Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Impact of Traffic-Related Air Pollution on the Lungs

Beijing smog as seen from the China World Hote...
Beijing smog as seen from the China World Hotel, March 2003, during the SARS outbreak. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Air pollution exposure and lung function in highly exposed subjects in Beijing, China: a repeated-measure study    (10 page pdf, Andrea A Baccarelli, Yinan Zheng, Xiao Zhang, Dou Chang, Lei Liu, Katherine Rose Wolf, Zhou Zhang, John P McCracken, Anaité Díaz, Pier Alberto Bertazzi, Joel Schwartz1, Sheng Wang, Choong-Min Kang, Petros Koutrakis and Lifang Hou, Particle and Fibre Toxicology, Oct. 2, 2014)

Today we review research based on measurements of various pollutants in Beijing, largely from vehicle emissions, and the extent to which these pollutants have an impact on lung function. Results indicate a clear link and the authors recommend ways to reduce exposure in this city as well as in other large cities with high pollution levels world-wide.

Key Quotes:

“In this study of truck drivers and office workers in Beijing, China, we evaluated the effects of traffic-related PM2.5 and elemental components, including elemental carbon (EC), potassium (K), sulfur (S), Fe, Si, Al, Zn, Ca, and titanium (Ti) on lung function.”

“Average personal PM2.5 was 94.59 μg/m3 for office workers and 126.83 μg/m3 for truck drivers.”

“By measuring EC, a tracer of traffic particles, as well as by evaluating a group, i.e., truck drivers with direct exposure to traffic, we had the opportunity to distinguish the effects of traffic pollution from those of the general levels of ambient PM2.5 in Beijing.”

“our investigation provides evidence that exposure to elemental components of PM2.5, such as Si, Al, Ca, and Ti, is associated with reduced lung function.”

“Our results further support the urgent implementation of exposure reduction measures in the Beijing metropolitan area as well as in areas with similarly high levels of potentially toxic components worldwide.”


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Is there a Link between Air Pollution and Autism?

In Utero Exposure to Toxic Air Pollutants and Risk of Childhood Autism (Abstract, von Ehrenstein, Ondine S.; Aralis, Hilary; Cockburn, Myles; Ritz, Beate, Epidemiology, Oct. 14, 2014)
Also discussed here: Researcher adds to evidence linking autism to air pollutants ScienceDaily, Oct. 14, 2014)

Today we review research conducted in North Carolina that looked at the impact of exposure by pregnant mothers to particulate matter produced by industry and vehicle emissions. Results indicate what has been found elsewhere that there is clear evidence of a higher risk of autism in children as a result of exposure during their gestation in the womb. Seasonal peaks of pollution are important also when some places peak in winter (California) and others in summer (North Carolina).

Major brain structures implicated in autism.
Major brain structures implicated in autism. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Key Quotes:

“Autism, a spectrum of disorders affecting interpersonal relations and work achievement, now affects some 1 in 68 children in the U.S”

“a new, more exact tool to measure the levels of particulate matter in smaller slices of time, based on pollution at the family's address during pregnancy…able to compare exposures during specific weeks of pregnancy”

Risks for autism in children may increase following in utero exposure to ambient air toxics from urban traffic and industry emissions, as measured by community-based air-monitoring stations.”

 “the concentration of particulate matter was highest among children born in summer months in North Carolina and those born in fall and winter months in California.”

 "Evidence for a link between a chemical exposure and a health impact like autism is stronger when it can be shown in more than one region….We've now had three solid studies saying the same thing. The evidence is pretty compelling that something is going on with air pollution and autism,"

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Are Traffic Congestion Costs Exaggerated?

The costs of congestion reappraised (65 page pdf, Ian Wallis and David Lupton, NZ Transport Agency research report 489, Feb. 2013)

Also discussed here : The future economic and environmental costs of gridlock in 2030 - An assessment of the direct and indirect economic and environmental costs of idling in road traffic congestion to households in the UK, France, Germany and the USA (67 page pdf, Report for INRIX, Jul. 2014)

And here: How Not To Measure Traffic Congestion—Hold the Hyperbole, Please! (Planetizen, Oct. 14, 2014)

Today we review several reports that try to estimate the cost of traffic congestion in the USA, Europe, New Zealand other countries with some criticism as to how congestion is measured or perhaps exaggerated according to the definition or methods used. The recent INRIX report puts the cost for individuals in the USA at $1,740 now rising to $2,902 by 2030 which is equivalent nationally to $2.8 trillion by 2030. By comparison, in Canada the individual cost ranges from $17 to $ 270 individually for 9 urban areas, or $3B nationally.

 speed vs flow

 Key Quotes: 

“total economy-wide costs across all four advanced economies [UK, France, Germany and the USA] are forecast to rise from $200.7billion in 2013 to $293.1 billion by 2030 – a 46% increase in the costs imposed by congestion. “

“France has the highest level of congestion and the US has the lowest … The UK has the second highest level of road congestion overall… consistent with a higher road usage intensity (total vehicle miles travelled per mile of road network). The high population density in the UK is also likely to contribute to elevated congestion levels”

“At the city level, the INRIX index implies that Los Angeles and London have the highest levels of congestion. This is consistent with Los Angeles having by far the largest car commuting modal share (67%) of all the four cities consider “

“At the city level, London’s average annual hours wasted (including planning time) are forecast to rise from 252.1 hours to 299.4 hours. London is expected to see the largest percentage increase of 19% between 2013 and 2030. Across all the cities, an average increase of 24.8 hours is expected by 2030.”

“Paris has a lower relative measure of congestion. This may in part be due to a bicycle-sharing scheme that promotes cycling to work. Specifically, Paris has the largest of these schemes outside China with more than 20,000 bikes and 1,800 stations. A total of 2.4% of Parisians cycle to work.”

“London is predicted to be the city with the highest population growth of 20%, increasing from 8.4 million people in 2013 to 10.1 million by 2030… The population of Germany..is projected to fall by 3% due to an ageing population and a declining birth rate…. implications for our forecasts of road transport demand, accentuated by falling levels of car ownership and the fact that older people tend to make fewer trips”

“The US has by far the highest number of passenger vehicles per capita at 787 vehicles per thousand persons and the UK has the lowest at 448 vehicles per thousand persons – 75% lower than in the US. .. the absolute number of vehicles on the roads is still expected to be higher by 2030 in all countries as a result of population growth. “

“The costs of congestion for the nine urban areas estimated with the 60% threshold were about CAN$3 billion. Montreal and Toronto accounted for 70% of the total. In per capita terms, the annual cost ranged from CAN$17 per person for Hamilton to CAN$270 per person for Toronto.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Monitoring Air Pollution .. with an Umbrella?

Track Air Pollution With This Smart Umbrella (Carey Dunne, FastCoDesign, Jun. 26, 2014)

Also discussed here: Smart umbrellas keep you dry and check the air you breathe(Nicola Davis , the guardian, The Observer, Jun. 19, 2014)

And here: Track Air Pollution With This Smart Umbrella (FastCoDesign) And here: Share hyperlocal air pollution data with Sensing Umbrella (Zoe Romano, Arduino, Jul. 16, 2014)

And here: Sensing Umbrella (Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design, Jun. 2014)

Today we note the innovative design of an umbrella that monitors carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, two of the main toxic air pollutants in many traffic-clogged cities. The idea which came from two students at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design is intended for use by the larger public to both collect data easily and then have it automatically shared via Wi-Fi for potential application in mapping urban pollution or making pollution levels known in near real-time.

 sensing umbrella  

Key Quotes:

“The Sensing Umbrella with an Arduino Yún micro controller… measures local carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide pollution levels. As eye-catching as it is technologically advanced, the umbrella then visualizes this data in real-time through a sparkling LED light display on its surface. Firefly-like lights change their color and rhythm in response to local pollution levels, spreading awareness of the air quality to city dwellers."

“This timestamped and geolocated data gets uploaded to the Cloud (an unintentional metaphor) to pollution databases for scientific analysis…With multiple umbrellas around the city, we hope to generate local maps of air pollution”

 "We have a pretty sophisticated sensor inside that picks up nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide as well as temperature and humidity…We chose to focus on the pollutants because those were the things that were maybe less apparent to the average person."

“they hope to create a worldwide event, or movement, in which crowd-sourcing data via umbrella turns every person in society into a node in a larger network. So each person would gather and share information about pollution, for the greater good.”

Thursday, December 11, 2014

How Many Deaths World-Wide are Caused by Transportation-Related Air Pollution?

Estimating source-attributable health impacts of ambient fine particulate matter exposure: global premature mortality from surface transportation emissions in 2005 (11 page pdf, S E Chambliss, R Silva, J J West, M Zeinali and R Minjares, Environmental Research Letters, Oct. 10, 2014)

Today we review an estimate of the number of air pollution deaths globally caused by transportation, principally PM 2.5. Results indicate that out of 3.2 million air pollution deaths, 242,000 are caused by transportation, with higher numbers in the USA and central Europe related to the proximity of busy roads and an older society, more subject to chronic diseases aggravated by air pollution. global deaths  

Key Quotes:

“Exposure to ambient fine particular matter (PM2.5) was responsible for 3.2 million premature deaths in 2010 and is among the top ten leading risk factors for early death.”

“Approximately 242 000 annual premature deaths were attributable to surface transportation emissions, dominated by China, the United States, the European Union and India….This number is equal to approximately 8.0 percent of all premature deaths attributable to ambient particulate matter.”

“These populations experience higher concentrations of transportation-attributable PM2.5, which may be explained in-part by higher per-capita rates of vehicle ownership and advances in controlling point sources. High-income countries also tend to have older populations and higher baseline rates of chronic disease.”

“At the national level, population-weighted TAF [transportation-attributable fraction] varied widely from a minimum value of <1% in Micronesia to a maximum of 32% in Luxembourg, closely followed by Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium with 31%”

“It is estimated that up to 45 percent of urban populations in North America live near a major road, and in major cities like Beijing the share may be as high as 76 percent…. Because the transportation-attributable PM2.5 exposure

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How Likely is a Heart Attack after Exposure to High levels of Air Pollution?

Outdoor Air Pollution and Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrest in Okayama, Japan (Abstract, Takashi Yorifuji, Etsuji Suzuki, Saori Kashima, Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, Oct. 2014)

Also discussed here: High-pollution days linked to increased risk of cardiac arrest (ScienceDaily, Oct. 7, 2014) 

Today we review research into the risk of heart attacks after several days of high levels of air pollution. Results indicate a greater risk of between 17 and 40% after exposure to particulate matter or ozone respectively. 

Key Quotes: 

“cardiac arrest rates were higher a few days after increased levels of several air pollutants. For example, 48 to 72 hours after days with high levels of particulate air pollution, the risk of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest increased by 17 percent…There was a 40 percent increase in risk 72 to 96 hours after days with higher ozone levels” 

 "The evidence presented provides further support for the hypothesis that exposure to outdoor air pollution increases the risk of cardiac arrest," 

“ particulate matter and ozone may induce cardiac arrest via "two distinct pathways." Exposure to particulate pollution may result in myocardial infarction, while ozone may worsen other cardiac conditions, increasing the risk of cardiac arrest.”

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Why are there No Regulations to Control Spills at Gas Stations?

Old gasoline pumps, Norway
Old gasoline pumps, Norway (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Infiltration and Evaporation of Small Hydrocarbon Spills at Gas Stations (Abstract,Markus Hilpert , Patrick N. Breysse, Journal of Contaminant Hydrology, Sep. 19, 2014) 

Today we review research into the potential health threat posed by accidental spills that occur when individuals fill up their vehicles at gas stations which themselves are becoming much larger by an order of magnitude. Estimates are that each gas station has 1,500 litres of spills each year which evaporates into the air or makes its way and pollutes the groundwater and drains which empty into rivers which supply municipal water supplies. Regulations generally do not cover these spills which result in “non-negligible human exposure to toxic and carcinogenic gasoline compounds.” 

Key Quotes:   

"Gas station owners have worked very hard to prevent gasoline from leaking out of underground storage tanks…But our research shows we should also be paying attention to the small spills that routinely occur when you refill your vehicle's tank."   

“researchers estimate, roughly 1,500 liters of gasoline are spilled at a typical gas station each decade” 

"When gasoline spills onto concrete, the droplet will eventually disappear from the surface. If no stain is left behind, there has been a belief that no gasoline infiltrated the pavement, and all of it evaporated… this assumption is incorrect. Our experiments suggest that even the smallest gasoline spills can have a lasting impact."   

“Our study suggests that, over the lifespan of a gas station, concrete pads underneath gas dispensing stations accumulate significant amounts of gasoline, which could eventually break through into underlying soil and groundwater”   

 "Chronic gasoline spills could well become significant public health issues since the gas station industry is currently trending away from small-scale service stations that typically dispense around 100,000 gallons per month to high-volume retailers that dispense more than 10 times this amount."  

 “Regulations and guidelines typically do not address subsurface and surface contamination due to chronic small gasoline spills, even though these spills could result in non-negligible human exposure to toxic and carcinogenic gasoline compounds.”  

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

How is Exposure to Pollution affected by Where the Pollution is Measured?

Before the Air Pollution Control Act of 1955, ...
Before the Air Pollution Control Act of 1955, air pollution was not considered a national environmental problem. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 Identifying exposure disparities in air pollution epidemiology specific to adverse birth outcomes (4 page pdf, Laura A Geer, Environmental Research Letters, Oct. 8, 2014) 

Today we review a short research note that pointed out that almost half of the population of the USA live in areas with higher air pollution levels than standards allow. At the same time, standard reference air quality monitors tend to be located in high pollution areas and also in areas where certain sectors of the population live, some of whom are more vulnerable to those impacts- such as pregnant women with low incomes. Unless these biases are taken into account, general conclusions drawn may exaggerate the impacts. This suggests both more care in monitor siting and allowance for bias in population exposure.  

Key Quotes: 

 “More than 147 million people in the US live in areas where pollutant levels are above regulatory limits and pose a risk to health. Most of the vast network of air pollutant monitors in the US are located in places with higher pollution levels…Vulnerable populations are more likely to reside near air pollutant sources, and thus near pollutant monitors placed in higher pollution level zones.” 

"Specific area-level or neighborhood-level factors that set up for disproportionate air pollution exposure to socioeconomically disadvantaged populations include proximity to traffic and roads, crowding, poor infrastructure, hindered access to transportation and services (e.g., supermarkets and health care),…” 

“In large epidemiologic studies linking air pollution from stationary monitors with health outcomes, it is especially important to accurately classify maternal pollutant exposure status.” “Another measurement consideration is the distance of the individual study participant from pollutant monitors, encompassing the issue of selection of buffer size.” 

“selection of exposure assessment method comes with tradeoffs in accurate exposure classification, sample size, and population characteristics, ultimately impacting the generalizability of the study“