Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Greenest neighbourhoods produce bigger babies

Expecting mothers with access to trees and
grass delivered heavier babies: Study
Mothers who live in Metro Vancouver’s greenest neighbourhoods tend to deliver bigger babies and are more likely carry a baby to term than those who live in less green parts of the city, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Using data from more than 64,000 births and analysis of satellite imagery, researchers found that babies from the greenest residential spaces ­­— those with access to trees and grass within 100 metres — were up to 45 grams heavier, had a reduced likelihood of preterm birth and were less likely to be small for gestational age, according to the lead researcher Michael Brauer, a professor in the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia.

The positive effects of greenness persist even when the researchers control for other factors known to influence gestation and birth weight, including air pollution, noise, income, access to parks, opportunities for physical activity and the walkability of the immediate neighbourhood.

“We know from other studies that birth outcomes are influenced by pollution and noise in a negative way, so we went looking for something (in the urban environment) that is healthy,” said Brauer.

Cities in most of the developed world are designed to accommodate the automobile, which usually results in relatively barren, noisy and polluted environments. Brauer’s study seeks to quantify the benefits of a different approach to urban planning.

“If we didn’t design for automobiles and instead designed for people, the hope is that we would be healthier,” he said. “With the high cost of health care, modifying urban design features such as increasing green space may turn out to be an extremely cost-effective strategy to prevent disease.”

While 45 grams isn’t a lot of extra weight for one healthy infant, the effect of increased birth weight across the entire distribution of births moves thousands of babies from birth weights that are dangerously low into a healthier range.

“From a medical standpoint, those are small changes in birth weight, but across a large population, those are substantial differences that would have a significant impact on the health of infants in a community,” said co-author Perry Hystad, assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University.

Even in an urban area as rich in green space as Metro Vancouver the benefits conferred by the very greenest neighbourhoods compared with the least green neighbourhoods were substantial, including a 20-per-cent reduction in severely premature births and 13 per cent fewer moderately pre-term births.

The mechanism by which greenness translates into healthier babies is not exactly clear, but greener environments are known to facilitate social connectedness and reduce blood pressure, heart rate and stress-related hormones, according to the study, the third in a series of similar inquiries on the health impacts of urban spaces.

“Even when we eliminate the noise and the pollution and (a measure) of physical activity, we still see this benefit of green space,” he said. “What we don’t know is whether it is enough to see a tree out your window or do you have to have a park across the street where you chat with your neighbours.”

Source: Vancouver Sun

Concerned about poor air quality in your neighbourhood? When the air outside is polluted, the air indoors can become a health concern as airborne contaminants are trapped inside and accumulate. AllerAir offers customizable and affordable air purifiers with activated carbon + HEPA air filters that help remove dangerous pollutants such as chemicals, VOCs, odors, particles, allergens, asthmagens, mold, bacteria, viruses, fumes and vapors. Contact AllerAir for more information and a free consultation.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Air pollution actually beat first explorers to the South Pole

Roald Amundsen/ public domain
Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first man to reach the South Pole in December 1911, but scientists say industrial air pollution beat him to it.

"Our new record shows the dramatic impact of industrial activities such as smelting, mining and fossil fuel burning on even the most remote parts of the world," said Joe McConnell of the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno, Nevada.

Using data from 16 ice cores collected from widely spaced locations around the Antarctic continent, including the South Pole, a group led by McConnell, created the most accurate and precise reconstruction to date of lead pollution over Earth’s southernmost continent.

"It is very clear that industrial lead contamination was pervasive throughout Antarctica by the late 19th century, more than two decades before the first explorers made it to the South Pole," he added. "The idea that Amundsen and Scott were traveling over snow that clearly was contaminated by lead from smelting and mining in Australia, and that lead pollution at that time was nearly as high as any time ever since, is surprising to say the least."
This study included ice cores collected as part of projects funded by the National Science Foundation. Additional ice cores were contributed to the study by international collaborators including the British Antarctic Survey, the Australian Antarctic Division and the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany.

"The ice cores obtained through international collaborations were critical to the success of this study in that they allowed us to develop records from parts of Antarctica not often visited by U.S.-based scientists," said co-author Tom Neumann of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who participated in a Norway-U.S. traverse that collected several of the cores used in this study. "This included the Law Dome region of East Antarctica and a big section of East Antarctica visited by the Norwegian-United States Scientific Traverse of East Antarctica."

"Lead is a toxic heavy metal with strong potential to harm ecosystems," said co-author Paul Vallelonga of the University of Copenhagen. "While concentrations measured in Antarctic ice cores are very low, the records show that atmospheric concentrations and deposition rates increased approximately six-fold in the late 1880s, coincident with the start of mining at Broken Hill in southern Australia and smelting at nearby Port Pirie."

Data from the new ice core array illustrates that Antarctic lead concentrations reached a peak in 1900 and remained high until the late 1920s, with brief declines during the Great Depression and the end of World War II. Concentrations then increased rapidly until 1975 and remained elevated until the 1990s.
 "Our measurements indicate that approximately 660 tonnes [1.5 million pounds] of industrial lead have been deposited on the snow-covered surface of Antarctic during the past 130 years," McConnell said. "While recent contamination levels are lower, clearly detectable industrial contamination of the Antarctic continent persists today, so we still have a ways to go."

The report is published in the online edition of the Nature Publishing Group’s journal Scientific Reports.

------------------------------------------------------------------
Even the far reaches of the earth are affected by pollution. How is your air quality? The EPA says our indoor air may be three to five times more polluted than outdoor air. Improve your air quality with an
indoor air cleaner that removes the chemicals and odors that other air purifiers leave behind. Connect with us at www.allerair.com to learn more.  Now available at costco.com!

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Common chemical in mothers may negatively affect the IQ of their unborn children

In some women abnormally high levels of a common and pervasive chemical may lead to adverse effects in their offspring. The study, published recently in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, is the first of its kind to shed light on the possible harmful side effects of perchlorate in mothers and their children.

"The reason people really care about perchlorate is because it is ubiquitous. It's everywhere," said Elizabeth Pearce, MD, MSc, associate professor of medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM). "Prior studies have already shown perchlorate, at low levels, can be found in each and every one of us."

Using data from the Controlled Antenatal Thyroid Study (CATS), researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Cardiff University studied the effect of perchlorate, an environmental contaminant found in many foods and in some drinking water supplies, and its effects on children born to mothers with above average levels of this substance in their system. They studied 487 mother-child pairs from women with underactive thyroid glands and in the 50 women with the highest levels of perchlorate in their body, their offspring had below average IQ levels when compared to other children.

Perchlorate is a compound known to affect the thyroid gland, an organ needed to help regulate hormone levels in humans. According to Pearce, previous studies have attempted to implicate this anti-thyroid activity in pregnant mothers as a possible cause of hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid gland. Hypothyroidism in newborns and children can lead to an array of unwelcome side effects, including below average intelligence.



For more stories on health, pollution, chemical exposure and improving your indoor air quality visit www.allerair.com or call to speak to an air quality expert about improving the air in your home 1-888-852-8247.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Air pollution and climate change will curb world food supplies

Howden/freedigitalphotos

Researchers at MIT say that the double-whammy of air pollution and rising world temperatures could affect our most important food sources.

The study looked in detail at global production of four leading food crops — rice, wheat, corn, and soy — that account for more than half the calories humans consume worldwide. It predicts that effects will vary considerably from region to region, and that some of the crops are much more strongly affected by one or the other of the factors: For example, wheat is very sensitive to ozone exposure from air pollution, while corn is much more adversely affected by heat.

The research was carried out by Colette Heald, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering (CEE) at MIT, former CEE postdoc Amos Tai, and Maria van Martin at Colorado State University. Their work is described this week in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Heald explains that while it's known that both higher temperatures and ozone pollution can damage plants and reduce crop yields, "nobody has looked at these together." And while rising temperatures are widely discussed, the impact of air quality on crops is less recognized.

In the United States, tougher air-quality regulations are expected to lead to a sharp decline in ozone pollution, mitigating its impact on crops. But in other regions, the outcome "will depend on domestic air-pollution policies," Heald says. "An air-quality cleanup would improve crop yields."

Overall, with all other factors being equal, warming may reduce crop yields globally by about 10 percent by 2050, the study found. But the effects of ozone pollution are more complex — some crops are more strongly affected by it than others — which suggests that pollution-control measures could play a major role in determining outcomes.

Ozone pollution can also be tricky to identify, Heald says, because its damage can resemble other plant illnesses, producing flecks on leaves and discoloration.

Potential reductions in crop yields are worrisome: The world is expected to need about 50 percent more food by 2050, the authors say, due to population growth and changing dietary trends in the developing world.

While heat and ozone can each damage plants independently, the factors also interact. For example, warmer temperatures significantly increase production of ozone from the reactions, in sunlight, of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides. Because of these interactions, the team found that 46 percent of damage to soybean crops that had previously been attributed to heat is actually caused by increased ozone.

Under some scenarios, the researchers found that pollution-control measures could make a major dent in the expected crop reductions following climate change. For example, while global food production was projected to fall by 15 percent under one scenario, larger emissions decreases projected in an alternate scenario reduce that drop to 9 percent.

Air pollution is even more decisive in shaping undernourishment in the developing world, the researchers found: Under the more pessimistic air-quality scenario, rates of malnourishment might increase from 18 to 27 percent by 2050 — about a 50 percent jump; under the more optimistic scenario, the rate would still increase, but that increase would almost be cut in half, they found.

Agricultural production is "very sensitive to ozone pollution," Heald says, adding that these findings "show how important it is to think about the agricultural implications of air-quality regulations. Ozone is something that we understand the causes of, and the steps that need to be taken to improve air quality."


For more stories on health, pollution, chemical exposure and improving your indoor air quality visit www.allerair.com or call to speak to an air quality expert about improving the air in your home 1-888-852-8247.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Asthma drugs suppress children's growth say researchers

Corticosteroid drugs that are given by inhalers to children with asthma may suppress their growth, evidence suggests.

Two new systematic reviews published in The Cochrane Library focus on the effects of inhaled corticosteroid drugs (ICS) on growth rates.

The authors found children’s growth slowed in the first year of treatment, although the effects were minimized by using lower doses.

Inhaled corticosteroids are prescribed as first-line treatments for adults and children with persistent asthma.

They are the most effective drugs for controlling asthma and clearly reduce asthma deaths, hospital visits and the number and severity of exacerbations, and improve quality of life.

Yet, their potential effect on the growth of children is a source of worry for parents and doctors.

Worldwide, seven ICS drugs are currently available: beclomethasone, budesonide, ciclesonide, flunisolide, fluticasone, mometasone and triamcinolone.

Ciclesonide, fluticasone and mometasone are newer and supposedly safer drugs.

The first systematic review focused on 25 trials involving 8,471 children up to 18 years old with mild to moderate persistent asthma.

These trials tested all available inhaled corticosteroids except triamcinolone and showed that, as a group, they suppressed growth rates when compared to placebos or non-steroidal drugs. 14 of the trials, involving 5,717 children, reported growth over a year.

The average growth rate, which was around 6-9 cm per year in control groups, was reduced by about 0.5 cm in treatment groups.

The researchers found that growth suppression varied across studies, and so they looked at the relationship between a variety of factors and their effects on growth. Some of the variation could be explained by the drugs used, although since this was an indirect comparison the authors say more evidence is needed.

“Conclusions about the superiority of one drug over another should be confirmed by further trials that directly compare the drugs,” said Zhang.

More long-term trials and trials comparing different doses are also needed, particularly in children with more severe asthma requiring higher doses of inhaled corticosteroids, the researchers conclude.

“Only 14% of the trials we looked at monitored growth in a systematic way for over a year. This is a matter of major concern given the importance of this topic,” said Francine Ducharme, one of the authors of both reviews and senior author of the second review, based at the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Montreal in Montreal, Canada.

“We recommend that the minimal effective dose be used in children with asthma until further data on doses becomes available. Growth should be carefully documented in all children treated with inhaled corticosteroids, as well in all future trials testing inhaled corticosteroids in children.”

Poor indoor air quality can cause or exacerbate asthma symptoms. AllerAir offers portable and highly effective air purifiers for asthma and allergies, containing a deep-bed activated carbon filter and a HEPA filter to remove the widest range of indoor air contaminants. Contact AllerAir for more information and a free consultation.