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[Due to the increasing size of the archives, each topic page now contains only the prior 365 days of content. Access to older stories is now solely through the Monthly Archive pages or the site search function.]

California Governor signs new super-pollutants legislation into law; black carbon, fluorinated gases and methane

September 20, 2016

California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed SB 1383, establishing the nation’s toughest restrictions on super pollutants including black carbon, fluorinated gases and methane. The law is in addition to California’s existing raft of climate legislation.

SB 1383 reduces the emission of super pollutants (also known as short-lived climate pollutants) and promotes renewable gas by requiring a 50% reduction in black carbon and 40% reduction in methane and hydrofluorocarbon from 2013 levels by 2030. Sources of these super pollutants include petroleum-based transportation fuels, agriculture, waste disposal and synthetic gases used in refrigeration, air conditioning and aerosol products.

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Air pollution exposure found to be risk factor for type 2 diabetes

September 08, 2016

Exposure to air pollution increases the risk of developing insulin resistance as a pre-diabetic state of type 2 diabetes, according to a new study by scientists of Helmholtz Zentrum München, in collaboration with colleagues of the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD). The researchers reported these results in the journal Diabetes.

Whether diabetes becomes manifest and when this occurs is not only due to lifestyle or genetic factors, but also due to traffic-related air pollution, said Professor Annette Peters, director of the Institute of Epidemiology II at Helmholtz Zentrum München and head of the research area of epidemiology of the DZD.

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Volkswagen Truck & Bus enters into strategic alliance with Navistar, takes 16.6% stake; entry into N. America

September 06, 2016

Volkswagen Truck & Bus has formed a wide-ranging strategic alliance with Navistar International Corporation, which includes an equity investment in Navistar by Volkswagen Truck & Bus and framework agreements for strategic technology and supply collaboration and a procurement joint venture.

Volkswagen Truck & Bus will purchase from Navistar newly issued common shares representing, pro forma for such issuance, a 16.6% stake (19.9% of pre-transaction outstanding common stock) in Navistar for a price per share of $15.76 and an aggregate purchase price of approximately $256 million (or approximately €229 million at current exchange rates). To underscore the long-term nature of the alliance, Volkswagen Truck & Bus has agreed to hold these shares for a minimum of three years.

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Researchers find magnetite nanoparticles similar to those from traffic pollution in brain; possible link with Alzheimer’s

Researchers from the UK, Mexico and the US have found abundant magnetite nanoparticles in the brain tissue from 37 individuals aged three- to 92-years-old who lived in Mexico City and Manchester, UK. This strongly magnetic mineral has been implicated in the production of reactive oxygen species (free radicals) in the human brain, which are associated with neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease (e.g., Hautot et al. 2003). Their paper is being published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Professor Barbara Maher, from Lancaster Environment Centre, and colleagues (from Oxford, Glasgow, Manchester and Mexico City) used spectroscopic analysis to identify the particles as magnetite. Unlike angular magnetite particles that are believed to form naturally within the brain (i.e., biogenic), most of the observed particles were spherical, with diameters up to 150 nm, some with fused surfaces, all characteristic of high-temperature formation—such as from vehicle (particularly diesel) engines or open fires.

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KCL study finds London air pollution from traffic improving, but continues to exceed limits in many parts of city

September 05, 2016

New research by scientists at King’s College London suggests that air pollution from London’s roads is improving overall but more work may be needed to tackle some sources of traffic pollution, which continue to breach limits in many parts of the city.

The study, published as an open-access paper in the journal Environmental Pollution, examined trends in air pollution over a ten-year period spanning 2005 to 2014, using data collected from 65 roads. Researchers looked at changes in a number of pollutants including nitrogen dioxide (NO2 ), particulate matter as fine (PM2.5) and coarser (PM10) particles, carbon dioxide (CO2) and black carbon.

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MIT-led study suggests mobile-phone data provide a deeper picture of pollution exposure in urban settings

September 03, 2016

A study led by MIT researchers, focused on New York City, suggests that using mobile-phone data to track people’s movement provides an even deeper picture of exposure to pollution in urban settings than by studying air-quality levels in fixed places. Their open-access paper is published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Previous environmental epidemiological studies quantifying the health impacts of population exposure to have not considered spatially- and temporally-varying populations. The new study—the first of its kind—measured population activity patterns representing several million people to evaluate population-weighted exposure to air pollution on a city-wide scale. Mobile and wireless devices yield information about where and when people are present; the researchers were able to determine collective activity patterns using counts of connections to the cellular network.

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Study finds in-cabin particulate pollution up to 40% higher in traffic jams or at red lights

August 26, 2016

A new study by a team at the University of Surrey has found that particulate pollution levels inside cars are up to 40% higher when the vehicle is stuck in a traffic jam or stopped at a red traffic light compared to free-flowing traffic conditions.

The study, published as an open access paper in the RSC journal Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts, assessed in-cabin exposure to fine and coarse PM under five different ventilation settings and compared in-cabin exposure at signalized traffic intersections (TIs) with pedestrian exposure. The study also found that car windows closed with the fan/heating off in traffic is the best ventilation setting in traffic—leading up to a 76% reduction in in-car pollutants. Also, the safest setting is the air being circulated internally only by the fan without drawing in polluted air from outdoors.

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MIT team calculates lead emissions from avgas fuel in US contribute to ~$1B in annual damages due to IQ losses

August 24, 2016

Researchers at MIT have produced the first assessment of the annual costs of IQ losses from aircraft lead emissions in the US. Their study, published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, found that that atmospheric lead pollution attributable to leaded aviation gas (avgas) contributes to US$1.06 billion (the mean from a range of $0.01–$11.6 billion) in annual damages from lifetime earnings reductions, and that dynamic economy-wide methods result in damage estimates that are 54% larger.

Because the marginal costs of atmospheric lead pollution are dependent on background concentration, the researchers also expect the costs of piston-driven aircraft lead emissions to increase over time as regulations on other emissions sources are tightened.

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Study quantifies impact of oil and gas emissions on Denver’s ozone problem

August 12, 2016

The first peer-reviewed study to directly quantify how emissions from oil and natural gas (O&NG) activities influence summertime tropospheric ozone (O3) pollution in the Colorado Front Range confirms that chemical vapors from oil and gas activities are a significant contributor to the region’s chronic ozone problem.

Summertime ozone pollution levels in the northern Front Range periodically spike above 70 parts per billion (ppb), which is considered unhealthy—on average, 17 ppb of that ozone is produced locally. The new research, published in an open-access paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, shows that oil and gas emissions contribute an average of 3 ppb of the locally produced ozone daily, and potentially more than that on high-ozone days.

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Study: more stringent O3 and PM2.5 air pollution standards could save thousands of lives, greatly improve public health

August 11, 2016

Reducing outdoor concentrations of two air pollutants, ozone (O3) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5), to levels below those set by the US Environmental Protection Agency would likely save thousands of lives each year, result in far fewer serious illnesses and reduce missed days of school and work, according to a new analysis conducted by the American Thoracic Society and the Marron Institute of Urban Management at New York University.

In “Estimated Excess Morbidity and Mortality Caused by Air Pollution above ATS Recommended Standards, 2011-2013,” published online in the August edition of Annals of the American Thoracic Society, researchers report on the annual health benefits of meeting more protective standards recommended by the ATS for O3 and PM2.5. They found that meeting a 0.060 parts per million (ppm) 8-hour standard for O3, rather than the EPA’s 0.070 ppm standard, and an 11 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) annual standard for PM2.5, rather than the EPA’s 12 µg/m3 standard, would each year:

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Air pollution may shorten survival of patients with lung cancer

August 05, 2016

Air pollution may shorten the survival of patients with lung cancer, suggests a population-based study by a team from the University of Southern California published in the journal Thorax. The trends were most noticeable for early stage disease, particularly adenocarcinoma—the most common type of non-small cell lung cancer, which accounts for 80% of lung cancer cases—the findings show.

Air pollution has been linked to a higher incidence of lung cancer and death, but little is known about its potential impact on an individual’s chances of survival after diagnosis.

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Researchers urge Chinese government to encourage bikes, buses and rail over cars and commercial vehicles due to emissions and health concerns

August 01, 2016

Based on the results of their analysis of the potential air quality and health impacts of travel demand in China under business-as-usual and alternative transport scenarios, a team of researchers in China is urging policymakers to encourage the replacement of private cars for short trips with bicycles or public buses and the replacement of commercial vehicles with rail transport.

In their paper, published in the journal Energy Policy, Ling-Yun HE and Lu-Yi QIU, observe that regulatory policies imposed on vehicle usage as well as on car ownership can not solve the growing emissions problem.

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Audi AG developing automotive driver health as new business area; leveraging digitalization, connected vehicles

Audi AG has become a founding partner in Berlin’s “Flying Health Incubator”, a center supporting startups that develop digital innovations in the healthcare sector. The investment highlights Audi’s interest in developing “automotive health”—enhancing the customer’s health and fitness while driving—as a new business area. With the Audi Fit Driver offering, the brand is already testing innovative services and functionalities in this field.

In the Flying Health Incubator, Audi AG is entering into dialog with decision-makers from the startup scene and from the healthcare industry. Together, the partners will strive to identify trends, technical solutions and business models in the digital health market at an early stage.

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New study finds that ship emissions from HFO and diesel adversely affect pulmonary macrophages

July 20, 2016

A study by European researchers has found that ship emissions from the combustion of heavy fuel oil (HFO) and diesel fuel (DF) have adverse effects on pulmonary macrophages, from increased cell death to altered metabolic profile, depending upon the aerosol component. Their open access paper is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Macrophages are white blood cells and are part of the immune system. Often referred to as scavenger cells, they absorb and engulf microorganisms. In addition, the cells destroy tumor cells, remove cell debris, present antigens and promote wound healing. There are four types of pulmonary macrophages: alveolar; interstitial; intravascular; and the dendritic. The alveolar macrophages are the only macrophages in the body which are exposed to air. Located at the interphase between air and lung tissue, they represent the first line of defense against inhaled airborne elements.

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CMU study: even partially-automated crash avoidance delivers financial and safety benefits

July 19, 2016

A new cost-benefit analysis by researchers at Carnegie Mellon College of Engineering shows that the public could derive economic and social benefits today if partially-automated collision avoidance features were deployed in all cars.

In a paper published in the journal Accident Analysis & Prevention, they evaluated the benefits and costs of fleet-wide deployment of three such technologies: blind spot monitoring; lane departure warning; and forward collision warning crash avoidance systems within the US light-duty vehicle fleet.

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CDC: US has highest motor vehicle crash death rate among high-income countries; could be cut in half with proven strategies

July 07, 2016

About 90 people die each day from motor vehicle crashes in the United States, resulting in the highest death rate among 19 high-income comparison countries, according to the latest Vital Signs report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There were more than 32,000 crash deaths in the US in 2013, with more than $380 million in direct medical costs.

Athough the US has made progress in road safety—reducing crash deaths by 31% from 2000 to 2013—other high-income countries reduced crash deaths by an average of 56% during the same period. Lower death rates in comparison countries, as well as the high prevalence of risk factors in the US, suggest that more progress can be made in saving lives, according to the CDC. Compared with other high-income countries, the US had the:

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NHTSA projects 7.7% increase in US traffic fatalities for 2015 year-on-year; significant increase in motorcyclist and non-occupant deaths

July 02, 2016

A just-released National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistical projection of traffic fatalities for 2015 estimates that 35,200 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes—an increase of about 7.7% as compared to the 32,675 fatalities reported in 2014. If the 35,200 figure turns out to be accurate, this will mark the highest level of fatalities since 2008, which saw 37,423 fatalities.

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) preliminary data shows that vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in 2015 increased by about 107.2 billion miles—about a 3.5% increase. The fatality rate for 2015 increased to 1.12 fatalities per 100 million VMT, up from 1.08 fatalities per 100 million VMT in 2014—about a 3.7% increase. Fourth quarter of 2015 represents the fifth consecutive quarter with year-to-year increases in fatalities as well as the fatality rate.

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PM2.5 linked to increased rates of kidney disease in China

July 01, 2016

While fine particulate air pollution is known to cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, a new study indicates that it also likely causes damage to the kidneys. Specifically, the study found that the likelihood of developing membranous nephropathy, an immune disorder of the kidneys that can lead to kidney failure, increased 13% annually from 2004 to 2014 in China. Regions with high levels of fine particulate air pollution had the highest rates of membranous nephropathy.

The findings, which appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (JASN), call for attention on the role of air pollution in the development of kidney disease in urban areas.

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IEA: 7% increase in total energy investment could cut premature deaths from air pollution in half by 2040

June 27, 2016

A new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts that energy policy choices backed by a 7% increase in total energy investment through 2040 could cut premature deaths from air pollution roughly in half by 2040. Under such a scenario, premature deaths from outdoor air pollution would decline by 1.7 million in 2040 compared with the report’s main scenario, and those from household pollution would fall by 1.6 million annually.

The IEA World Energy Outlook (WEO) special report on Energy and Air Pollution highlights the links between energy, air pollution and health. The report, the IEA’s first in-depth analysis of air quality, identifies contributions the energy sector can make to curb poor air quality—the fourth-largest threat to human health, after high blood pressure, poor diets, and smoking.

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10-year study shows how air pollution fosters heart disease; accelerated plaque build-up in arteries

May 25, 2016

Long-term exposure to particulate air pollution has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, but the biological process has not been understood. A major, decade-long study of thousands of Americans has now found that people living in areas with more outdoor pollution—even at lower levels common in the United States—accumulate deposits in the arteries that supply the heart faster than do people living in less polluted areas. The study is published in The Lancet.

Previous epidemiological studies have shown associations between particle matter and heart disease. It has been unclear, however, how exposure to particulate matter leads to diseases of the cardiovascular system. Earlier studies had been shorter and had depended for their analysis on existing datasets collected for other purposes.

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WHO: Air pollution levels rising in many of the world’s poorest cities

May 12, 2016

More than 80% of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed World Health Organization (WHO) limits, according to the organization. While all regions of the world are affected, populations in low-income cities are the most impacted.

According to the latest urban air quality database, 98% of cities in low- and middle income countries with more than 100 000 inhabitants do not meet WHO air quality guidelines. However, in high-income countries, that percentage decreases to 56%.

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The importance of considering non-exhaust traffic emissions; the role of EVs

May 02, 2016

Regulatory regimes seeking to reduce emissions from transport have largely focused on tailpipe emissions—i.e., the criteria pollutants and CO2 that emerge with the exhaust from the tailpipe. However, there is more than 15 years of research showing that the contribution of non-exhaust primary particles to the total traffic generated primary particles is significant in urban areas. Non-exhaust PM factors include tire wear, brake wear, road surface wear and resuspension of road dust. Further, a 2013 review by Denier van der Gon et al., 2013 found that the ratio of non-exhaust to exhaust particles is strongly increasing in the last two decades, due to exhaust emission reductions.

While battery electric vehicles have the obvious advantage of zero tail-pipe emissions, they are not equally advantaged when it comes to non-exhaust emissions. Accordingly, there have been a number of recent studies working to assess the impact of non-exhaust emissions from EVs and suggesting a regulatory or policy response (e.g., earlier post).

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Study: long-term exposure to PM2.5 associated with numerous types of cancer

April 29, 2016

Long-term exposure to ambient PM2.5, a mixture of environmental pollutants, was associated with increased risk of mortality for many types of cancer in an elderly Hong Kong population, according to a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Long-term exposure to particulate matter has been associated with mortality mainly from cardiopulmonary causes and lung cancer, said the study’s co-lead author, Thuan Quoc Thach, PhD, a scientific officer at the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong. However, there have been few studies showing an association with mortality from other cancers. Thach and co-lead author Neil Thomas suspected that PM2.5 could have an equivalent effect on cancers elsewhere in the body.

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Study: Even small amounts of PM2.5 may have long-term health effects on developing fetus

Even small amounts of PM2.5 pollution appear to raise the risk of a condition in pregnant women linked to premature births and lifelong neurological and respiratory disorders in their children, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research suggests.

Fine particles from car exhaust, power plants and other industrial sources are breathed into the lungs, but the scientists have now found evidence of the effects of that pollution in the pregnant women’s placentas. They found that the greater the maternal exposure to air pollution, the more likely the pregnant women suffered from intrauterine inflammation, which can increase the risk of a number of health problems for her child from the fetal stage well into childhood.

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IIHS: Speed limit increases in US caused 33,000 deaths over 20 years

April 14, 2016

A new Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study shows that increases in speed limits over two decades have cost 33,000 lives in the US. In 2013 alone, the increases resulted in 1,900 additional deaths, essentially canceling out the number of lives saved by frontal airbags that year.

Charles Farmer, IIHS vice president for research and statistical services and the author of the study, looked at deaths per billion miles traveled by state and roadway type. Taking into account other factors that affected the fatality rate—including changes in unemployment, the number of potential young drivers (ages 16-24) and per capita alcohol consumption—he found that each 5 mph increase in the maximum speed limit resulted in a 4% increase in fatalities. The increase on interstates and freeways, the roads most affected by state maximums, was 8%.

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CMU team identifies IVOCs emissions from on-road gasoline vehicles and small off-road engines as important SOA precursors

April 10, 2016

A team from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) has characterized the intermediate volatility organic compound (IVOC) emissions from on-road gasoline vehicles (LDGVs) and small off-road gasoline engines (SOREs). Although IVOC emissions only correspond to approximately 4% of NMHC emissions from on-road vehicles over the cold-start unified cycle, they are estimated to produce as much or more secondary organic aerosols (SOA) than single-ring aromatics. SOAs are an important component of atmospheric particulate matter.

The researchers said their results clearly demonstrate that IVOCs from gasoline engines are an important class of SOA precursors. Their paper, published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, provide observational constraints on IVOC emission factors and chemical composition to facilitate their inclusion into atmospheric chemistry models.

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Study finds household and outdoor air pollution contributes to more than 5.5 million premature deaths worldwide per year

February 12, 2016

New research shows that household (indoor) and outdoor air pollution contribute to more than 5.5 million premature deaths every year. More than half of deaths occur in two of the world’s fastest growing economies, China and India.

In the context of the Global Burden of Disease 2013 study (earlier post), researchers from Canada, the United States, China and India quantified air pollution levels and attributable health impacts for 188 countries for the period 1990-2013. They found that in 2013 there were 2.9 million deaths (5.3% of all global deaths) caused by outdoor fine particulate air pollution and an additional 215,000 deaths from exposure to ozone. Further, indoor exposure to household air pollution from the use of solid fuels for cooking and heating was responsible for 2.9 million deaths in 2013.

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Study: 87% of world’s population in 2013 lived in areas exceeding WHO PM2.5 guidelines

December 06, 2015

In 2013, 87% of the world’s population lived in areas exceeding the World Health Organization (WHO) Air Quality Guideline of 10 μg/m3 PM2.5 (annual average), according to a major international study published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Between 1990 and 2013, global population-weighted PM2.5 increased by 20.4%, driven by trends in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and China, according to the team’s findings. However, decreases in population-weighted mean concentrations of PM2.5 were evident in most high income countries. Additionally, the study found that the population-weighted mean concentrations of ozone increased globally by 8.9% from 1990–2013 with increases in most countries—except for modest decreases in North America, parts of Europe, and several countries in Southeast Asia.

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Study finds substantial increase in nanoparticles in air as it crosses the Baltic Sea; shipping emissions responsible for about half

November 23, 2015

A study by a team of international researchers has found that air crossing over the main basin of the heavily ship-trafficked Baltic Sea shows a “substantial” increase in the number of 50–400 nm particles (50–400N). An open-access paper on their work is published in the journal Oceanologia.

The researchers evaluated 10 months worth of data (September 2009 to June 2010) of atmospheric aerosol particle number size distribution at three atmospheric observation stations along the Baltic Sea coast: Vavihill (upwind, Sweden); Utö (upwind, Finland); and Preila (downwind, Lithuania).

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Study finds EV deployment in China to increase Environmental Justice challenge there

November 16, 2015

A new study by a team from the University of Tennessee, Tsinghua University and the University of Minnesota has found that the wide-scale deployment of electric vehicles in China can increase the Environmental Justice (EJ) challenge in that country.

According to their findings, published in a paper in the ACS journalEnvironmental Science & Technology, most (∼77%, range: 41–96%) emission inhalation attributable to urban EVs use—i.e., from the shifting of transportation’s air pollution from urban tailpipes to rural power plants—is distributed to predominately rural communities the incomes of which are on average lower than the cities in which the EVs are used.

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Rice University study of lung cells suggests anthropogenic carbon nanotubes are common pollutants

October 21, 2015

Rice University scientists, working with colleagues in France, have detected the presence of anthropogenic carbon nanotubes (CBTs) in cells extracted from the airways of Parisian children under routine treatment for asthma. These nanostructures are similar to those present in dusts and vehicle exhausts collected in Paris, as well as to those previously observed in ambient air in the USA, in spider webs in India, and in ice cores, the researchers found. These results suggest that humans are routinely exposed to CNTs.

The research, published in an open-access paper in the journal EBioMedicine, in no way ascribes the children’s conditions to the nanotubes, said Rice chemist Lon Wilson, a corresponding author of the new paper. But the nanotubes’ apparent ubiquity should be the focus of further investigation, he said.

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Study links California regulations, significant declines in cancer risk from exposure to air toxics

September 22, 2015

A study by a team from the California Air Resources Board (ARB) has found that the collective cancer risk from exposure to seven toxic air contaminant (TACs) has declined 76% during the period from 1990 to 2012, and linked that result from air quality regulations targeting these TACs. The study appears in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Of the seven TACs, diesel particulate matter (DPM) is the most important; DPM is emitted mainly from trucks and buses and is responsible for most of the airborne cancer risk in California, according to ARB. However, in the study DPM is not measured directly. Based on a novel surrogate method, DPM concentrations declined 68% during the period, even though the state’s population increased 31%; diesel vehicle-miles-traveled increased 81%; and the gross state product (GSP) increased 74%.

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