Category: Air quality

Cutting air pollution levels could raise life expectancy by 2 years: study

Read the full story at The Hill.

Reducing global air pollution levels to meet the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidelines would boost average life expectancy by 2.2 years, a new study has found.

We’re breathing PFAS: URI-led study finds harmful forever chemicals in indoor air

Read the full story from the University of Rhode Island.

The air we breathe in our homes, schools, and workplaces can be polluted with harmful PFAS chemicals, according to a study published today in Environmental Science & Technology Letters. A new measurement technique developed by the research team, led by URI Graduate School of Oceanography scientists, detected PFAS chemicals in the air of kindergarten classrooms, university offices and laboratories, and a home—some with levels as high as those measured at an outdoor clothing company and carpet stores selling PFAS-treated products. The results suggest indoor air is an underestimated and potentially important source of exposure to PFAS, particularly for children. 

Air Quality Life Index: 2021 Annual Update

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New data from the AQLI underscores the health threat of a world without policy action. Unless global particulate air pollution is reduced to meet the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guideline, the average person is set to lose 2.2 years off their lives. Residents of the most polluted areas of the world could see their lives cut short by 5 years or more.

Revealed: How Tory politicians fought plans to tackle air pollution

Read the full story in The Guardian.

Guardian investigation finds 17 MPs, candidates or associations took out 50 ads criticising a clean air zone.

New project brings AI to environmental research in the field

Read the full story from Ohio State University.

A new 30-foot tower has sprouted on the edge of The Ohio State University Airport, but it has nothing to do with directing the thousands of planes that take off and land there each year.

Instead, this tower is the focal point of an Ohio State research project that will explore using artificial intelligence and a variety of sensors to monitor environmental conditions on a minute-to-minute basis.

Hot days mean worse air. So why are climate and smog seen as separate?

Read the full story at Grist.

UN report confirms that local agencies need to add heat into air pollution equation

Huge gaps in detection networks plague emissions monitoring

Read the full story at Nature.

Plug gaps to measure ozone-destroying chemicals and greenhouse gases and verify compliance with Paris and Montreal treaties.

An 80×30 Clean Electricity Standard: Carbon, Costs, and Health Benefits

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An analysis of an illustrative 80×30 clean electricity standard (CES) by the Clean Energy Futures project shows that achieving the Biden Administration’s clean electricity goal through a CES would have modest costs and large benefits. Furthermore, if a CES were passed through budget reconciliation, many of the costs of the clean energy transition would shift to the federal government and electricity rates would likely fall. Our analysis is the first to map the air quality and related health benefits for an 80×30 CES. The results show that they are widely distributed across all states in the coterminous U.S. and that the illustrative 80×30 CES has the largest total benefits, climate-related net benefits, and health benefits of eight policies examined. The present value of the estimated climate benefits through 2050 ($637 billion) outweigh the estimated costs ($342 billion). This 80×30 CES would also prevent an estimated 317,500 premature deaths between now and 2050 and generate estimated present value health benefits of $1.13 trillion due to cleaner air, bringing the estimated present value net benefits to $1.43 trillion for 2020 to 2050.

Track wildfires in the West

View the map from the New York Times.

The map includes active and recent fires reported by the Wildland Fire Interagency Geospatial Services group. The locations of the fires on the map are approximate, derived from data reported by the NASA FIRMS satellite-based fire detection system, which makes observations multiple times a day. Areas marked in red indicate where active burning was detected within 24 hours of the most recent detections reflected on the map. The exact boundary of a fire may differ from the extent shown on the map by 500 meters or more.

Air quality data is derived from PurpleAir sensors. Colored squares show the average levels of particulate matter in the air — PM2.5, or particles that are 2.5 microns are smaller in diameter — where sensor data is available within a 10-mile radius of each square’s position. Readings have been adjusted to account for the properties of wood smoke. The quality levels are based on the Air Quality Index developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Population counts are rounded estimates. Totals are calculated using Global Human Settlements estimates from 2015 from the European Commission’s Joint Research Center.

What’s in wildfire smoke? A toxicologist explains the health risks and which masks can help

Wildfires filled Seattle with smoke in September 2020. Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

by Luke Montrose (Boise State University)

Fire and health officials began issuing warnings about wildfire smoke several weeks earlier than normal this year. With almost the entire U.S. West in drought, signs already pointed to a long, dangerous fire season ahead.

Smoke is now turning the sky hazy across a large swath of the country as dozens of large fires burn, and a lot of people are wondering what’s in the air they’re breathing.

As an environmental toxicologist, I study the effects of wildfire smoke and how they differ from other sources of air pollution. We know that breathing wildfire smoke can be harmful. Less clear is what the worsening wildfire landscape will mean for public health in the future, but research is raising red flags.

In parts of the West, wildfire smoke now makes up nearly half the air pollution measured annually. A new study by the California Air Resources Board found another threat: high levels of lead and other metals turned up in smoke from the 2018 Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise. The findings suggest smoke from fires that reach communities could be even more dangerous than originally thought because of the building materials that burn.

Map of showing smoke across the entire country
NOAA’s smoke forecast based on where fires were burning on July 15, 2021. NOAA

Here’s a closer look at what makes up wildfire smoke and what you can do to protect yourself and your family.

What’s in wildfire smoke?

What exactly is in a wildfire’s smoke depends on a few key things: what’s burning – grass, brush or trees; the temperature – is it flaming or just smoldering; and the distance between the person breathing the smoke and the fire producing it.

The distance affects the ability of smoke to “age,” meaning to be acted upon by the Sun and other chemicals in the air as it travels. Aging can make it more toxic. Importantly, large particles like what most people think of as ash do not typically travel that far from the fire, but small particles, or aerosols, can travel across continents.

Smoke from wildfires contains thousands of individual compounds, including carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides. The most prevalent pollutant by mass is particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, roughly 50 times smaller than a grain of sand. Its prevalence is one reason health authorities issue air quality warnings using PM 2.5 as the metric.

The new study on smoke from the 2018 Camp Fire found dangerous levels of lead in smoke blowing downwind as the fire burned through Paradise, California. The metals, which have been linked to health harms including high blood pressure and developmental effects in children with long-term exposure, traveled more than 150 miles on the wind, with concentrations 50 times above average in some areas.

What does that smoke do to human bodies?

There is another reason PM2.5 is used to make health recommendations: It defines the cutoff for particles that can travel deep into the lungs and cause the most damage.

The human body is equipped with natural defense mechanisms against particles bigger than PM2.5. As I tell my students, if you have ever coughed up phlegm or blown your nose after being around a campfire and discovered black or brown mucus in the tissue, you have witnessed these mechanisms firsthand.

The really small particles bypass these defenses and disturb the air sacs where oxygen crosses over into the blood. Fortunately, we have specialized immune cells present called macrophages. It’s their job to seek out foreign material and remove or destroy it. However, studies have shown that repeated exposure to elevated levels of wood smoke can suppress macrophages, leading to increases in lung inflammation.

Dose, frequency and duration are important when it comes to smoke exposure. Short-term exposure can irritate the eyes and throat. Long-term exposure to wildfire smoke over days or weeks, or breathing in heavy smoke, can raise the risk of lung damage and may also contribute to cardiovascular problems. Considering that it is the macrophage’s job to remove foreign material – including smoke particles and pathogens – it is reasonable to make a connection between smoke exposure and risk of viral infection.

Recent evidence suggests that long-term exposure to PM2.5 may make the coronavirus more deadly. A nationwide study found that even a small increase in PM2.5 from one U.S. county to the next was associated with a large increase in the death rate from COVID-19.

What can you do to stay healthy?

Here’s the advice I would give just about anyone downwind from a wildfire.

Stay informed about air quality by identifying local resources for air quality alerts, information about active fires and recommendations for better health practices.

If possible, avoid being outside or doing strenuous activity, like running or cycling, when there is an air quality warning for your area.

Dark smoke over tree tops looks menacing
Wildfire smoke pours over palm trees lining a street in Azusa, California, on Aug. 13, 2020. AP Images/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Be aware that not all face masks protect against smoke particles. Most cloth masks will not capture small wood smoke particles. That requires an N95 mask that fits and is worn properly. Without a proper fit, N95s do not work as well.

Establish a clean space. Some communities in western states have offered “clean spaces” programs that help people take refuge in buildings with clean air and air conditioning. However, during the pandemic, being in an enclosed space with others can create other health risks. At home, a person can create clean and cool spaces using a window air conditioner and a portable air purifier.

The Environmental Protection Agency also advises people to avoid anything that contributes to indoor air pollutants. That includes vacuuming that can stir up pollutants, as well as burning candles, firing up gas stoves and smoking.

This is an update to a story originally published on Aug. 20, 2020.

Luke Montrose, Assistant Professor of Community and Environmental Health, Boise State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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