Tuesday, June 30, 2015

How does Traffic-Related Air Pollution Affect Babies’ Brains?

Category:Educational research
Category:Educational research (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Prenatal and Childhood Traffic-Related Pollution Exposure and Childhood Cognition in the Project Viva Cohort (31 page pdf, Maria H. Harris, Diane R. Gold, Sheryl L. Rifas-Shiman, Steven J. Melly, Antonella Zanobetti, Brent A. Coull, Joel D. Schwartz, Alexandros Gryparis, Itai Kloog, Petros Koutrakis, David C. Bellinger, Roberta F. White, Sharon K. Sagiv, and Emily Oken, Environmental Health Perspectives, Apr. 3, 2015)

Today we review the impact of traffic- related air pollution (which includes tire wear particles and dust, as well as noise and tail pipe emissions) on the thinking or cognitive abilities of babies. Results indicate lower IQs (by 7.5 points) –both verbal and non-verbal- for children who, at birth, were living less than 50 m from heavy traffic. It also indicates that exposure during gestation or early childhood is more important than proximity to pollution later in childhood.

Key Quotes:

“We examined associations of child cognitive outcomes with exposure to traffic-related air pollutants in late pregnancy and childhood.”

 “Compared to children living ≥200 m from a major roadway at birth, those living <50 m away had lower non-verbal IQ

“non -verbal IQ scores were also lower among children living <50 m versus ≥ 200 m from a major roadway at the time of cognitive testing” “there was no evidence of adverse association between third trimester PM2.5 and cognitive outcomes”

Prenatal and childhood exposure to traffic density and PM2.5 did not appear associated with poorer cognitive peeformance”

“These findings suggest that major roadway proximity during gestation and early life might have a greater influence on cognitive development than major roadway proximity later in childhood”

Air pollution exposure could impair neurodevelopment through several pathways, including endocrine disruption, epigenetic changes, or systemic inflammatory responses leading to oxidative stress.. There is also evidence that chronic exposure to noise may be associated with decreased cognitive function in children”

Thursday, June 25, 2015

How Does Air Pollution affect the Blood Pressure of Babies in the Womb?

Air Pollution and Neonatal Blood Pressure (1 page pdf, Lenie van Rossem, Sheryl L. Rifas-Shiman, Steven J. Melly, Itai Kloog, Heike Luttmann-Gibson, Antonella Zanobetti, Brent A. Coull, Joel D. Schwartz, Murray A. Mittleman, Emily Oken, Matthew W. Gillman, Petros Koutrakis, and Diane R. Gold, Environmental Health Perspectives, Apr. 3, 2015)

Today we review research into the impact of air pollutants- both particulate and gaseous- on prenatal blood pressure. Results indicate that particulates (PM2.5) and black carbon do increase systolic blood pressure in the 3rd trimester but not in the second when gaseous pollutants such as Co or NO2 tend to lower it, suggesting different ways that gas or particulate pollution affect the fetus. It is not known if this impact has lasting effects on the baby’s health in later life

 . baby bp  

Key Quotes:

“The study considered potential effects of several air pollutants, including PM2.5, BC (a traffic-related component of particulate pollution), nitrogen oxides, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and carbon monoxide”

“The most striking and significant findings are the third-trimester associations between pollutants and newborn blood pressure,”

“increased ozone exposure in the third trimester was associated with lower systolic blood pressure in newborns, whereas exposure in the second trimester was associated with higher blood pressure. Increased estimated exposures to carbon monoxide or nitrogen oxides during the second trimester also were associated with lower newborn systolic blood pressure. One possible explanation for these results is that gaseous pollutants such as ozone, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide may affect blood pressure through a different biological pathway than particulate pollutants."

“I was interested, though not entirely surprised, to find that higher shorter-term as well as ninety-day averaged pollution was associated with higher newborn blood pressure,”

“We just don’t know what an increase in blood pressure of a few mmHg means, if anything, in a newborn… It could indicate that infants are “programmed” before birth to have higher blood pressure later in life…or it could be a short-term effect that lasts only a few days or months after birth, then goes away with no further consequence. Follow-up later in life is needed to determine how the observed associations play out over time.”

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

What are the Characteristics of Traffic Congestion?

Traffic Scorecard (INRIX) Also discussed here: The 100 most congested cities in Europe and North America (The Guardian, Jul. 7, 2014)

And here: Economic & Environmental Impact of Traffic Congestion in Europe & the US (INRIX)

And here: Annual Cost of Gridlock in Europe and the US will Increase 50 Percent on Average to $293 Billion by 2030 (INRIX Press Release, Oct. 14, 2014)

And here: Key Findings (INRIX, 2013)

Today we review an analysis of traffic congestion in Europe and US/Canada carried out by INRIX which reveal a number of interesting trends and characteristics as well as a ranking of countries and cities where it is worse. Although many assume Canada and the USA are similar in many respects, in traffic congestion (and often in hockey) Canada is #1 as a country although its two of its biggest cities are #4 (Montreal) and # 10 (Toronto) – which means that its medium sized cities are likely more congested than their American counterparts. Traffic is highest during week-day rush hours but who knew that Tuesday morning and Friday afternoon were the worst? While Belgium’s congestion is the worst in Europe (followed by the UK, Holland and Italy) and North America, Milano, Italy tops the list as the most congested city (followed by Honolulu, London and Los Angeles). And, unchecked, it will get worse. Congestion cost individual drivers, on average, $1, 740 each year and this is predicted to more than double by 2030 to $2,902. Managing the flow of traffic in real-time is helped by the 80% of vehicles that will be able to monitor and manage traffic conditions by onboard GPS technology. This also suggests (to this reviewer at least) that an opportunity exists to apply real-time congestion charging as well to reduce peak flows and associated traffic-related air pollution.

  congestion by hour  

Key Quotes:

“The Inrix traffic-data company has raided its archives to calculate the most congested cities in Europe and North America, as well as the total number of hours wasted in traffic. Inrix looked at its records of real-time traffic on every road segment during peak hours (6am-10am and 3pm-7pm, Monday through Friday) to see how the actual speed every 15 minutes related to how fast traffic would have been if the road were free-flowing”

“The combined annual cost of gridlock to these countries [USA, UK, France, Germany] is expected to soar to $293.1 billion by 2030, almost a 50% increase from 2013” “At the individual level, traffic congestion cost drivers $1,740 last year on average across the four countries. If unchecked, this number is expected to grow more than 60% to $2,902 annually by 2030”

“The overall economic impact is greatest in the U.S. where the estimated cumulative cost of traffic congestion by 2030 is $2.8 trillion – the same amount Americans collectively paid in U.S. taxes last year….However the UK (at 66%) and London (at 71%) will see the greatest annual rise in the cost of congestion by 2030, mainly as a result of seeing the highest increase in urbanization”

“Future roads will not be built with concrete as much as they’ll be built with software. It’s time to apply what we’ve learned from building the Internet highway to build a smarter transportation networks. .. 80 percent of cars on the road in the U.S. and Western Europe will be connected and a source of real‐time data by 2017… we have a unique opportunity to manage the flow of people and commerce as efficiently as we direct the flow of data over our IT networks today”

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Why (most) Politicians Do Not Act on Climate Change?

Mean surface temperature change for 1999–2008 ...
Mean surface temperature change for 1999–2008 relative to the average temperatures from 1940 to 1980 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Key Quotes: 

“the key to engaging the debate is addressing the deeper ideological, cultural, and social filters that are triggered by this issue.” 

“These conversations have become a rhetorical contest, one where opposing sides try to achieve victory through playing on fear, distrust, and intolerance. At its heart, this split no longer concerns carbon dioxide, greenhouse gases, or climate modeling; rather, it is the product of contrasting, deeply entrenched worldviews.” 

“While physical scientists explore the mechanics and implications of a changing climate, the social scientist explores the cultural and cognitive reasons why people support or reject their conclusions” 

“scientists tried to explain that the issue over climate change is about global temperature increases, not regional weather deviations, and that one weather event does not prove or disprove the science…the odds are that we can expect as a result of global warming to see more of this pattern of extreme cold in the mid-latitudes and some extreme warm in the far north” [concerning the 2014 Polar Vortex

“Physical scientists are mystified and frustrated by this state of affairs. But it makes sense to social scientists from disciplines like psychology, sociology, anthropology, political science, ethics, and philosophy, who offer valuable tools, first for understanding why people take such polarized views on controversial issues and then for moving beyond the rancor” 

“Four points that have to be addressed: 
• there is a vast physical infrastructure around fossil fuels and the lifestyle they create, which cannot be replaced easily. 
• there are strong economic and political interests that are threatened by the issue of climate change …As a result, they have adopted strategies to confuse and polarize the debate in order to protect their interests. 
• Efforts to change cultural views on climate change must include changing the vast institutions and infrastructure of our economy and 
• be prepared to deal with resistance from those who benefit from them”

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

How Does Exposure to Fine Particulate Matter Cause Anxiety in Older Women?

High Anxiety
High Anxiety (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The relation between past exposure to fine particulate air pollution and prevalent anxiety: observational cohort study (9 page pdf, Melinda C Power, Marianthi-Anna Kioumourtzoglou, Jaime E Hart, Olivia I Okereke, Francine Laden, Marc G Weisskopf, British Medical Journal, Mar. 24, 2015) 

Also discussed here: Air pollution may be related to anxiety levels in women: study (Kathryn Doyle, Toronto Globe and Mail, Apr. 1, 2015) 

Today we review research into the impact of exposure to PM2.5 had on anxiety for a large group of older women (mean age 70) over various periods of exposure. Anxiety disorders affect 16% of people worldwide over their lives and 11% have suffered from it in the last year. Results indicate a clear link with 12% more of those exposed to fine particulates showing high anxiety symptoms than those who were not so exposed. Also those who live between 50 and 200 m of busy roadways with traffic-related air pollution were more likely to show these symptoms than those who live farther away. Exposure to larger sized particulates (such as PM10) and exposure within 50 m of roadways did not show greater anxiety symptoms. Because of the people sampled in this study, it is not possible to extend these results to younger women or to men although there is evidence of pollution-stress links for the latter group.

Key Quotes: 

“Globally, approximately 16% of people will have an anxiety disorder in their lifetime and 11% will have experienced an anxiety disorder in the past year…In 2010, anxiety disorders accounted for approximately 26.8 million disability adjusted life years worldwide”

“Women have a higher prevalence of anxiety disorders than men and the onset for most anxiety disorders is commonly in adolescence or young adulthood.” 

 “Among the nurses who responded to the questionnaire, 15% experienced high levels of the following symptoms:
  • Fearfulness
  • Desire for avoidance
  • Tendency to worry.”
“women who were exposed to the most small particles in the air one month before their anxiety test were about 12 per cent more likely to have high anxiety symptoms than those not exposed to these particles one month previously.”

"Nurses who lived 50 to 200 m from the nearest major road were more likely to have increased Crown-Crisp index phobic anxiety scale scores than those living >200 m away”

“Our data support an association between exposure to particulate matter of <2.5 μm in diameter (PM2.5) but not 2.5 to 10 μm in diameter (PM2.5–10) or proximity to roadways, and high symptoms of anxiety. The association between PM2.5 and high anxiety seems primarily driven by a relation with shorter term average exposures to PM2.5”

“it is possible that reductions in exposure to PM2.5, through changes to regulations or individual behavior, may help reduce anxiety symptoms”

"Since air pollution causes systemic inflammation, it is reasonable that researchers have now turned to the arena of mental health, a leading priority for research given the relative absence of known modifiable risk factors and a high and growing disease burden,"

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Is Traffic-Related Air Pollution Linked to Breast Cancer?

Age-standardised death rates from Breast cance...
Age-standardised death rates from Breast cancer by country (per 100,000 inhabitants). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Long-term exposure to air pollution and mammographic density in the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health cohort (15 page pdf, Stephanie Huynh, My von Euler-Chelpin,Ole Raaschou-Nielsen, Ole Hertel, Anne Tjønneland, Elsebeth Lynge, Ilse Vejborg, Zorana J Andersen, Environmental Health, Apr. 1, 2015)  

Today we review research in Copenhagen, Denmark that looked at the link between exposure to NO2 from traffic-related air pollution over 10 years and mammographic density (MD) which has clear associations with breast cancer, the leading cause of death among women. Although breast cancer occurs more frequently in industrialized countries and both it and MD are higher in urban areas, a careful analysis revealed no convincing relation between MD and air pollution. As the authors noted, if there is a link with air pollution, it is via another pathway independent of MD. 

 Key Quotes: 

“ Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer and one of the leading causes of death among women in the western world…Breast cancer incidence is higher in more industrialized countries, as well in urban areas, suggesting, among other factors, a possible relevance of air pollution” 

“MD[mammographic density] is increasingly being used as a biomarker of breast cancer risk, as it is one of the strongest risk factors.. women living in urban areas had greater MD than those living in rural areas” 

“Women with more than 75% density in the breast have a four to six times greater risk of breast cancer than women with little density, or fatty breasts” 

 “We found no convincing association between exposure to traffic-related air pollution and MD. Associations were weak and inverse.. if air pollution increases breast cancer risk, it is likely via a pathway that is independent of MD.”

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Can Climate Clubs and Community-Based Initiatives overcome International Free-Riding to Reduce Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

How Idealism, Expressed in Concrete Steps, Can Fight Climate Change (Robert J. Shiller, New York Times, Mar. 29, 2015)

Also discussed here: A Polycentric Approach for Coping with Climate Change (56 page pdf, Elinor Ostrom, Policy Research Working Paper 5095, Background Paper to the 2010 World Development Report, The World Bank, Oct. 2009)

And here: Climate Clubs: Designing a Mechanism to Overcome Free-Riding in International Climate Policy (51 min webcast video, American Economic Association Presidential Address, William Nordhaus, Jan. 4, 2015)

Today we review two ideas that will overcome the last of four key aspects of climate change: climate science (mature and known), costs to reduce emissions (known), economic instruments to implement policy (carbon tax, cap and trade, known), system to prevent international free-riding (zero progress). Free-riding avoids the costs of implementing change while benefiting international from the actions of the few nations who do take action at cost to themselves. Little global leadership is seen in the failed attempts to reduce global GHG emissions and even when countries pledge to reduce emissions, dropping out of that pledge brought no penalties or sanctions to the partner that exits- as seen by the decision of the Canadian government to drop out of its Kyoto Protocol commitment in 2011.

Two proposals are now on the table and involve starting at the community level or small group of participating countries and then expanding these as progress is made. Climate Clubs is a top-down treaty with penalties for non-participants (such as tariffs for imports into climate club regions) which can lead to high participation with high abatement The Community approach, introduced at the 2009 UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen (notably the world’s first carbon neutral capital), is based on action at the individual or community level where benefits can be more clearly seen and costs are less than through changes at the national or international level. Both avoid the problem of free-riding. cycling for cl ch  

Key Quotes:

 “Trade-offs are particularly relevant on an average, national, or global level…Stronger climate policy now implies higher, immediate economic costs. Coal-fired power plants will become obsolete sooner or won’t be built in the first place…The big trade-off question then is how these costs compare to the benefits of action, both because of lower carbon pollution and because of economic returns from investing in cleaner, leaner technologies today”

“the Copenhagen Theory of Change…we should be asking people to volunteer to save our climate by taking many small, individual actions” “while many of the effects of climate change are global, the causes of climate change are the actions undertaken by individuals, families, firms, and actors at a much smaller scale. The familiar slogan “Think Globally but Act Locally” hits right at a major dilemma facing all inhabitants of our globe.”

“a climate club is a group of countries that agree to create incentives for people to reduce carbon emissions, while also erecting tariff barriers on imports from countries that are not members of the club…A climate club may start with only a few countries and then grow as others join. The club may grow through time rather than collapse as we saw with the Kyoto Protocol. Now they will be coming into the club as they see, over the years, the advantages of membership.”

“In the case of climate change, the joint “good” is reducing a joint “bad” caused by increased emissions of greenhouse gases. The joint goal is reducing the threats of massive climate change, of increased ocean levels, of increased variability in climate patterns, and many other global bads.”

 “The maintenance of reliable, comparative information over time is a very important step in coping with large-scale externalities, both to assess who is complying with policies and to compare the effectiveness of diverse strategies in different units.”

“A strong commitment to finding ways of reducing individual emissions is an important element for coping with climate change. Building such a commitment, and the trust that others are also taking responsibility, can be more effectively undertaken in small- to medium-scale governance units that are linked through information networks and monitoring at all levels.”

Thursday, June 4, 2015

How is Diet Related to Climate Change?

The nutritional footprint - integrated methodology using environmental and health indicators to indicate potential for absolute reduction of natural resource use in the field of food and nutrition (10 page pdf, Melanie Lukas, Holger Rohn, Michael Lettenmeier, Christa Liedtke, Klaus Wiesen, Journal of Cleaner Production, Feb. 9, 2015)

Today we review the concept of a numerical index used to assess the impact of various diets and nutrients on health and the environment by examining how they affect greenhouse gas emissions, and water or land demand and use. A vegetarian diet has low impact, a fish diet medium impact and a meat diet high impact. The authors suggest how this index could be used to help consumers choose lower impact diets as a sort
Weight Watcher index tagged to foods at retail outlets.

 . diet footprint

Key Quotes:

“the Nutritional Footprint..is based on implementing the concept of a sustainable diet in decision-making processes, and supporting a resource-light society.. focus on the food and nutrition sector which accounts for 29% of the global emission of greenhouse gases (GHG), and for a high use of water and land, and so a high resource use”

“four macro indicators with a high relevance for the environmental effect of food production and consumption have been identified …‘Carbon Footprint, Material Footprint Land use and Water Footprint.. the Material Footprint which is based on the MIPS concept (Material Input Per Unit of Service), was considered as a complementary indicator”

“The vegetarian and vegan choice show an indicator below 1,6 and, therefore, with a low effect level or even a sustainable level; thus, these menus are suggested as …. The fish menu is at the level of a medium effect and partially recommendable once or twice a week. All menus with a medium or large portion of meat are classified as less preferable and are rated with a high effect”

“The tool could provide an GDA (Guidelines Daily Amount)..provide an understandable tool to support and guide consumers to a healthier and environmental friendly diet. Companies could influence consumers' decisions in the same direction if management and communication tools are adequate to support these decisions”

“influencing nutrition choice may include the idea of having some kind of individual target values, and of attempting not to exceed a level of 1.8 in one menu. Knowledge of individual targets may inspire choice and a person may have to go without a meal; this is similar to the concept of the well-known and quite successful concept ‘Weight Watchers’”