Friday, May 31, 2013

Scientists: Don't fool yourselves, planting trees can't offset Co2 emissions

Photo:Gualberto107/freedigitalphotos.net

Leading world climate change experts have thrown cold water on the idea that planting trees can offset carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.

Professor Brendan Mackey of Griffith University Climate Change Response Program is the lead author of an international study involving researchers from Australia and the U.K. Their findings are reported in "Untangling the confusion around land carbon science and climate change mitigation policy", published in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change.

"While protecting and restoring natural forests is part of the solution, the reality is that for all practical purposes fossil fuel CO2 emissions are irreversible," Professor Mackey said.

The findings highlight the urgent need for policy-makers worldwide to re-think the issue as many decision-makers, national and internationally, assume that fossil fuel emissions can be offset through sequestering carbon by planting trees and other land management practices.

"There is a danger in believing that land carbon sinks can solve the problem of atmospheric carbon emissions because this legitimises the ongoing use of fossil fuels", Professor Mackey said.

The study found that protecting natural forests avoids emissions that would otherwise result from logging and land clearing while also conserving biodiversity. Restoring degraded ecosystems or planting new forests helps store some of the carbon dioxide that was emitted from past land use activities.

"These land management actions should be rewarded as they are an important part of the solution," Professor Mackay said.

"However, no amount of reafforestation or growing of new trees will ultimately off-set continuing CO2 emissions due to environmental constraints on plant growth and the large amounts of remaining fossil fuel reserves.

"Unfortunately there is no option but to cut fossil fuel emissions deeply as about a third of the CO2 stays in the atmosphere for 2 to 20 millennia."
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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Unique omega-3 supplement effective at reducing exercise-induced asthma symptoms

An Indiana University study has found that a unique omega-3 supplement derived from the New Zealand green-lipped mussel significantly improved lung function and reduced airway inflammation in asthmatics who experience exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, also called exercise-induced asthma.

Timothy Mickleborough, professor in the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington, said his findings are similar to his studies involving fish oil but required a much smaller dosage of the supplement. His new study, appearing online in the journal Respiratory Medicine, found a 59 percent improvement in lung function after an airway challenge, and a reduction in airway inflammation, asthma symptoms and use of emergency medication.

"Not only does it reduce symptoms, which will make you feel better, but it potentially could improve athletic performance," Mickleborough said. "Any time you can reduce medication is good."

In exercise-induced asthma, vigorous exercise triggers an acute narrowing of the airway afterward, making breathing difficult. Other symptoms include coughing, tightening of the chest and excessive fatigue. About 90 percent of people with asthma have this condition, which also is found in an estimated 10 percent or more of elite athletes and as much as 10 percent of the general population without asthma.

Mickleborough's study used Lyprinol/Omega XL, which contains PCSO-524, a patented extract of stabilized lipids from the New Zealand green-lipped mussel, combined with olive oil and vitamin E. PCSO-524 includes the five main lipid classes: sterol esters, sterols, polar lipids, triglycerides and free fatty acids, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Previous studies involving PCSO-524 have found it to be effective in treating osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. Mickleborough's study is the first to show that it is effective in reducing the airway inflammation experienced by asthmatic study participants diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Children of long-lived parents less likely to get cancer

Photo: freedigitalphotos.net
The offspring of parents who live to a ripe old age are more likely to live longer themselves, and less prone to cancer and other common diseases associated with ageing, a study has revealed.

Experts at the University of Exeter Medical School, supported by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care in the South West Peninsula (NIHR PenCLAHRC), led an international collaboration which discovered that people who had a long-lived mother or father were 24% less likely to get cancer. The scientists compared the children of long-lived parents to children whose parents survived to average ages for their generation.

The scientists classified long-lived mothers as those who survived past 91 years old, and compared them to those who reached average age spans of 77 to 91. Long-lived fathers lived past 87 years old, compared with the average of 65 to 87 years. The scientists studied 938 new cases of cancer that developed during the 18 year follow-up period.

The team also involved experts from the National Institute for Health and Medical Research in France (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale), the University of Michigan and the University of Iowa. They found that overall mortality rates dropped by up to 19 per cent for each decade that at least one of the parents lived past the age of 65. For those whose mothers lived beyond 85, mortality rates were 40 per cent lower. The figure was a little lower (14 per cent) for fathers, possibly because of adverse lifestyle factors such as smoking, which may have been more common in the fathers.

In the study, published in the Journals of Gerontology: Series A, the scientists analysed data from a series of interviews conducted with 9,764 people taking part in the Health and Retirement Study. The participants were based in America, and were followed up over 18 years, from 1992 to 2010. They were interviewed every two years, with questions including the ages of their parents and when they died. In 2010 the participants were in their seventies.

Professor William Henley, from the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “Previous studies have shown that the children of centenarians tend to live longer with less heart disease, but this is the first robust evidence that the children of longer-lived parents are also less likely to get cancer. We also found that they are less prone to diabetes or suffering a stroke. These protective effects are passed on from parents who live beyond 65 – far younger than shown in previous studies, which have looked at those over the age of 80. Obviously children of older parents are not immune to contracting cancer or any other diseases of ageing, but our evidence shows that rates are lower. We also found that this inherited resistance to age-related diseases gets stronger the older their parents lived.”

Ambarish Dutta, who worked on the project at the University of Exeter Medical School and is now at the Asian Institute of Public Health at the Ravenshaw University in India, said: “Interestingly from a nature versus nurture perspective, we found no evidence that these health advantages are passed on from parents-in-law. Despite being likely to share the same environment and lifestyle in their married lives, spouses had no health benefit from their parents-in-law reaching a ripe old age. If the findings resulted from cultural or lifestyle factors, you might expect these effects to extend to husbands and wives in at least some cases, but there was no impact whatsoever.”

In analysing the data, the team made adjustments for sex, race, smoking, wealth, education, body mass index, and childhood socioeconomic status. They also excluded results from those whose parents died prematurely (ie mothers who died younger than 61 or fathers younger than 46).

The study could not look at the various sub groups of cancer, as numbers did not allow accurate estimates. This study was carried out in preparation for a more detailed analysis of factors explaining why some people seem to age more slowly than others. Future work will use the UK Biobank, which analyses a cohort of 500,000 participants.

Source: Press Release, Eureka Alerts
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Monday, May 27, 2013

Even farm animal diversity is declining as accelerating species loss threatens humanity

Zakri Abdul Hamid is Founding  (IPBES)
Founding Chair of new world biodiversity body offers first public remarks

The accelerating disappearance of Earth's species of both wild and domesticated plants and animals constitutes a fundamental threat to the well-being and even the survival of humankind, warns the founding Chair of a new global organization created to narrow the gulf between leading international biodiversity scientists and national policy-makers.

In Norway to address an elite gathering of 450 international officials with government responsibilities in the fields of biodiversity and economic planning, Zakri Abdul Hamid offered his first public remarks since being elected in January to head the new Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) -- an independent body modeled on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Dr. Zakri, a national of Malaysia who co-chaired 2005's landmark Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and serves also as science advisor to his country's prime minister, cited fast-growing evidence that "we are hurtling towards irreversible environmental tipping points that, once passed, would reduce the ability of ecosystems to provide essential goods and services to humankind."

The incremental loss of Amazon rainforest, for example, "may seem small with shortsighted perspective" but will eventually "accumulate to cause a larger, more important change," he said. Experts warn that ongoing climate change, combined with land use change and fires, "could cause much of the Amazon forest to transform abruptly to more open, dry-adapted ecosystems, threatening the region's enormous biodiversity and priceless services," he added.

"It has been clear for some time that a credible, permanent IPCC-like science policy platform for biodiversity and ecosystem services is an important but missing element in the international response to the biodiversity crisis," Dr. Zakri told the 7th Trondheim Conference on Biodiversity.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment "demonstrated that such an intergovernmental platform can create a clear, valuable policy-relevant consensus from a wide range of information sources about the state, trends and outlooks of human-environment interactions, with focus on the impacts of ecosystem change on human well-being. It showed that such a platform can support decision-makers in the translation of knowledge into policy.

"The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment provides our baseline," he said. "The IPBES will tell us how much we have achieved, where we are on track, where we are not, why, and options for moving forward. It will help to build public support and identify priorities."

The structure of IPBES mimics that of the IPCC but its aims go further to include capacity building to help bridge different knowledge systems.

"IPBES will reduce the gulf between the wealth of scientific knowledge on declining natural world conditions, and knowledge about effective action to reverse these damaging trends," he said.

Even barnyard diversity is in decline

Some scientists have termed this the "sixth great extinction episode" in Earth's history, according to Dr. Zakri, noting that the loss of biodiversity is happening faster and everywhere, even among farm animals.

He underlined findings by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization that genetic diversity among livestock is declining.

"The good news is the rate of decline is dropping but the latest data classify 22% of domesticated breeds at risk of extinction," Dr. Zakri said.

Breeds become rare because their characteristics either don't suit contemporary demand or because differences in their qualities have not been recognised. When a breed population falls to about 1,000 animals, it is considered rare and endangered.

Causes of genetic erosion in domestic animals are the lack of appreciation of the value of indigenous breeds and their importance in niche adaptation, incentives to introduce exotic and more uniform breeds from industrialised countries, and product-focused selection.

Among crops, meanwhile, about 75 per cent of genetic diversity was lost in the last century as farmers worldwide switched to genetically uniform, high-yielding varieties and abandoned multiple local varieties. There are 30,000 edible plant species but only 30 crops account for 95% of human food energy, the bulk of which (60%) comes down to rice, wheat, maize, millet and sorghum.

"The decline in the diversity of crops and animals is occurring in tandem with the need to sharply increase world food production and as a changing environment makes it more important than ever to have a large genetic pool to enable organisms to withstand and adapt to new conditions," he said.

Biodiversity and the Sustainable Development Goals

According to Dr. Zakri, the most important outcome of last year's Rio+20 international environmental summit of nations was agreement to set new multi-year global objectives to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (2000 - 2015).

Biodiversity is expected to feature prominently in the new "Sustainable Development Goals."

For specifics, Dr. Zakri commended the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, already established through the Convention on Biological Diversity, which contain five strategic priorities and 20 specific targets internationally agreed for achievement by 2020, beginning with public awareness of the value of biodiversity and the steps people can take to conserve and use it sustainably.

"The Aichi Targets are an important contribution to the SDG process and it is up to us to ensure that they are fully considered," he said.

"I would argue, though, that advancing towards equity and sustainable development requires us to go beyond. We need to meet the fundamental challenge of decoupling economic growth from natural resource consumption, which is forecast to triple by 2050 unless humanity can find effective ways to 'do more and better with less.' There are no simple blueprints for addressing a challenge as vast and complex as this but it's imperative we commit to that idea.

"We also need measures of societal progress that go beyond Gross Domestic Product. We need the kind of vision embodied in the Inclusive Wealth Index being pioneered by Sir Partha Dasgupta of Cambridge University, Anantha Duraiappah at IHDP, and Pushpam Kumar at UNEP. As they have convincingly argued, enlightened measures of wealth that include natural capital, not just output like GDP, offers a real portrait of sustainable development," he added.

"The idea that natural capital should be measured like this makes many nervous. And I agree that many of the services the environment provides, like clean water and air, are irreplaceable necessities.

"In theory, however, the undoubted value of these natural treasures should be reflected in their price, which should rise steeply as they become scarcer. In practice, natural assets are often hard to price well, if at all. Although this work is still in its infancy, it is worth recalling that GDP has only been measured for the last 70 years. And that originally it was a far cruder metric than today. The reality over many decades and the recent experience with the MDGs demonstrate all too clearly the limited success that even legal biodiversity-related commitments have in the absence of some sort of metric that speaks to other sectors and interests involved in the development process. We need to urge more economists to do the hard but valuable work of pricing the seemingly priceless. Ensuring these ideas are properly reflected in the SDGs could provide the type of support and encouragement needed."

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Video: 500 Scientists explain why your grandchildren may not have enough water

A conference of 500 leading water scientists from around the world say that "in the short span of one or two generations, the majority of the 9 billion people on Earth will be living under the handicap of severe pressure on fresh water". They say mismanagement of the world water supply is to blame:


A majority on Earth face severe self-inflicted water woes within 2 generations: Scientists

Photo: Freeditigitalphotos.net
A conference of 500 leading water scientists from around the world today issued a stark warning that, without major reforms, "in the short span of one or two generations, the majority of the 9 billion people on Earth will be living under the handicap of severe pressure on fresh water, an absolutely essential natural resource for which there is no substitute. This handicap will be self-inflicted and is, we believe, entirely avoidable."

The scientists bluntly pointed to chronic underlying problems led by mismanagement and sent a prescription to policy makers in a 1,000-word declaration issued at the end of a four-day meeting in Bonn, Germany, "Water in the Anthropocene," organized by the Global Water System Project.


Here's the full text of The Bonn Declaration:

In the short span of one or two generations, the majority of the 9 billion people on Earth will be living under the handicap of severe pressure on fresh water, an absolutely essential natural resource for which there is no substitute. This handicap will be self-inflicted and is, we believe, entirely avoidable.

After years of observations and a decade of integrative research convened under the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP) and other initiatives, water scientists are more than ever convinced that fresh water systems across the planet are in a precarious state.

Mismanagement, overuse and climate change pose long-term threats to human well-being, and evaluating and responding to those threats constitutes a major challenge to water researchers and managers alike. Countless millions of individual local human actions add up and reverberate into larger regional, continental and global changes that have drastically changed water flows and storage, impaired water quality, and damaged aquatic ecosystems.

Human activity thus plays a central role in the behavior of the global water system.

Since 2004, the Global Water System Project (GWSP) has spearheaded a broad research agenda and new ways of thinking about water as a complex global system, emphasizing the links that bind its natural and human components. Research carried out by GWSP and its partners has produced several important results that inform a better global understanding of fresh water today.

Humans are a key feature of the global water system, influencing prodigious quantities of water: stored in reservoirs, taken from rivers and groundwater and lost in various ways. Additional deterioration through pollution, now detectable on a global scale, further limits an already-stressed resource base, and negatively affects the health of aquatic life forms and human beings.

At a time of impending water challenges, it remains a struggle to secure the basic environmental and social observations needed to obtain an accurate picture of the state of the resource. We need to know about the availability, condition and use of water as part of a global system through sustained environmental surveillance. History teaches us that failure to obtain this basic information will be costly and dangerous.

Humans typically achieve water security through short-term and often costly engineering solutions, which can create long-lived impacts on social-ecological systems. Faced with a choice of water for short-term economic gain or for the more general health of aquatic ecosystems, society overwhelmingly chooses development, often with deleterious consequences on the very water systems that provide the resource.

Traditional approaches to development are counterproductive, destroying the services that healthy water systems provide, such as flood protection, habitat for fisheries and pollution control. Loss of these services will adversely affect current and future generations.

Sustainable development requires both technological and institutional innovation. At present, the formulation of effective institutions for the management of water lags behind engineering technologies in many regions.

Research from the GWSP and elsewhere confirms that current increases in the use of water and impairment of the water system are on an unsustainable trajectory. However, current scientific knowledge cannot predict exactly how or precisely when a planetary-scale boundary will be breached. Such a tipping point could trigger irreversible change with potentially catastrophic consequences.

The existing focus on water supply, sanitation and hygiene has delivered undoubted benefits to people around the world, but equally, we need to consider wider Sustainable Development Goals in the context of the global water system. Ecosystem-based sustainable water management, a pressing need that was reaffirmed at the Rio+20 Earth Summit, requires that solving water problems must be a joint obligation of environmental scientists, social scientists, engineers, policy-makers, and a wide range of stakeholders.

These realities motivate the water community assembled in Bonn for the Global Water System Project Conference "Water in the Anthropocene" to make a set of core recommendations to institutions and individuals focused on science, governance, management and decision-making relevant to water resources on earth. Given the development imperatives associated with all natural resources at the dawn of the 21st century, we urge a united front to form a strategic partnership of scientists, public stakeholders, decision-makers and the private sector. This partnership should develop a broad, community-consensus blueprint for a reality-based, multi-perspective, and multi-scale knowledge-to-action water agenda, based on these recommendations:

1) Make a renewed commitment to adopt a multi-scale and interdisciplinary approach to water science in order to understand the complex and interlinked nature of the global water system and how it may change now and in future.

2) Execute state-of-the-art synthesis studies of knowledge about fresh water that can inform risk assessments and be used to develop strategies to better promote the protection of water systems.

3) Train the next generation of water scientists and practitioners in global change research and management, making use of cross-scale analysis and integrated system design.

4) Expand monitoring, through traditional land-based environmental observation networks and state-of-the-art earth-observation satellite systems, to provide detailed observations of water system state.

5) Consider ecosystem-based alternatives to costly structural solutions for climate proofing, such that the design of the built environment in future includes both traditional and green infrastructure.

6) Stimulate innovation in water institutions, with a balance of technical- and governance-based solutions and taking heed of value systems and equity. A failure to adopt a more inclusive approach will make it impossible to design effective green growth strategies or policies.

The recommendations above, taken collectively, can constitute the centrepiece of a blueprint to promote the adoption of science-based evidence into the formulation of goals for sustainable development. Stewardship requires balancing the needs of humankind and the needs of nature through the protection of ecosystems and the services that they provide. Without such a design framework, we anticipate highly fragmented decision-making and the persistence of maladaptive approaches to water management.

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Researchers turns smartphone into handheld sensor for air pollutants, bacteria, viruses and more

Photo: Brian T. Cunningham
Researchers and physicians in the field could soon run on-the-spot tests for environmental toxins, medical diagnostics, food safety and more with their smartphones.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers have developed a cradle and app for the iPhone that uses the phone’s built-in camera and processing power as a biosensor to detect toxins, proteins, bacteria, viruses and other molecules.

Having such sensitive biosensing capabilities in the field could enable on-the-spot tracking of groundwater contamination, combine the phone’s GPS data with biosensing data to map the spread of pathogens, or provide immediate and inexpensive medical diagnostic tests in field clinics or contaminant checks in the food processing and distribution chain.

“We’re interested in biodetection that needs to be performed outside of the laboratory,” said team leader Brian Cunningham, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and of bioengineering at the U. of I. “Smartphones are making a big impact on our society – the way we get our information, the way we communicate. And they have really powerful computing capability and imaging. A lot of medical conditions might be monitored very inexpensively and non-invasively using mobile platforms like phones. They can detect molecular things, like pathogens, disease biomarkers or DNA, things that are currently only done in big diagnostic labs with lots of expense and large volumes of blood.”

The wedge-shaped cradle contains a series of optical components – lenses and filters – found in much larger and more expensive laboratory devices. The cradle holds the phone’s camera in alignment with the optical components.

At the heart of the biosensor is a photonic crystal. A photonic crystal is like a mirror that only reflects one wavelength of light while the rest of the spectrum passes through.  When anything biological attaches to the photonic crystal – such as protein, cells, pathogens or DNA – the reflected color will shift from a shorter wavelength to a longer wavelength.

For the handheld iPhone biosensor, a normal microscope slide is coated with the photonic material. The slide is primed to react to a specific target molecule. The photonic crystal slide is inserted into a slot on the cradle and the spectrum measured. Its reflecting wavelength shows up as a black gap in the spectrum. After exposure to the test sample, the spectrum is re-measured. The degree of shift in the reflected wavelength tells the app how much of the target molecule is in the sample. See a video of the app in action at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kh7MUjIYuyw.

The entire test takes only a few minutes; the app walks the user through the process step by step. Although the cradle holds only about $200 of optical components, it performs as accurately as a large $50,000 spectrophotometer in the laboratory. So now, the device is not only portable, but also affordable for fieldwork in developing nations.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Study finds air pollution and noise pollution increase cardiovascular risk

Both fine-particle air pollution and noise pollution may increase a person's risk of developing cardiovascular disease, according to German researchers who have conducted a large population study, in which both factors were considered simultaneously.

"Many studies have looked at air pollution, while others have looked at noise pollution," said study leader Barbara Hoffmann, MD, MPH, a professor of environmental epidemiology at the IUF Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine in Germany. "This study looked at both at the same time and found that each form of pollution was independently associated with subclinical atherosclerosis."

"This study is important because it says that both air pollution and noise pollution represent important health problems," said Dr. Philip Harber, a professor of public health at the University of Arizona who was not involved in the research. "In the past, some air pollution studies have been dismissed because critics said it was probably the noise pollution that caused the harm, and vice versa. Now we know that people who live near highways, for instance, are being harmed by air pollution and by noise pollution."

Using data from the Heinz Nixdorf Recall study, an ongoing population study from three neighboring cities in the Ruhr region of Germany, Dr. Hoffmann and her colleagues assessed the long-term exposure to fine particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter <2 .5="" 4238="" 49.9="" 60="" age="" and="" br="" exposure="" in="" long-term="" m="" male="" mean="" noise="" participants="" study="" to="" traffic="" years="">
The exposure to air pollutants was calculated using the EURopean Air Pollution Disperson, or EURAD, model. Exposure to traffic noise was calculated using European Union models of outdoor traffic noise levels. These levels were quantified as weighted 24-hour mean exposure (Lden) and nighttime exposure (Lnight).

To determine the association of the two variables with cardiovascular risk, the researchers looked at thoracic aortic calcification (TAC), a measure of subclinical atherosclerosis.

TAC was quantified using non-contrast enhanced electron beam computed tomography. Using multiple linear regression, the researchers controlled for other cardiovascular risk factors, including age, gender, education, unemployment, smoking status and history, exposure to second-hand smoke, physical activity, alcohol use and body mass index.

After controlling for these variables, the researchers found that fine-particle air pollution was associated with an increase in TAC burden by 19.9 % (95%CI 8.2; 32.8%) per 2.4µg/m3. (To put that increase in perspective: in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency recently revised the overall limit downward from 15 to 12µg/m 3).

The researchers also found that nighttime traffic noise pollution increased TAC burden by 8% (95% CI 0.8; 8.9%) per 5 dB. (An average living room would typically have a noise level of about 40 A-weighted decibels, or dB(A), an expression of the relative loudness of sounds as perceived by the human ear, while busy road traffic would generate about 70-80dB(A)). Mean exposure to traffic noise over 24 hours was not associated with increased TAC.

Among subgroups of participants, the researchers found even stronger associations. The interaction of PM2.5 and TAC was clearer among those younger than 65, participants with prevalent coronary artery disease and those taking statins. In contrast, the effect of Lnight was stronger in participants who were not obese, did not have coronary artery disease and did not take statins.

Although the cross-sectional design of this study limits the causal interpretation of the data, Dr. Hoffmann said, "both exposures seem to be important and both must be considered on a population level, rather than focusing on just one hazard."

She added that her research group plans to conduct a longitudinal analysis with repeated measures of TAC over time.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Exposure to traffic pollution increases asthma severity in pregnant women

Air pollutants from traffic are associated with increased asthma severity levels in pregnant asthmatic women, according to a new study.

"Air pollution is a known trigger for asthma symptoms," said lead author Janneane Gent, PhD, Research Scientist in Epidemiology (Environmental Health) at the Yale School of Public Health.

 "In our study, exposures were assessed using a sophisticated air pollution modeling system (Community Multiscale Air Quality, CMAQ) that permits community-level estimates (i.e., close to where the subject resides) instead of assigning regional measurements made at Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) central site monitors to all subjects. Using community-level estimates, we found that exposure to nitrogen dioxide at levels much lower than the current EPA standard was associated with increased risk of asthma morbidity."

The results of the study will be presented at the ATS 2013 International Conference.

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Exposure to nitrogen dioxide, fine particulate matter, and the elemental carbon content of fine particulate matter were estimated using the CMAQ modeling system. Analyses of the relationship between exposure to traffic-related pollutants and asthma severity were adjusted for a number of possible confounding factors, including month of pregnancy, pre-pregnancy body mass index, demographics, health, household exposures and season.

Mean community-level predicted concentrations for nitrogen dioxide, elemental carbon and fine particulate matter were 23.7 parts per billion (ppb), 0.67 micrograms (one-millionth of a gram) per cubic meter of air (g/m3) and 11.1 g/m3, respectively.

Each 10 ppb increase in community-level nitrogen dioxide was associated with an increased risk of wheeze, with an odds ratio (the odds that an outcome will occur after a particular exposure, compared to the odds of the outcome occurring in the absence of that exposure) of 1.27. Each 10 ppb increase in nitrogen dioxide was also associated with a higher asthma severity score (odds ratio 1.31). Similarly, each 0.5 g/m3 increase in elemental carbon was associated with an increased risk of wheeze (odds ratio 1.30) and higher asthma severity score (odds ratio 1.32).

Exposure to fine particulate matter did not significantly increase asthma morbidity or asthma severity score.

"Exposure to air pollution from traffic is known to have a number of deleterious effects on human health," said Dr. Gent. "Our study suggests that exposures to community-level concentrations of traffic-related pollutants are associated with increased asthma morbidity, and that these pollutant concentrations are likely to be lower than those measured at EPA central monitoring sites."

Monday, May 20, 2013

Prenatal exposure to traffic is associated with respiratory infection in young children

Living near a major roadway during the prenatal period is associated with an increased risk of respiratory infection developing in children by the age of 3, according to a new study from researchers in Boston.

"The connection between in utero and early life cigarette smoke exposure and adverse infant respiratory outcomes is well-established, but the relation of prenatal ambient air pollution to risk of infant respiratory infection is less well-studied," said lead author Mary Rice, MD, a pulmonary and critical care fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "Our study extends previous findings by showing that proximity to a major roadway during the prenatal period is associated with increased risk of subsequent respiratory infection in children."

The study included 1,271 mother-child pairs enrolled during the first trimester of pregnancy between 1999 and 2002 in Project Viva in eastern Massachusetts. The distance from home addresses to the nearest Federal class 1/2A ("major") roadway was calculated using geographic information system software. Respiratory infections were defined as maternal report of any doctor-diagnosed pneumonia, bronchiolitis, croup or other respiratory infection from birth until age 3.

Statistical analyses of the relationship between exposure to a major roadway and respiratory infection were adjusted for gender, birth weight, maternal education, household income, neighborhood income and education, maternal smoking during pregnancy, postnatal household smoking, breastfeeding, daycare attendance, presence of other young children in the household and season of birth.

Of the 1,271 mother-child pairs studied, 6.4% lived less than 100 meters, 6.5% lived 100 to 200 meters, 33.7% lived 200 to less than 1000 meters and 53.4% lived 1,000 meters or more from a major roadway.

By the age of 3, 678 (53.3%) of the children had had at least one doctor-diagnosed respiratory infection. After adjustment for possible confounders and risk factors for respiratory infection, children whose mothers lived less than 100 meters from a major roadway during pregnancy were 1.74 times as likely as those living 100 meters or more from a major roadway to have had a respiratory infection. Those living 100 to 200 meters from a major roadway were1.49 times as likely to have had a respiratory infection.

"In our study, living in close proximity to a major roadway during pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of respiratory infection in children, adding to the growing body of evidence linking exposure to traffic with adverse effects on health," said Dr. Rice. "Future research will need to clarify whether the apparent harmful postnatal effects of living close to a major road during pregnancy is due to air pollution from traffic or other exposures related to roads. We plan to further explore this connection using a measure of black carbon, a component of traffic-related air pollution. Using black carbon measures, we also plan to disentangle the associations of pre- vs postnatal air pollution exposures with respiratory infection in early life."

Friday, May 17, 2013

Combined wood and tobacco smoke exposure increases risk and symptoms of COPD

People who are consistently exposed to both wood smoke and tobacco smoke are at a greater risk for developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and for experiencing more frequent and severe symptoms of the disease, as well as more severe airflow obstruction, than those who are exposed to only one type of smoke, according to the results of a new population-based study conducted by researchers in Colombia.

"Although previous studies have shown a definite link between wood smoke exposure and the development of COPD, those studies were case-controls and case series of patients with similar disease or health profiles," said study lead author Carlos Torres-Duque, M.D., director of research at the Fundacion Neumologica Colombiana in Bogota. "This new data derives from a population-based study that looked at wood smoke exposure and the overall prevalence of COPD, as well as the characteristics of the disease and those who suffer from it."

About 40 percent of the world's population uses solid fuels – especially wood – for cooking or heating, he noted.

For this study, Dr. Torres-Duque and his colleagues used data from the PREPOCOL (Prevalencia de la Enfermedad Pulmonar Obstructiva Crónica en Colombia) study which evaluated the prevalence of COPD among the adult residents of five Colombian cities. The study included 5,539 subjects, 8.9 percent of whom were diagnosed with COPD. The study participants were divided into four groups: those who were exposed to wood smoke and who had never smoked tobacco (30.9 percent); those who were exposed to tobacco smoke but had no exposure to wood smoke (18.7 percent); those who had been exposed to both types of smoke (29.8 percent); and those who had exposure to neither type of smoke (20.6 percent).

Patients' lung function was measured using spirometry, a technique used to measure the amount of air a person is able to inhale and exhale, and all patients completed a standardized respiratory questionnaire to identify exposure to smoke.

In their initial review of data, the researchers learned that 53 percent of those diagnosed with COPD had both wood and tobacco smoke exposure; moreover, the prevalence of COPD increased as exposure to wood smoke increased.

After adjusting for specific factors including age, active and passive tobacco smoking, education level, history of TB and altitude, the researchers found that wood smoke exposure of 10 or more years posed a significant risk factor for developing COPD in both men and women and those with both wood and tobacco exposure had poorer lung function scores and more phlegm and coughed more frequently than those who had exposure to only one type of smoke.Among the COPD population, those who were exposed only to wood smoke tended to be women, to have higher BMIs and to be shorter than those exposed to tobacco smoke or to a combination of wood and tobacco smoke.

"In the population we studied, exposure to wood smoke was identified as an independent risk factor for developing COPD, both in women and men," Dr. Torres-Duque said. "In addition, the prevalence of COPD was significantly higher in those who were exposed to both wood and tobacco smoke and those with both exposures had more symptoms and more severe disease than those who were exposed to only one type of smoke."

This result suggests that the combination of wood and tobacco smoke produces an additive effect that causes an increase in COPD prevalence and in the frequency of COPD symptoms, he added.

"It is also possible that the responses of the lungs and airways could vary, based on the pollutants to which they're exposed," Dr. Torres-Duque noted.

Future studies might provide additional data regarding varying responses and help clinicians determine specific treatments based on exposures, he said.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Dustless" school chalk found to trigger allergy symptoms and asthma in those with milk allergy

Photo:  Anusorn P Nachol/freedigtalphotos.net

Many of today’s school teachers opt for dustless chalk to keep hands and classrooms clean. But according to a study published in the May issue of Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, the scientific journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), this choice in chalk may cause allergy and asthma symptoms in students that have a milk allergy.

Casein, a milk protein, is often used in low-powder chalk. When milk allergic children inhale chalk particles containing casein, life-threatening asthma attacks and other respiratory issues can occur.

“Chalks that are labeled as being anti-dust or dustless still release small particles into the air,” said Carlos H. Larramendi, MD, lead study author. “Our research has found when the particles are inhaled by children with milk allergy, coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath can occur. Inhalation can also cause nasal congestion, sneezing and a runny nose.”

Milk allergy affects an estimated 300,000 children in the United States, according to the ACAAI. Although it has been believed the majority of children will outgrow milk allergy by age three, recent studies contradict this theory, showing school aged children are still affected. However, 80 percent of children with milk allergy will likely outgrow it by age 16.

“Chalk isn’t the only item in a school setting that can be troublesome to milk allergic students,” said James Sublett, MD, chair of the ACAAI Indoor Environment Committee. “Milk proteins can also be found in glue, paper, ink, and in other children’s lunches.”

Even in the wake of whiteboards, overhead projectors and tablets, chalk is a classroom staple that likely won’t become extinct anytime soon. Parents with milk allergic children should ask to have their child seated in the back of the classroom where they are less likely to inhale chalk dust, advises Sublett.

“Teachers should be informed about foods and other triggers that might cause health problems for children,” said Sublett. “A plan for dealing with allergy and asthma emergencies should also be shared with teachers, coaches and the school nurse. Children should also carry allergist prescribed epinephrine, inhalers or other life-saving medications.”

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Non-smoking hotel rooms still expose occupants to tobacco smoke

Non-smoking rooms in hotels operating a partial smoking ban don’t protect their occupants from tobacco smoke, reveals research published online in journal Tobacco Control.

Non-smokers should give hotels that allow smoking in certain rooms a wide berth, say the authors, and instead choose completely smoke free hotels.

The researchers analyzed the surfaces and air quality of rooms for evidence of tobacco smoke pollution (nicotine and 3EP), known as third hand smoke, in a random sample of budget to mid-range hotels in San Diego, California.

Ten hotels in the sample operated complete bans and 30 operated partial smoking bans, providing designated non-smoking rooms.

Non-smokers who spent the night at any of the hotels, provided urine and finger wipe samples to assess their exposure to nicotine and a cancer causing agent found specifically in tobacco smoke - known as NKK - as measured by their metabolites cotinine and NNAL.

The findings showed that smoking in hotels left a legacy of tobacco pollution in both smoking and non-smoking rooms. A partial smoking ban did not protect the occupants of non-smoking rooms from exposure to tobacco pollution.

Compared with hotels operating total smoking bans, surface nicotine and air 3EP levels were higher in both non-smoking and smoking rooms of hotels operating partial bans.

Surface nicotine levels were more than twice as high in non-smoking rooms of hotels operating partial bans as those of hotels operating total smoking bans (3.7 µg/m2 compared with 1.4 µg/m2), while air levels of 3EP were more than 7 times as high.

Surface and air nicotine levels in rooms where previous guests had smoked were 35 and 22 times higher than those of rooms in hotels operating a total smoking ban.

Air nicotine levels in smoking rooms were significantly higher than in non-smoking rooms; and they were also higher 40% higher in non-smoking rooms of hotels operating partial smoking bans than in those operating total bans.

Similarly, hallway surfaces outside smoking rooms also showed higher nicotine levels than those outside non-smoking rooms.

Non-smokers who stayed in hotels with partial smoking bans also had higher levels of finger nicotine and urinary cotinine than those staying in hotels operating total bans. Urinary NNAL was also significantly higher in those staying in the 10 rooms containing the highest levels of tobacco pollutants.

“Our findings demonstrate that some non-smoking guest rooms in smoking hotels are as polluted with [third hand smoke] as are some smoking rooms,” write the authors. They go on to say: “Moreover, non-smoking guests staying in smoking rooms may be exposed to tobacco smoke pollutants at levels found among non-smokers exposed to second hand smoke.”

Few countries have adopted a smoking ban that includes hotels, say the authors, but their findings “suggest that it is time to abandon smoke-free exemptions for hotels,” they write.

New hotels should operate total smoking bans to protect not only their guests, but also their employees, say the authors. In the meantime, they advise: “Guests who wish to protect themselves from exposure to tobacco smoke should avoid hotels that permit smoking and instead stay in completely smoke-free hotels.”
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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Fish oil may stall effects of junk food on brain

Photo: YaiSirichai/ freedigitalphotos.net
Data from more than 180 research papers suggests fish oils could minimise the effects that junk food can have on the brain, a review by researchers at the University of Liverpool has shown.

The team at the University's Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease reviewed research from around the world to see whether there was sufficient data available to suggest that omega-3s had a role to play in aiding weight loss.

Research over the past 10 years has indicated that high-fat diets could disrupt neurogenesis, a process that generates new nerve cells, but diets rich in omega-3s could prevent these negative effects by stimulating the area of the brain that control feeding, learning and memory.

Data from 185 research papers revealed, however, that fish oils do not have a direct impact on this process in these areas of the brain, but are likely to play a significant role in stalling refined sugars and saturated fats' ability to inhibit the brain's control on the body's intake of food.

Dr Lucy Pickavance, from the University's Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease, explains: "Body weight is influenced by many factors, and some of the most important of these are the nutrients we consume. Excessive intake of certain macronutrients, the refined sugars and saturated fats found in junk food, can lead to weight gain, disrupt metabolism and even affect mental processing.

"These changes can be seen in the brain's structure, including its ability to generate new nerve cells, potentially linking obesity to neurodegenerative diseases. Research, however, has suggested that omega-3 fish oils can reverse or even prevent these effects. We wanted to investigate the literature on this topic to determine whether there is evidence to suggest that omega-3s might aid weight loss by stimulating particular brain processes."

Research papers showed that on high-fat diets hormones that are secreted from body tissues into the circulation after eating, and which normally protect neurons and stimulate their growth, are prevented from passing into the brain by increased circulation of inflammatory molecules and a type of fat called triglycerides.

Molecules that stimulate nerve growth are also reduced, but it appears, in studies with animal models, that omega-3s restore normal function by interfering with the production of these inflammatory molecules, suppressing triglycerides, and returning these nerve growth factors to normal.

Dr Pickavance added: "Fish oils don't appear to have a direct impact on weight loss, but they may take the brakes off the detrimental effects of some of the processes triggered in the brain by high-fat diets. They seem to mimic the effects of calorie restrictive diets and including more oily fish or fish oil supplements in our diets could certainly be a positive step forward for those wanting to improve their general health."

The research is published in the British Journal of Nutrition. Dr Pickavance will also be discussing the effects of high-fat diets on meal patterns and the impacts of high-saturated fats on muscle composition at the 20th European Congress on Obesity at the Liverpool Arena and Convention Centre later this month.

Dr Pickavance will exhibit her work on obesity at Liverpool World Museum for members of the public on the 8 June, as part of the University's Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease 'Meet the Scientist' event.

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Climate change will cause widespread global-scale loss of common plants and animals

A new study indicates that more than half of common plants and one third of the animals could see a dramatic decline this century due to climate change. Research published today in the journal Nature Climate Change looked at 50,000 globally widespread and common species and found that more than one half of the plants and one third of the animals will lose more than half of their climatic range by 2080 if nothing is done to reduce the amount of global warming and slow it down.

This means that geographic ranges of common plants and animals will shrink globally and biodiversity will decline almost everywhere.

Plants, reptiles and particularly amphibians are expected to be at highest risk. Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, Amazonia and Australia would lose the most species of plants and animals. And a major loss of plant species is projected for North Africa, Central Asia and South-eastern Europe.

But acting quickly to mitigate climate change could reduce losses by 60 per cent and buy an additional 40 years for species to adapt. This is because this mitigation would slow and then stop global temperatures from rising by more than two degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial times (1765). Without this mitigation, global temperatures could rise by 4 degrees Celsius by 2100.

The study was led by Dr Rachel Warren from theTyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at UEA. Collaborators include Dr Jeremy VanDerWal at James Cook University in Australia and Dr Jeff Price, from UEA’s school of Environmental Sciences and the Tyndall Centre. The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Dr Warren said: “While there has been much research on the effect of climate change on rare and endangered species, little has been known about how an increase in global temperature will affect more common species.

“This broader issue of potential range loss in widespread species is a serious concern as even small declines in these species can significantly disrupt ecosystems.

“Our research predicts that climate change will greatly reduce the diversity of even very common species found in most parts of the world. This loss of global-scale biodiversity would significantly impoverish the biosphere and the ecosystem services it provides.

“We looked at the effect of rising global temperatures, but other symptoms of climate change such as extreme weather events, pests, and diseases mean that our estimates are probably conservative. Animals in particular may decline more as our predictions will be compounded by a loss of food from plants.

“There will also be a knock-on effect for humans because these species are important for things like water and air purification, flood control, nutrient cycling, and eco-tourism.

"The good news is that our research provides crucial new evidence of how swift action to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gases can prevent the biodiversity loss by reducing the amount of global warming to 2 degrees Celsius rather than 4 degrees. This would also buy time – up to four decades - for plants and animals to adapt to the remaining 2 degrees of climate change.”

The research team quantified the benefits of acting now to mitigate climate change and found that up to 60 per cent of the projected climatic range loss for biodiversity can be avoided.

Dr Warren said: “Prompt and stringent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally would reduce these biodiversity losses by 60 per cent if global emissions peak in 2016, or by 40 per cent if emissions peak in 2030, showing that early action is very beneficial. This will both reduce the amount of climate change and also slow climate change down, making it easier for species and humans to adapt.”

Information on the current distributions of the species used in this research came from the datasets shared online by hundreds of volunteers, scientists and natural history collections through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).

Co-author Dr Jeff Price, also from UEA’s school of Environmental Studies, said: "Without free and open access to massive amounts of data such as those made available online through GBIF, no individual researcher is able to contact every country, every museum, every scientist holding the data and pull it all together. So this research would not be possible without GBIF and its global community of researchers and volunteers who make their data freely available."

‘Quantifying the benefit of early climate change mitigation in avoiding biodiversity loss’ is published by the journal Nature Climate Change on Sunday May 12, 2013.

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Allergic Disease Worsens COPD Symptoms

Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who also have allergic disease have higher levels of respiratory symptoms and are at higher risk for COPD exacerbations, according to a new study from researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

“Although allergic sensitization and allergen exposure are known to be associated with impairments in lung function, the effects of allergic disease on respiratory symptoms in COPD patients has only recently been studied,” said researcher Nadia N. Hansel, MD, MPH, associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins Asthma & Allergy Center. “Accordingly, we examined the effects of allergic disease on respiratory health in two sets of patients with COPD, one a nationally representative sample of 1,381 COPD patients from the National Health and Nutrition Survey III (NHANES III) and the other a cohort of 77 former smokers with COPD from a study of the effects of endotoxin exposure on health status.”

“We found that COPD patients with an allergic phenotype had an increased risk of lower respiratory symptoms and respiratory exacerbations.”

The findings were published online ahead of print publication in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

In the NHANES III cohort, 296 COPD patients had an allergic phenotype, which was defined as self-reported doctor-diagnosed hay fever or allergic upper respiratory symptoms. These patients were significantly more likely to wheeze, have chronic cough, and have chronic phlegm and had a significantly increased risk of experiencing a COPD exacerbation that required an acute visit to the doctor.

In the second cohort of 77 COPD patients, the 23 patients with allergic sensitization (determined by immunoglobulin E testing) were significantly more likely to wheeze, to experience nighttime awakening due to cough, and to have COPD exacerbations requiring antibiotic treatment or an acute visit to the doctor.

“Our findings in two independent populations that allergic disease is associated with greater severity of COPD suggest that treatment of active allergic disease or avoidance of allergy triggers may help improve respiratory symptoms in these patients, although causality could not be determined in our cross-sectional study,” said Dr. Hansel.

There were a few limitations to the study, including possible misclassification of COPD in some NHANES patients and the use of self-reported respiratory symptoms and COPD exacerbations.

“Current COPD guidelines do not address the management of allergic disease in COPD patients,” Dr, Hansel said. “Additional studies of the relationship between allergic disease and COPD are clearly needed.”

To read the article in full, please visit: http://www.thoracic.org/media/press-releases/resources/Hansel.pdf.

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Thursday, May 09, 2013

Air pollution increases risk of insulin resistance in children

New research shows that growing up in areas where air pollution is increased raises the risk of insulin resistance (the prescursor to diabetes) in children. The research is published in Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD), and is by Elisabeth Thiering and Joachim Heinrich, Helmholtz Zentrum München, Neuherberg, Germany, and colleagues.

Previous studies have identified links between air pollution and other chronic conditions such as atherosclerosis and heart disease. However to date, epidemiological studies that have examined associations between long-term exposure to traffic-related air pollution and type 2 diabetes in adults are inconsistent, and studies on insulin resistance in children are scarce. Thus this new study sought to explore the possible association between air pollution and insulin resistance in children.

"Although toxicity differs between air pollutants, they are all considered potent oxidisers that act either directly on lipids and proteins or indirectly through the activation of intracellular oxidant pathways," says Heinrich.

"Oxidative stress caused by exposure to air pollutants may therefore play a role in the development of insulin resistance. In addition, some studies have reported that short-term and long-term increases in particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) exposure lead to elevated inflammatory biomarkers, another potential mechanism for insulin resistance."

In this new study, fasting blood samples were collected from 397 10-year-old children within a follow-up of two prospective German birth cohort studies. Individual-level exposures to traffic-related air pollutants at their birth address were estimated by analysing emission from road traffic in the neighbourhood, population density and land use in the area, and the association between air pollution and insulin resistance was calculated using a model adjusted for several possible confounders including socioeconomic status of the family, birthweight, pubertal status and BMI. Models were also further adjusted for second-hand smoke exposure at home.

The researchers found that in all crude and adjusted models, levels of insulin resistance were greater in children with higher exposure to air pollution. Insulin resistance increased by 17% for every 10.6 µg/m3 (2 standard deviations [SDs] from the mean) increase in ambient nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and 19% for every 6 µg/m3 (2 SDs) increase in particulate matter of up to 10 μm in diameter. Proximity to the nearest major road increased insulin resistance by 7% per 500 metres. All the findings were statistically significant.

Heinrich says: "There is some evidence that air pollution is associated with lower birthweight and growth restrictions—also shown previously in one of the cohorts of the present study—which are known risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Thus, one may speculate that lower birthweight is an intermediate step or 'phenotype' between air pollution and insulin resistance. However, we found no evidence to suggest that this may be true in our cohort of children, all of whom had birthweights above 2.5kg."

He concludes: "To our knowledge, this is the first prospective study that investigated the relationship of long-term traffic-related air pollution and insulin resistance in children. Insulin resistance levels tended to increase with increasing air pollution exposure, and this observation remained robust after adjustment for several confounding factors, including socioeconomic status, BMI and passive smoking."

Currently, the 15 year follow-up of both cohorts is ongoing and the authors are planning to investigate how their findings translate into older age during or after puberty. "Moving from a polluted neighbourhood to a clean area and vice versa would allow us to explore the persistence of the effect related to perinatal exposure and to evaluate the impact of exposure to increased air pollution concentration later in life," says Heinrich. "Whether the air pollution-related increased risk for insulin resistance in school-age has any clinical significance is an open question so far. However, the results of this study support the notion that the development of diabetes in adults might have its origin in early life including environmental exposures."

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Study: City or Country; PCBs are Everywhere...

Photo: freedigitalphotos.net
Since polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are produced through industrial processes or activities, it is assumed that people living in industrial cities will have higher concentrations of these toxic chemicals in their blood than people in rural communities.

Researchers at the University of Iowa say this isn’t the case. In a paper published in March in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, scientists report that mothers and children in East Chicago, Ind., and Columbus Junction, Iowa, had only subtle differences in their PCB blood levels. This analytical paper is the first to report such a comparison between two communities, between mothers and children, and including all 209 PCB compounds.

“This is not good news, and it certainly applies to all of us,” says Keri Hornbuckle, professor of civil and environmental engineering in the UI College of Engineering and senior author on the paper. “I thought it would be worse in a very industrial city than in a rural community. Our results really shook us up. We all have PCBs in our blood, and they are coming from somewhere. We don’t make them in our bodies.”

Study subjects from Indiana live in a highly industrialized community of 32,400 people that is bisected by the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal on the southern shore of Lake Michigan. In contrast, Columbus Junction is a rural community of 1,899 with no known current or historical PCB sources.

Serum samples were collected from junior high school-aged students and their mothers who were enrolled in the Airborne Exposures to Semivolatile Organic Pollutants (AESOP) study between April 2008 and January 2009. The AESOP study is directed by Peter Thorne, professor of occupational and environmental health in the UI College of Public Health and a project leader in the Iowa Superfund Research Program.

The serum analyzed was gathered from 41 mothers and their 44 children in East Chicago, and from 44 mothers and their 48 children in Columbus Junction. Researchers found a greater variety of PCBs in the blood of mothers and children in East Chicago. Despite the expectation of a large environmental exposure difference, East Chicago and Columbus Junction participants had similar concentrations of PCBs in their blood.

“We’re looking for evidence of inhalation exposure. There are clearly big stores of PCBs in the environment,” says Rachel Marek, doctoral student in civil and environmental engineering and first author on the paper. “How can we reduce of the overall level of PCBs in the environment and therefore reduce exposure to PCBs? We need to be able to identify those sources and clean them up.”

PCBs can enter the human body by eating or drinking contaminated food, through the air we breathe, or by skin contact. Hornbuckle, however, doesn’t know why participants in East Chicago and Columbus Junction have similar PCB concentrations in their blood.

“What is probably going on is that these two communities eat similar things, because their demographics are similar, and they breathe similar air with respect to the total amount of PCBs in the air,” says Hornbuckle, a project leader in the Iowa Superfund Research Program who analyzes PCBs in blood and air.

Ninety-two individual PCB compounds were detected in the samples. Researchers report the detection of PCB 11 and PCB 83, which, to their knowledge, have not been found previously in human blood.

The researchers detected the neurotoxic PCB 11 in more than 60 percent of participants—more East Chicago mothers than Columbus Junction mothers. This finding helps verify that the environment is a significant source of PCB exposure. In particular, recent studies found that PCB 11 has been an inadvertent byproduct of paint production. The compound has been found in the air and in a wide variety of organic paint pigments from multiple manufacturers.

“PCBs are everywhere and they are really high in building materials, especially for homes that were built between 1950 and 1970. Both communities have similar housing materials,” Hornbuckle says. “We also found that PCBs are in modern household paint, so it doesn’t matter if you live in East Chicago or Columbus Junction.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, PCBs have been shown to cause cancer, along with a variety of other adverse effects on the body’s immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems. For more information, visit www.epa.gov/osw/hazard/tsd/pcbs/pubs/effects.htm.

“These chemicals are known to be toxic to humans, and they are known to be toxic for developing humans, so we want them out,” Hornbuckle says. “We don’t want them in our paint. We don’t want them in our indoor air. That’s why there are fish consumption advisories on all the Great Lakes, because we don’t want them in our food.”

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Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Lower intelligence, hyperactivity seen in kids whose mothers were exposed to the chemicals


Chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) have been used for decades to reduce fires in everyday products such as baby strollers, carpeting and electronics. A new study to be presented on Monday, May 6, at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting shows that prenatal exposure to the flame retardants is associated with lower intelligence and hyperactivity in early childhood.

"In animal studies, PBDEs can disrupt thyroid hormone and cause hyperactivity and learning problems," said lead author Aimin Chen, MD, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health at University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. "Our study adds to several other human studies to highlight the need to reduce exposure to PBDEs in pregnant women."

Dr. Chen and his colleagues collected blood samples from 309 pregnant women enrolled in a study at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center to measure PBDE levels. They also performed intelligence and behavior tests on the women's children annually until they were 5 years old.

"We found maternal exposure to PBDEs, a group of brominated flame retardants mostly withdrawn from the U.S. market in 2004, was associated with deficits in child cognition at age 5 years and hyperactivity at ages 2-5 years," Dr. Chen said. A 10-fold increase in maternal PBDEs was associated with about a 4 point IQ deficit in 5-year-old children.

Even though PBDEs, except Deca-BDEs, are not used as a flame retardant in the United States anymore, they are found on many consumer products bought several years ago. In addition, the chemicals are not easily biodegradable, so they remain in human tissues and are transferred to the developing fetus.

"Because PBDEs exist in the home and office environment as they are contained in old furniture, carpet pads, foams and electronics, the study raises further concern about their toxicity in developing children," Dr. Chen concluded.

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Monday, May 06, 2013

Scientists: Breathing ultrafine particles from "nanomaterials" found in numerous common products causes lung inflammation and damage

A consortium of scientists from across the country has found that breathing ultrafine particles from a large family of materials that increasingly are found in a host of household and commercial products, from sunscreens to the ink in copy machines to super-strong but lightweight sporting equipment, can cause lung inflammation and damage.

The research on two of the most common types of engineered nanomaterials is published online today in Environmental Health Perspectives, the journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). It is the first multi-institutional study examining the health effects of engineering nanomaterials to replicate and compare findings from different labs across the country.

The study is critical, the researchers said, because of the large quantities of nanomaterials being used in industry, electronics and medicine. Earlier studies had found when nanomaterials are taken into the lungs they can cause inflammation and fibrosis. The unique contribution of the current study is that all members of the consortium were able to show similar findings when similiar concentrations of the materials were introduced into the respiratory system. The findings should provide guidance for creating policy for the safe development of nanotechnology.

"This research provides further confirmation that nanomaterials have the potential to cause inflammation and injury to the lungs. Although small amounts of these materials in the lungs do not appear to produce injury, we still must remain vigilant in using care in the diverse applications of these materials in consumer products and foods," said Kent Pinkerton, a study senior author and the director of the UC Davis Center for Health and the Environment."

Used for their ability to confer strength and flexibility because of their tubular and spherical structures, the ubiquitous and highly malleable materials may be composed of everything from carbon to gold. The current study examined the health effects of inhaling two types of nanomaterials, those made from forms of titanium dioxide and those made from multi-walled carbon nanotubes, a substance with a tensile strength 100 times stronger than steel.

The study was conducted as part of the NIEHS NanoGo Consortium, which includes researchers at North Carolina State University, UC Davis, East Carolina University, the Health Effects Laboratory of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the University of Rochester, the University of Washington and the Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology.

The primary concern for exposure to nanomaterials is by inhalation, although dermal, eye and ingestion exposures also may occur during the manufacture and commercial application of these materials in a wide variety of products. The researchers examined responses of the lungs to nanomaterials made from three forms of titanium dioxide and three forms of multi-walled carbon nanotubes in a mouse model.

Friday, May 03, 2013

STUDY: Cure coming for grey hair: Compound reverses problem at the root

Photo: Graeme Weatherston/freedigitalphtos.net

Hair dye manufacturers are on notice: The cure for gray hair is coming. That's right, the need to cover up one of the classic signs of aging with chemical pigments may be a thing of the past thanks to a team of European researchers.

In a new report published online in The FASEB Journal, researchers found that people who are going gray develop massive oxidative stress via accumulation of hydrogen peroxide in the hair follicle, which causes our hair to bleach itself from the inside out. The report shows that this massive accumulation of hydrogen peroxide can be remedied with a proprietary treatment developed by the researchers described as a topical, UVB-activated compound called PC-KUS . What's more, the study also shows that the same treatment works for the skin condition, vitiligo.

"To date, it is beyond any doubt that the sudden loss of the inherited skin and localized hair color can affect those individuals in many fundamental ways," said Karin U. Schallreuter, M.D., study author from the Institute for Pigmentary Disorders in association with E.M. Arndt University of Greifswald, Germany and the Centre for Skin Sciences, School of Life Sciences at the University of Bradford, United Kingdom. "The improvement of quality of life after total and even partial successful repigmentation has been documented."

"For generations, numerous remedies have been concocted to hide gray hair," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal, "but now, for the first time, an actual treatment that gets to the root of the problem has been developed. While this is exciting news, what's even more exciting is that this also works for vitiligo. This condition, while technically cosmetic, can have serious socio-emotional effects of people. Developing an effective treatment for this condition has the potential to radically improve many people's lives." 

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Thursday, May 02, 2013

Health defects found in fish exposed to Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Photo: Victor Habbick/freedigitalphotos.net

Crude oil toxicity continued to sicken a sentinel Gulf Coast fish species for at least more than a year after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to new findings from a research team that includes a University of California, Davis, scientist.

With researchers from Louisiana and South Carolina, the scientists found that Gulf killifish embryos exposed to sediments from oiled locations in 2010 and 2011 show developmental abnormalities, including heart defects, delayed hatching and reduced hatching success. The killifish is an environmental indicator species, or a “canary in the coal mine,” used to predict broader exposures and health risks.

The findings, posted online in advance of publication in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, are part of an ongoing collaborative effort to track the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on Gulf killifish populations in areas of Louisiana that received heavy amounts of oil.

Other species that share similar habitats with the Gulf killifish, such as redfish, speckled trout, flounder, blue crabs, shrimp and oysters — may be at risk of similar effects.

“These effects are characteristic of crude oil toxicity,” said co-author Andrew Whitehead, an assistant professor of environmental toxicology at UC Davis. “It’s important that we observe it in the context of the Deepwater Horizon spill because it tells us it is far too early to say the effects of the oil spill are known and inconsequential. By definition, effects on reproduction and development — effects that could impact populations — can take time to emerge.”

Killifish are abundant in the coastal marsh habitats along the Gulf Coast. Though not fished commercially, they are an important forage fish and a key member of the ecological community. Because they are nonmigratory, measurements of their health are indicative of their local environment, making them an ideal subject for study.

The researchers collected Gulf killifish from an oiled site at Isle Grande Terre, La., and monitored them for measures of exposure to crude oil. They also exposed killifish embryos in the lab to sediment collected from oiled sites at Isle Grande Terre within Barataria Bay in Louisiana.

“Our findings indicate that the developmental success of these fish in the field may be compromised,” said lead author Benjamin Dubansky, who recently earned his Ph.D. from Louisiana State University.

Whitehead said the report’s findings may predict longer-term impacts to killifish populations. However, oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill showed up in patches, rather than coating the coastline. That means some killifish could have been hit hard by the spill while others were less impacted.

Whitehead said it is possible that some of the healthier, less impacted killifish could buffer the effects of the spill for the population as a whole.

The research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative and the National Institutes of Health.

The other researchers in the study are Fernando Galvez, associate professor of biological sciences at Louisiana State University; and Charles D. Rice, professor of biological sciences at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina. The researchers have tracked the impact of the oil on killifish since the Deepwater Horizon spill occurred in April 2010.
 
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