demand for the vehicle warning sounds is likely to increase with the greater numbers of silent electric or hybrid vehicles coming soon. Statistics show how dangerous current designs are to pedestrian safety. On a broader level and not mentioned is the need to design cities for pedestrians and not exclusively for vehicles.

Key Quotes:

“If annoyance level is any indication, backup beepers may be one of the most harmful noises.”

“the unpredictability and lack of control over when the sounds are heard are characteristics that normally raise noise’s impact on public health”

“backup beepers topped another list, with 20 state departments of transportation identifying them as a problem in generating nighttime construction noise”

“Their single tones, with a typical volume of 97–112 decibels (dB) at the source, are loud enough to damage hearing”

“Problems arise when multiple beepers are present at a site or the alarm creates an annoyance beyond the danger zone.”

“An investigation by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that an original equipment manufacturer backup alarm failed to prevent two-thirds of backover accidents analyzed”

“HEVs [Hybrid Electric Vehicles]were twice as likely as nonhybrid gasoline-powered vehicles to collide with pedestrians”

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Traffic Pollution Impacts on Older Men

Air Pollution (Effects on Humans) Policy Sub-C...
Image by SEDACMaps via Flickr

Traffic-Related Air Pollution and Cognitive Function in a Cohort of Older Men (31 page pdf, Environ Health Perspect, Dec.20, 2010)

Also discussed here: Car Emissions Cloud the Mind (MedPage Today, Dec. 28, 2010)

The aging of society in many countries has also resulted in an increase in the number of sufferers from dementia and alzheimers disease. The journal article under review today confirms an association between particulate matter emitted by vehicles in traffic and cognitive thinking ability in older men, although the same association has already been shown with children and pets. This is yet another reason to limit exposure to traffic-related pollution and to limit or reduce traffic volume.

Key Quotes
“A doubling of exposure to black carbon -- a marker for traffic pollution -- was associated with a 30% greater chance of having a low score on a screening test for dementia”

"This is the first study to find an association between traffic-related air pollution and cognition in older men, and only the second to consider the relationship in older adults,"

“Children and dogs residing in a highly polluted city were also more likely to exhibit white matter hyperintensities in the prefrontal cortex than those residing in a city with lower levels”

“if traffic-related air pollution is causally related to cognitive impairment in older adults, implementation of interventions to reduce exposure, including establishment of more stringent emissions standards, would be expected to have substantial benefits,"

“They noted that traffic pollution could affect the central nervous system either directly or indirectly.”

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

How Science is (and was) Communicated

The line between science and journalism is getting blurry....again (Scientific American blog, Dec. 20, 2010)

Today’s article under review gives us new insights into how (badly?)science is communicated today (and was yesterday) with an analysis or comparison between science journalists and science bloggers- and the need all along for knowledge filters to separate nonsense from fact. As a personal aside (not mentioned in the article), nowhere is this more evident than in the “debate” about climate change and, to a lesser extent, on the poor air quality in many cities- the focus of this blog.

Key Quotes:

“Journalism is communication of 'what's new’”

“science is the process of discovery of facts about the way the world works, but the communication of that discovery is the essential last step of the scientific process, and the discoverer is likely to be the person who understands the discovery the best and is thus likely to be the person with the greatest expertise and authority (and hopefully ability) to do the explaining”

“For the longest time, information was exchanged [orally] between people who knew each other to some degree..communication could be done by anyone.... communication in print was limited to those who were literate and who could afford to have a book printed”

“at the close of the 20th century. journalism and science..completely separated from each other. Journalism covered what's new without providing the explanation and context for new readers just joining the topic. Science covered only explanation and only to one's peers.. unfortunately operating under the rules of journalism and not science, messing up the popular trust in both”

“reasons science bloggers are more trusted than journalists covering science:

  • they have the scientific expertise that journalists lack - they really know what they are talking about on the topic of their expertise and the audience understands this.

  • they link out to more, more diverse and more reliable sources.

  • being digital natives, they are not familiar with the concept of word-limits…Whatever length it takes to give the subject what it's due.

  • not being trained by j-schools, they never learned not to let their personality shine through their writing. So they gain trust by connecting to their readers - the phatic component of communication.

“Good science journalists are rare”

“Data journalism..what a number of forward-thinking journalists and media organizations are starting to do”

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Making Sense of Urban Complaints from 311 Calls

What a Hundred Million Calls to 311 Reveal About New York (Wired, Nov.1, 2010)

Also discussed here: The Future of Sustainable Urban Mobility: Switch to IT Networks (The City Fix, Dec. 9, 2010)

New York City, like many other large cities, has a special number (311) for its citizens to register complaints – at a rate of 50,000 a day and 100 million in 7 years. Today‘s review article looks at the nature of these complaints over 7 years by time of day and type. What is striking is the relatively large proportion of complaints about noise and streetlights with the former peaking not surprisingly in late evening and early morning and the latter (perhaps surprisingly) in late morning. Would be interesting to see how complaints work in other cities- if any of those who read this blog know of other analyses, please do let us know. The other striking aspect to this article is the way that complaints are followed up and linked- whether this be the smell of maple syrup and national security or something else.

Key Quotes:

“The first reports triggered a new protocol that routed all complaints to the Office of Emergency Management and Department of Environmental Protection, which took precise location data from each syrup smeller. Within hours, inspectors were taking air quality samples in the affected regions. The reports were tagged by location and mapped against previous complaints. A working group gathered atmospheric data from past syrup events: temperature, humidity, wind direction, velocity.. the data formed a giant arrow aiming at a group of industrial plants in northeastern New Jersey

“After the first survey of 311 complaints ranked excessive noise as the number one source of irritation among residents, the Bloomberg administration instituted a series of noise-abatement programs, going after the offenders whom callers complained about most often”

“There are 13,000 cabs pinging back data on location, travel speeds, whether they have customers,”

“By making all complaints and queries public, these services let ordinary people detect emergent patterns as readily as civil servants can”

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sprawl and Property Taxes

Sarasota's Smart Growth Dividend- Doing the numbers proves that compact, centrally located, mixed use development yields the most property taxes (APA Planning Books, Dec. 2010)

From the heartland of where many think of by the term “sprawl”, Florida, comes a very interesting analysis comparing the tax revenues from suburban sprawl and box stores to the more intensifed urban form. Credit goes to Richard Risemberg  for his Dec. 22 post to the Car Free Cities blog “Sprawl vs. Urban: which costs the taxpayer more?”. To the surprise of none of the urbanists who live and complain. The big advantage from a tax revenue perspective (for the municipality) and to more civilized and pollution-free living perspective (for the residents) is the urban form. A complementary analysis of costs showed the same conclusion. It is not difficult to extrapolate these results to other suburban areas of the USA and Canada to favour mixed use to optimize both types of housing/building.

Key Quotes:

“Responding to state growth management policies and seeking to discourage future sprawl, county officials enacted an urban services boundary in 1997. Its purpose was to channel future growth into areas where the county was planning to provide urban services and infrastructure”

“a "revenue profile" that compared tax revenues generated by a range of building types in different locations around the city.. calculated on a per acre basis rather than the more typical per lot, per unit, or per household basis … clearly showed a much greater return from some types of development — mostly close-in, mixed use properties, both old and new — over more conventional, single-use suburban offerings”

“the amount of county property tax paid by the owners of each of the profiled properties (information that is readily obtainable from the local tax assessor). The taxes are then divided into the land area occupied by each property to obtain a tax per acre figure. The complete revenue profile thus provides an apples-to-apples comparison of the property tax yield for each development type”

“ the biggest public costs will be lower in downtown areas. Funding public schools is generally cheaper there because, in most U.S. regions, families with children tend to live in more suburban areas. Among families who do live downtown, many will opt to place their children in private schools. Water use, too, is likely to be lower in more urban areas because yards are relatively small if they exist at all”

“we found that 3.4 acres of mixed use downtown development yielded 8.3 times more annual county property taxes than a suburban 30.6-acre, 357-unit garden-style apartment project.”

“compact mixed use developments in urbanized areas generate property tax revenue at a much higher rate than do single-use developments in more suburban locations”

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Congestion and Road Pricing in Canada

Stuck in traffic -Our rush hours rank with the world’s worst (Macleans, Jan. 11, 2011)

Also discussed here: The Canadian Case for Congestion Pricing (Pollution Free Cities, Aug. 19, 2010)

And here: Congestion Pricing Discussion Paper (17 page doc, City of Ottawa Environmental Advisory Committee, May 13, 2010)

Today’s review article looks at the state of the congestion in Canada’s larger cities and a solution- congestion pricing-  which has been successfully adopted in cities such as London, Stockholm and Singapore. Improvements in technology (GPS, satellites) have led to more cost-effective tolling applications, to the point where some countries (UK, Netherlands) have considered tolling country wide.

Key Quotes:

“Statistics Canada reports the average time spent commuting to and from work nationwide increased from 54 minutes in 1992 to 63 minutes in 2005.. As bad as the commute is for drivers, it’s much worse for public transit users: 106 minutes, versus 63 minutes by car …commute distances have increased 10 per cent in a decade”

“Not only are there more cars and trucks on the road..but we’re using them for more things: driving the kids to sports, where once they would have walked. Total daily trips in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area rose by 56 per cent between 1986 and 2006.”

“Countless empirical studies have shown: add more road space, and traffic simply expands to fill it”

“Raise the price of using the roads, and people will reduce their demand for it ..with less congestion, other costs fall. Not only are travel times reduced, but so are all those other ills of congestion, from accidents to pollution.”

“Stockholm. Beginning in January 2006 .. charged a fee, varying according to traffic volumes: from $1.50 in off-peak hours, to twice that much at peak. As in London, traffic flow into the city centre was reduced by more than 20 per cent. Transit use soared; there were fewer accidents; vehicle emissions declined”

“Singapore.. took things a step further in 1998. Not only are tolls collected at entry points, but also along major arterial roads. Every vehicle on these roads must carry a card on its dashboard, much like a prepaid phone card”

“any revenues from tolls can and should be used to lower taxes: perhaps even the gas tax. To be persuasive, the offset would have to be guaranteed, immediate, and 100 per cent”

“the very act of tolling roads would, by itself, make public transit more competitive, since the per-person cost of the toll would be much less for buses than for cars (and none at all for subways and surface rail).”

“transit vehicles speed up when tolls are imposed, because there are fewer cars on the road. This attracts more travellers to transit. In response, transit operators improve service by adding routes and increasing frequency. Due to economies of scale in transit operations, the cost per passenger falls, perhaps allowing the operator to lower fares. Ridership increases further, and so on.”

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Mortality Impact from Particulates in the UK

Nelson's Column during the Great Smog of 1952 ...
Image via Wikipedia

The Mortality Effects of Long-Term Exposure to Particulate Air Pollution in the United Kingdom (108 page pdf, Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP), Dec. 21, 2010)

Also discussed here: EPUK calls for action to prevent air pollution deaths (Environmental Expert, Dec.21, 2010)

Key Quotes:

Questions addressed:

1) "What are the benefits expressed as an effect on mortality of a sustained reduction in annual average air pollution across the UK by a small fixed amount ?

Answer: A policy which aimed to reduce the annual average concentration of PM2.5 by 1 µg/m 3 would result in a saving of approximately 4 million life years or an increase in life expectancy of 20 days in people born in 2008."

2) "If anthropogenic air pollution in 2008 were to be removed and pollution sustained at low non-anthropogenic levels, what would be the benefits in terms of effects on mortality?

Answer: The current (2008) burden of anthropogenic particulate matter air pollution is, with some simplifying assumptions, an effect on mortality in 2008 equivalent to nearly 29,000 deaths in the UK at typical ages and an associated loss of total population life of 340,000 life-years. The burden can also be represented as a loss of life expectancy from birth of approximately six months."

“PM2.5 is understood to be a 'no safe threshold pollutant' – it is harmful to health at any level in the air. The impacts of PM2.5 are particularly felt in out towns and cities, where concentrations of the pollutant are high and many people live close to busy roads”

“'This shocking new report is unequivocal about the massive impact that air pollution has on the health of the UK public. It is high time the issue was taken seriously - action to mitigate pollution must be prioritised immediately”

“In light of this new evidence, which suggests thousands of Londoners are dying premature deaths every year due to air pollution, the Mayor's decision to scrap the Western Extension of the Congestion Charge and delay the implementation of Phase 3 of the London Low Emission Zone looks even more deplorable”

“We have concluded that in the unrealistic scenario where all human-made particulate air pollution (PM2.5 ) is removed, as a central estimate, 36.5 million life years could be saved across the UK population, including new births, over the next 106 years”

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Urban Physics

A Physicist Solves the City (New York Times Sunday Magazine, Dec. 19, 2010)

Today’s review article goes right to the heart of what makes a city sustainable pollution free and healthy. It describes the work of a physicist who turns his attention to describing urban characteristics with the same approach used in physics. As a meteorologist, I am frustrated by the lack of solution to many health and urban issues, after seeing my science successfully model the physics of the entire global atmosphere so well that one can deterministically predict with accuracy its future for at least 4-5 days down to a time and space scale of minutes and hundreds of metres. This is what the hero of this piece, Geoffrey West, attempts to do in a fascinating article which I recommend for all to read in detail.

Key Quotes:

“the urban jungle looked chaotic — all those taxi horns and traffic jams — but perhaps it might be found to obey a short list of universal rules..if they know the population of a metropolitan area in a given country, they can estimate, with approximately 85 percent accuracy, its average income and the dimensions of its sewer system”

“the real purpose of cities, and the reason cities keep on growing, is their ability to create massive economies of scale, just as big animals do.. the indicators of urban metabolism - like the number of gas stations or the total surface area of roads - showed that when a city doubles in size, it requires an increase in resources of only 85 percent.”

“the average Manhattanite emits 14,127 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide annually than someone living in the New York suburbs”

“whenever a city doubles in size, every measure of economic activity, from construction spending to the amount of bank deposits, increases by approximately 15 percent per capita. It doesn’t matter how big the city is; the law remains the same…it also experiences a 15 percent per capita increase in violent crimes, traffic and AIDS cases.. you can’t get the economic growth without a parallel growth in the spread of things we don’t want”

“the purpose of urban planning as finding a way to minimize our distress while maximizing our interactions.. the layout of her Manhattan neighborhood — the short blocks, the mixed-use zoning, the density of brownstones — made it easier to cope with the strain of the metropolis”

“the societal consumption driven by the process of urbanization — our collective desire for iPads, Frappuccinos and the latest fashions — more than outweighs the ecological benefits of local mass transit..urban equations predict a world of ever-increasing resource consumption, as the expansion of cities fuels the expansion of economies”

“Although urbanization has generated a seemingly impossible amount of economic growth, it has also inspired the innovations that allow the growth to continue”

“Think about how powerless a mayor is..They can’t tell people where to live or what to do or who to talk to. Cities can’t be managed, and that’s what keeps them so vibrant. They’re just these insane masses of people, bumping into each other and maybe sharing an idea or two. It’s the freedom of the city that keeps it alive.”

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Traffic-Related Air Pollution Impact on Brain Development

Chart showing the increase in autism diagnosis...
Image via Wikipedia

Residential Proximity to Freeways and Autism in the CHARGE study (26 page pdf, Environ Health Perspect, Dec.16, 2010)

Also discussed here: CHARGE (Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment)

The article reviewed today provides yet more evidence of the health impacts on those exposed to traffic and vehicle emisisons within 300 m of major roadways and highways – in this case, on fetal brain development, resulting in autism after birth. As over 10% of the population (USA) lives within 100 m of major roadways, this suggests either zoning regulations preventing such exposure or controls put on traffic volumes that would reduce the emissions.

Key Quotes:

“oxidative stress and inflammation may play a role in disease development. Traffic-related air pollution, a common exposure with established effects on these pathways, contains substances found to have adverse prenatal effects.”

“We examined associations of autism with traffic-related pollutant exposure using two broad proxies: distance to the nearest freeway and distance to the nearest major road.”

“We observed an increased risk of autism among the 10% of children living within 309m of a freeway around the time of birth”

“It has been estimated that 11% of the U.S. population lives within 100m of a four lane highway, so a causal link to autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders would have broad public health implications”

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Light as a Contributer to Urban Air Pollution

The distribution of atmospheric ozone in parti...
Image via Wikipedia

City Lights Affect Air Pollution (American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, Dec. 13, 2010)

Also discussed here: City lighting 'boosts pollution' - Bright city lights exacerbate air pollution, according to a study by US scientists (BBC News, Dec. 14, 2010)

And here: Nitrogen oxides in the nocturnal boundary layer: Simultaneous in situ measurements of NO3, N2O5, NO2, NO, and O3 (Abstract, Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 108, 4299, 11 Pp., 2003)

The impact of light pollution, particularly around cities, is seen usually as an impact on astronomy and a health threat on sleep for residents living close to the light source. The article under review today suggests that light projected up through the atmosphere may, in addition, interrupt the normal nocturnal  atmospheric chemistry processes where a nitrate radical breaks down the formation of ozone- thus resulting in more ozone than if there had been no light.  If validated, this would seem to point to greater restrictions as part of air pollution regulations concerning the widespread use of lighting in large cities.

Key Quotes:

“human-made lighting is influencing chemical reactions in the atmosphere, altering nighttime compositions and concentrations of some airborne pollutants”

“These findings could indicate increasing shifts in air-pollution’s distinctive night-versus-day chemical profiles”

"Our first results indicate that city lights can slow down the night-time cleansing by up to 7% and they can also increase the starting chemicals for ozone pollution the next day by up to 5%"

“It uses a special form of nitrogen oxide, called the nitrate radical, to break down chemicals that would otherwise go on to form the smog and ozone that can make city air such an irritant on the chest.”

"[This effect] is more important up in the air than it is directly on the ground so if you manage to keep the light pointing downward and not reflected back up into sky, into the higher parts of the air, then you would certainly have a much smaller effect of this,"

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Counting Particles from Wood Stoves

Et bål
Image via Wikipedia

Tracking Down Particulates (Science Daily, Dec. 14, 2010)

For northern countries in winter and tropical countries year round, particulates released from the burning of wood as a fuel is a major pollution problem and contributes to the health impacts from particulate matter. The new probe described in the article under review today seems to provide a reliable way of monitoring particulates directly at source in the flue. This in turn suggests a potential way of regulating “low emission” wood stoves in the future.

Key Quotes:

“When pellets, logs or briquettes are burnt, fine dust particles that are hazardous to health are released into the atmosphere.”

“[in Germany]Wood use by private individuals has gone up by 60 to 80 per cent since the year 2000..fine dust particles reduce average life expectancy in Germany by approximately ten months.”

"To date there is no validated method for measuring the dust content in flue gases. The Bosch smoke count method used with oil-fired heating systems is not appropriate, as it looks primarily at soot particles, and soot is not the principal component of emissions from wood-fired combustion

“we simply place a sampling probe developed by us in the stove flue. The probe draws off some of the flue gases, which are diluted with pre-treated air at the tip of the probe and then cooled in a conditioning unit. The conditioned flue gases are subsequently fed through two optoelectronic sensors which use different measuring techniques.. An algorithm combines the electrical signals from both these sensors to produce a definitive reading”

“This innovative technology provides heating engineers with a cost-effective tool for determining the precise concentration of particulate matter."

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Role of Cities in Post-Kyoto Climate Change Financing

Cities in a Post-2012 Climate Policy Framework (96 page pdf, ICLEI Global Reports, 2010)

Also discussed here: ICLEI report on ‘Cities in a Post-2012 Climate Policy Framework’ (UCT Centre of Criminology, May 10, 2010)

And here: World Mayors Council on Climate Change

The report reviewed today examines the role of cities in combating climate change – a role which has been largely overlooked in the two decades of international negotiations aimed at agreement on a global and national targets for emissions reduction. Cities with their direct link to energy consumption as well as, in many cases, to alternative energy  sources have a critical role to play but first their mayors need to be given (or allowed) a greater say in finding the ways. The World Mayors Council on Climate Change is a start, promoted and supported by ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability) which sponsored this report.

Key Quotes:

“climate change… is a particular threat for cities in developing countries..characterized by high vulnerability as many lack the resilience to cope with impacts of climate change such as extreme weather events and rising sea levels”

“the report illuminates the ways in which existing financing mechanisms are perceived by city decision makers, reveals barriers to local government action or understand and records the tools technologies and dialogues which have benefited local governments in pursuing mitigation and adaptation activities”

“a communication and information shortage exists around the international financing options for climate change. Senior city decision makers state a lack of awareness of and information concerning these opportunities”

“International financing options need to take into account and be integrated with existing city actions – actions taken by cities according to local conditions and national and international regulatory frameworks comprehensive city planning and procedures that include climate change criteria along with other sustainability objectives”

“energy generation from fossil fuels for buildings (residential and non residential), vehicle sue and industry as the main sources of direct emissions from cities. Main sources of indirect emissions from the generation of electricity for different purposes. These interact with urban density, urban form and the use of transport but also with urbanization through land-use changes.”
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Friday, January 7, 2011

Impacts of Road Tolls, Parking Rates and Lane Reductions on Urban Pollution


Traffic control policies to reduce pollution in Perth CBD ( 24 page pdf, 25th Conference of the Australian Institutes of Transport Research, 2003)

The article reviewed today looks at the impact of varying four traffic controls on pollution levels: fixed and varying road toll charges, parking rates and lane reductions. The results indicate a combined pollution reduction of 23-33% and traffic reduction of 51%.

Key Quotes:

“The main objective of this study is to suggest policies to reduce air pollution in urban areas by reducing traffic flow“

“We can see that $1.0 per trip extra charge would reduce average daily traffic by 11%, which would lead to reduction in CO and NOx levels of 4% and 6% respectively“

“Impacts of variable charges on pollution levels are generally similar to those of a fixed charge. However the proposed charges would reduce pollution levels more than the fixed charge”

“The suggested parking fees would reduce daily traffic by 18% leading to 7% and 10% reductions of average daily CO and NOx levels respectively”

“the study considers 25% reduction in lanes open to private vehicles. This means that the left lane of any 4-laned road in the city would be closed to private vehicle users and restricted to public transport, pedestrians and cyclists.. There would be 21% reduction of private traffic leading to 9% and 13% reductions of CO and NOx from a 25% lane restriction policy”

“The measures would have significant impacts in reducing CO and NOx levels in Perth city. This study also estimated the combined effect of the policies and found significant improvement of air pollution in both short and long run”

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Traffic Impacts on Health in Italian Cities

Atardecer en Via Rizzoli, Bolonia, Italia
Image via Wikipedia

Health Impact Assessment of Air Pollution in the Eight Major Italian Cities (65 page pdf, WHO European Centre for Environment and Health, 2002)

Key Quotes:

“these results confirm the findings from several investigations worldwide: in large cities of industrialized countries, a sizeable proportion of several adverse health effects, including mortality, is due to bad air quality”

“In Italy the characteristics of the monitoring stations are indicated by a law that defines four main types, based only on qualitative criteria:

  • urban background station;

  • high density population station;

  • high traffic station;

  • suburban photochemical”

“Each city has a different number of stations (ranging from 7 in Bologna and Palermo to 19 in Genoa)

“Among people older than 30, 4.7% of all deaths are attributable to PM10 concentrations in excess of 30 ug/m3. The attributable proportion of mortality range from 3.5% in Palermo to 5.7% in Turin

“4.7% of mortality (95%CI: 1.7 – 7.5) is attributable to PM10 concentrations higher than 30 ug/m3. This proportion increases to 7.0% using 20 ug/m3 as reference. The numbers of yearly attributable deaths are 3,472 and 5,108 respectively”

“the estimates provided in this report rely on effects of PM only, in order to preclude double counting of health effects related to air pollution. As a result, it is likely that the total effect of air pollution is underestimated”

“The main source of PM10 in Italian cities is motor vehicle traffic, including diesels and two-stroke motorcycles”

“Health consequences of urban transport policies largely based on private motor vehicles are likely to be more severe, and that reducing emissions from motor vehicles (the main source of PM10 in cities of industrialized countries) would benefit the health of urban populations”

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