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.

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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.



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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.”

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Air Quality Alert: High health risk for Canada's Northern Territories

Environment Canada has issued a high health risk warning for Yellowknife and surrounding area because of heavy smoke in the region due to forest fires. Currently 160 wildfires are burning across the region. 
 
This satellite image was collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Aqua satellite on July 20, 2014. Actively burning areas, detected by MODIS’s thermal bands, are outlined in red.
Fire danger in this area remains very high to extreme, with no discernible change in that forecast in the near future.

Source:: NASA/Goddard, Lynn Jenner with information from Canada's National Wildland Fire Situation site.



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