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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.]

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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NRC Canada team investigates effect of gasoline particulate filter on PM from light-duty GDI engine

September 17, 2015

A team led by researchers from the National Research Council Canada has investigated the effect of the use of a gasoline particulate filter on the size and morphology of PM emitted from a light-duty gasoline-direct-injection (GDI) vehicle over the FTP-75 and US06 transient drive cycles.

Using transmission-electron-microscope (TEM) image analysis, they compared PM from a 2012 Ford Focus powered by a 2.0-liter wall-guided GDI engine, operating under globally stoichiometric condition, to the results for the same vehicle equipped with a catalyzed gasoline particulate filter (GPF). A paper describing their results is published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

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Air pollution could claim 6.6 million lives per year by 2050, double current rate; small domestic fires and ag the worst offenders

If air pollution emissions continue to rise at the current rate, some 6.6 million people could prematurely die annually by 2050, double the current rate of 3.3 million people per year, according to a study carried out by a team led by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz. The largest sources of air pollution are not industry and transport but small domestic fires and agriculture. Results of the study are published in the journal Nature.

Exposure to air pollution is particularly acute in Asia, especially in China and India, where three-quarters of the world’s pollution-related deaths occur. The team headed by Johannes Lelieveld, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, reported that 1.4 million people per year in China and 650,000 people in India die every year as a consequence of air pollution. In the EU exposure to fine particles and ozone claims 180,000 lives a year, including 35,000 in Germany. In many countries, air pollution accounts for roughly ten-times more deaths than road accidents.

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Crowdsourcing air pollution measurements: iSPEX-EU 2015

September 06, 2015

A collaboration led by researchers at Leiden University in The Netherlands has launched a Europe-wide citizen campaign—iSPEX-EU 2015—to use a smartphone add-on and app to measure atmospheric aerosols (tiny particles), resulting in a broad-based data set with high spatio-temporal resolution.

Atmospheric aerosols play an important but as-yet poorly understood role in climate and air quality, with significant impacts on the environment, health, and air traffic. Satellite-based aerosol monitoring is, despite its global coverage, limited in spatial and temporal resolution (with global coverage up to once a day with a ground resolution of a few kilometers only), and lacks sufficient information on aerosol particle characteristics. Therefore, the researchers say, a different strategy is needed to overcome these current limitations.

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Air pollution associated with increased heart attack risk despite “safe” levels

August 31, 2015

Particulate matter and NO2 air pollution are associated with increased risk of severe heart attacks despite being within European recommended levels, according to research presented at ESC Congress by Dr. Jean-Francois Argacha, a cardiologist at University Hospital Brussels (UZ Brussel-Vrije Universiteit Brussel), in Belgium.

The study investigated the effect of short term exposure to air pollution on the risk of ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI)—a deadly type of heart attack that is caused by a prolonged blockage of blood supply in the heart. This type of myocardial infarction has the worst prognosis and is caused by thrombotic occlusion of a coronary artery that damages the heart.

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Health Effects Institute to release Executive Summary of ACES new-technology diesel results this fall

August 21, 2015

The Health Effects Institute (HEI) it will publish an Executive Summary of the Advanced Collaborative Emissions Study (ACES) this fall. The Summary will be the synopsis and final publication from the program to characterize the emissions and assess the health effects of new-technology diesel exhaust (NTDE) from heavy-duty diesel engines that meet the 2007 and 2010 regulations enacted by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (Earlier post.) HEI is an independent, non-profit research institute funded jointly by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the worldwide motor vehicle industry.

To meet new emissions limits, diesel-engine manufacturers developed new exhaust aftertreatment systems and the petroleum industry introduced new ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel needed to allow the new emissions controls to work. HEI—in collaboration with the Coordinating Research Council, a nonprofit organization with extensive expertise in emissions characterization—launched ACES in response to requests to characterize the emissions and health effects of NTDE.

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UC Riverside team characterizes impact on PM of fuels with varying aromatics and octane rating; benefit of increased ethanol fraction

August 18, 2015

Researchers at the University of California-Riverside have characterized the effect of decreased aromatic content fuels combusted in advanced vehicle technologies on emissions of particulate matter (PM). In a paper in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, they present the changes in PM emissions for different fuels, engine technologies, and operating conditions. Among their findings is that an increased ethanol fraction in gasoline could help reduce PM mass and black carbon (BC) from gasoline direct injection engines (GDI).

Typical commercial gasoline comprises varying concentrations of aromatic hydrocarbons and octane ratings; the impacts on PM such as black carbon (BC) and water-soluble and insoluble particle compositions of these differences are not well-defined. The UC Riverside study tested seven 2012 model year vehicles, including one port fuel injection (PFI) configured hybrid vehicle; one PFI vehicle; and six GDI vehicles.

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Berkeley Earth study calculates that air pollution contributes to 1.6M deaths per year in China

August 14, 2015

In an analysis of hourly air pollution data (PM2.5,PM10, SO2, NO2, O3 and CO) from more than 1500 sites in China, Berkeley Earth has calculated that the observed air pollution contributes to ~1.6 million deaths/year in China [0.7–2.2 million deaths/year at 95% confidence]—roughly 17% of all deaths in China. The calculated mortality is somewhat higher than the 1.2 million deaths/year previously estimated from a Huai River study using Chinese air pollution measurements and mortality data. A paper on the analysis has been accepted for publication in the journal PLoS ONE.

In the study, the independent non-profit applied Kriging interpolation (a geostatistical interpolation technique) to four months of data to derive pollution maps for eastern China. Consistent with prior findings, the greatest pollution occurs in the east; however, significant levels are widespread across northern and central China and are not limited to major cities or geologic basins. Sources of pollution are widespread, but are particularly intense in a northeast corridor that extends from near Shanghai to north of Beijing.

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Study finds single exposure to roadway PM induces transient pulmonary stress; possible need to regulate non-tailpipe-related pollution

July 13, 2015

A study by researchers in Israel and the US has found that single (“sub-clinical”) exposure to extracts from particulate material (PM) collected in a near roadway environment can induce a transient oxidative stress and inflammation in mice’ lungs. The researchers attributed this largely to the dissolved metals (such as Cu, Fe, Mn, V, Ni, and Cr) that are part of roadway emissions.

The local response was largely self-resolved by 48 h, suggesting that it could represent a subclinical response to everyday-level exposure. Removal of soluble metals by chelation markedly diminished the pulmonary response. The paper appears in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

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