Posts Tagged ‘Pollution’

Air pollution levels remain dangerously high in many parts of the world. New data from WHO shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. Updated estimations reveal an alarming death toll of 7 million people every year caused by ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution.

“Air pollution threatens us all, but the poorest and most marginalized people bear the brunt of the burden,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “It is unacceptable that over 3 billion people – most of them women and children – are still breathing deadly smoke every day from using polluting stoves and fuels in their homes. If we don’t take urgent action on air pollution, we will never come close to achieving sustainable development.”

7 million deaths every year

WHO estimates that around 7 million people die every year from exposure to fine particles in polluted air that penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, causing diseases including stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and respiratory infections, including pneumonia.

Ambient air pollution alone caused some 4.2 million deaths in 2016, while household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in the same period.

More than 90% of air pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, mainly in Asia and Africa, followed by low- and middle-income countries of the Eastern Mediterranean region, Europe and the Americas.

Around 3 billion people – more than 40% of the world’s population – still do not have access to clean cooking fuels and technologies in their homes, the main source of household air pollution. WHO has been monitoring household air pollution for more than a decade and,while the rate of access to clean fuels and technologies is increasing everywhere, improvements are not even keeping pace with population growth in many parts of the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

WHO recognizes that air pollution is a critical risk factor for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), causing an estimated one-quarter (24%) of all adult deaths from heart disease, 25% from stroke, 43% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 29% from lung cancer.

More countries taking action

More than 4300 cities in 108 countries are now included in WHO’s ambient air quality database, making this the world’s most comprehensive database on ambient air pollution. Since 2016, more than 1000 additional cities have been added to WHO’s database which shows that more countries are measuring and taking action to reduce air pollution than ever before. The database collects annual mean concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5). PM2.5 includes pollutants, such as sulfate, nitrates and black carbon, which pose the greatest risks to human health. WHO air quality recommendations call for countries to reduce their air pollution to annual mean values of 20 μg/m3 (for PM10) and 10 μg/m3 (for PM25).
“Many of the world’s megacities exceed WHO’s guideline levels for air quality by more than 5 times, representing a major risk to people’s health,” says Dr Maria Neira, Director of the Department of Public Health, Social and Environmental Determinants of Health, at WHO. “We are seeing an acceleration of political interest in this global public health challenge. The increase in cities recording air pollution data reflects a commitment to air quality assessment and monitoring. Most of this increase has occurred in high-income countries, but we hope to see a similar scale-up of monitoring efforts worldwide.”

While the latest data show ambient air pollution levels are still dangerously high in most parts of the world, they also show some positive progress. Countries are taking measures to tackle and reduce air pollution from particulate matter. For example, in just two years, India’s Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana Scheme has provided some 37 million women living below the poverty line with free LPG connections to support them to switch to clean household energy use. Mexico City has committed to cleaner vehicle standards, including a move to soot-free buses and a ban on private diesel cars by 2025.

Major sources of air pollution from particulate matter include the inefficient use of energy by households, industry, the agriculture and transport sectors, and coal-fired power plants. In some regions, sand and desert dust, waste burning and deforestation are additional sources of air pollution. Air quality can also be influenced by natural elements such as geographic, meteorological and seasonal factors.

Air pollution does not recognize borders. Improving air quality demands sustained and coordinated government action at all levels. Countries need to work together on solutions for sustainable transport, more efficient and renewable energy production and use and waste management. WHO works with many sectors including transport and energy, urban planning and rural development to support countries to tackle this problem.

Key findings:

WHO estimates that around 90% of people worldwide breathe polluted air. Over the past 6 years, ambient air pollution levels have remained high and approximatively stable, with declining concentrations in some part of Europe and in the Americas.

The highest ambient air pollution levels are in the Eastern Mediterranean Region and in South-East Asia, with annual mean levels often exceeding more than 5 times WHO limits, followed by low and middle-income cities in Africa and the Western Pacific.

Africa and some of the Western Pacific have a serious lack of air pollution data. For Africa, the database now contains PM measurements for more than twice as many cities as previous versions, however data was identified for only 8 of 47 countries in the region.

Europe has the highest number of places reporting data.

In general, ambient air pollution levels are lowest in high-income countries, particularly in Europe, the Americas and the Western Pacific.In cities of high-income countries in Europe, air pollution has been shown to lower average life expectancy by anywhere between 2 and 24 months, depending on pollution levels.

“Political leaders at all levels of government, including city mayors, are now starting to pay attention and take action,” adds Dr Tedros. “The good news is that we are seeing more and more governments increasing commitments to monitor and reduce air pollution as well as more global action from the health sector and other sectors like transport, housing and energy.”

This year WHO will convene the first Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health (30 October – 1 November 2018) to bring governments and partners together in a global effort to improve air quality and combat climate change. http://www.who.int/airpollution/events/conference/en/

http://www.who.int/news-room/detail/02-05-2018-9-out-of-10-people-worldwide-breathe-polluted-air-but-more-countries-are-taking-action

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Small plastic fragments that have accumulated in the marine environment following decades of pollution can cause significant issues for marine organisms that ingest them, including inflammation, reduced feeding and weight-loss.

By Conn Hastings

A new study sheds light on the magnitude of microplastic pollution in our oceans. The study, published today in open-access journal Frontiers in Marine Science, found microplastics in the stomachs of nearly three out of every four mesopelagic fish caught in the Northwest Atlantic — one of the highest levels globally. These findings are worrying, as the affected fish could spread microplastics throughout the ocean. The fish are also prey for fish eaten by humans, meaning that microplastics could indirectly contaminate our food supply through the transfer of associated microplastic toxins.

“Microplastic pollution has been in the news recently, with several governments planning a ban on microbeads used in cosmetics and detergents,” says Alina Wieczorek from the National University of Ireland, Galway and lead author of the study. “The high ingestion rate of microplastics by mesopelagic fish that we observed has important consequences for the health of marine ecosystems and biogeochemical cycling in general.”

Microplastics are small plastic fragments that have accumulated in the marine environment following decades of pollution. These fragments can cause significant issues for marine organisms that ingest them, including inflammation, reduced feeding and weight-loss. Microplastic contamination may also spread from organism to organism when prey is eaten by predators. Since the fragments can bind to chemical pollutants, these associated toxins could accumulate in predator species.

Mesopelagic fish serve as a food source for a large variety of marine animals, including tuna, swordfish, dolphins, seals and sea birds. Typically living at depths of 200-1,000 meters, these fish swim to the surface at night to feed then return to deeper waters during the day. Through these vertical movements, mesopelagic fish play a key role in the cycling of carbon and nutrients from the surface to the deep sea — a process known as biogeochemical cycling. This means they could spread microplastic pollution throughout the marine ecosystem, by carrying microplastics from the surface down to deeper waters, affecting deep-sea organisms.

Despite their important role in marine ecosystems, mesopelagic fish have been relatively understudied in the context of microplastics. To investigate this further, Wieczorek and colleagues set out to catch fish in a remote area of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean: an eddy (whirlpool) off the coast of Newfoundland.

“These fish inhabit a remote area, so theoretically they should be pretty isolated from human influences, such as microplastics. However, as they regularly migrate to the surface, we thought that they may ingest microplastics there,” explains Wieczorek.

The researchers caught mesopelagic fish at varying depths, then examined their stomachs for microplastics back in the lab. They used a specialized air filter so as not to introduce airborne plastic fibers from the lab environment.

The team found a wide array of microplastics in the fish stomachs — with a whopping 73% of the fish having ingested the pollutants. “We recorded one of the highest frequencies of microplastics among fish species globally,” says Wieczorek. “In particular, we found high levels of plastic fibers such as those used in textiles.”

As the researchers were extremely careful to exclude contamination with fibers from the air, they are confident that the fish had ingested the fibers in the sea. Finding high levels of fibers in the fish is significant, as some studies investigating microplastics in fish have dismissed such fibers as contaminants from the lab environment, meaning their role as a pollutant may have been underestimated.

The researchers plan further studies to learn more about how these fish are ingesting and spreading microplastics. “It will be particularly interesting to see whether the fish ingest these microplastics directly as mistaken prey items, or whether they ingest them through eating prey species, which have previously ingested the microplastics,” says Wieczorek.

High levels of microplastics found in Northwest Atlantic fish

By Chelsea Harvey

The tiniest particles of airborne pollution may affect the weather, new research suggests—even in some of the most pristine parts of the world.

A study published in the journal Science found that ultra-fine aerosol particles, produced by industrial activity, are helping storms grow bigger and more intense in the Amazon basin. Many scientists had long assumed that these microscopic particles—which can be more than 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair—were far too small to have any effect on the weather.

But a combination of observations and model simulations, focusing on the tropical rainforest outside the Brazilian city of Manaus, indicate that these tiny particles are actually causing bigger storm clouds and heavier rainfall. The findings suggest that the increase in pollution since the onset of the Industrial Revolution may have “appreciably changed” the formation of storm clouds, the researchers write. And they suggest that changes in the Amazon’s climate could potentially reverberate in other parts of the world.

The research comes at a time of growing interest in aerosols—small pollution particles, often produced by industrial activities—and their influence on global weather and climate. Aerosols are known to produce a temporary cooling effect on the climate, and research increasingly suggests that air pollution may have helped to cover up some of the effects of human-caused climate change (Climatewire, Jan. 22). This means ongoing efforts to reduce pollution may be accompanied by enhanced warming, scientists note, along with a variety of other weather-related side effects.

The new study reinforces the idea that pollution has a significant influence on atmospheric processes, down to daily weather patterns. Previous research has already demonstrated that larger aerosol particles can lead to stronger storms.

Particles in the air can interact with water vapor and form droplets, influencing the formation of clouds. One widely covered modeling study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2014, suggested that pollution from Asia can intensify storms in the northwestern Pacific and may even affect weather patterns over North America.

But until now, the influence of the tiniest pollution particles has been largely overlooked.

“Previously, scientists had this concept that these ultra-fine particles, they are too small to be ‘activated,’ to be transformed into cloud droplets,” Jiwen Fan, the lead study author and a scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, told E&E News.

The Amazon provided a “perfect setting” to investigate, she added. Rainforest outside Manaus remains relatively untouched by human activity, and the background aerosol levels are low. But winds often sweep in pollution from the city, providing a kind of natural laboratory to test the effects of higher and lower levels of particles in the air.

The researchers found that the tiny particles had an even greater effect on storm intensity than their larger counterparts. The tiny particles are lifted higher into the air before they begin to interact with water vapor and transform into cloud droplets, forming taller clouds. The resulting high concentration of water droplets forming the clouds release large amounts of heat as they condense, which helps to invigorate the air rising up through the cloud and intensify the brewing storm.

So far, the study only documents the process in a specific part of the Brazilian Amazon, meaning more research would be needed to determine whether the same effects apply elsewhere. But the researchers suggest that other humid and remote parts of the world, where human influence is starting to grow, may be similarly affected. For instance, the influence of shipping traffic in the open ocean might be a point worth investigating, Fan suggested.

The researchers also suggest that climatic changes in the Amazon could affect precipitation patterns in other places. This remains to be investigated—but the authors point out that the water cycle in the warm, humid Amazon plays a significant role in regulating climate patterns elsewhere around the world.

If human pollution continues to encroach on the region’s remaining untouched areas, they write, the resulting weather changes “could have profound effects on other places around the globe.”

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/tiny-particles-of-pollution-may-strengthen-storms/

air1

by Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan

What’s 23 feet tall, eats smog, and makes jewelry for fun?

In Rotterdam this week, the designer Daan Roosegaarde is showing off the result of three years of research and development: The largest air purifier ever built. It’s a tower that scrubs the pollution from more than 30,000 cubic meters of air per hour—and then condenses those fine particles of smog into tiny “gem stones” that can be embedded in rings, cufflinks, and more.

Each stone is roughly equivalent to cleaning 1,000 cubic meters of air—so you’re literally wearing the pollution that once hung in the air around Roosegaarde’s so-called Smog Free Tower. In the designer’s words, buying a ring means “you donate a thousand cubic meters of clean air to the city where the Smog Free Tower is.”

The process taking place inside its walls is powered by 1,400 watts of sustainable energy, which is comparable to a water boiler, and the studio says it hopes to one day integrate solar PVs into the design to power the process—which works not so differently than some ionic air purifiers. Roosegaarde explains:

By charging the Smog Free Tower with a small positive current, an electrode will send positive ions into the air. These ions will attach themselves to fine dust particles. A negatively charged surface -the counter electrode- will then draw the positive ions in, together with the fine dust particles. The fine dust that would normally harm us, is collected together with the ions and stored inside of the tower. This technology manages to capture ultra-fine smog particles which regular filter systems fail to do.

http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/6GjtPr/:1R-Rmh@rp:bhW_+Lt$/gizmodo.com/the-largest-air-purifier-ever-built-sucks-up-smog-and-t-1729298355