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Archive for July, 2017

New mercury pollution threats: a global health caution

(Abridged)

The Minamata Convention—a global agreement to tackle mercury—will enter into force on Aug 16, 2017, as the required 50th of the 128 signatory countries recently ratified the treaty, marking a long-awaited moment for the advancement of public health. However, while this achievement is celebrated, questions about whether governments are prepared to tackle complex issues surrounding implementation of the Convention remain rife. The Trump Administration has been actively working to revoke a host of environmental and health regulations, including restrictions on mercury discharges from coal-fired power plants, despite legal challenges by civil society groups. Meanwhile, in some southern regions of the globe, new mercury mining is intensifying, further undermining this treaty’s aims. Although some policy progress has been made for controlling mercury over the past decade, the emerging politics of deregulation and non-regulation pose serious threats to public health.

Years of intergovernmental negotiation went into the Minamata Convention, which aims to curb global mercury trade, use, and pollution, responding to abundant evidence on health effects of mercury. The convention includes restrictions on mercury mining to supply mercury for amalgamation in artisanal and small-scale gold mining, a leading source of mercury pollution. However, new mercury mining activities in Asia and Latin America have led to inexpensive mercury supplies and increased mercury use in gold extraction. In Mexico, so-called informal mercury mining increased by ten times between 2014 and 2016. In mining areas across Indonesia, cheap mercury has led to severe exposures, reportedly causing birth defects and other detrimental health effects, with mercury in water and sediment in artisanal and small-scale gold mining sites stated to be 600–3000 times the WHO standard.5 Small-scale miners associations worldwide have argued that unless their right to a livelihood is legally recognised and supported, efforts to curb mercury use will fail, as socioeconomic drivers of mercury use have been under-addressed to date. Advocacies of marginalised groups in small-scale mining communities often receive little attention in policy formulation and implementation agendas—a problem plaguing the Minamata Convention Nation Action Plans in many countries.

What needs to be done to achieve the health benefits that the Minamata Convention was designed to accomplish? Diverse economic inequities and power dynamics fuel mercury exposure; diverse modes of resistance are thus needed. The Trump Administration must be stopped from revoking mercury regulations. The public health community also should pressure governments everywhere to heed marginalised voices, firmly speak out against underlying sociopolitical processes that fuel mercury threats, and build solidarities with affected groups.

Source: [The Lancet]

Exceedance free June in Hastings – congrats HBRC!

For the first time since continuous monitoring began in 2006, Hastings has experienced an exceedance free month of June!

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council (HBRC) climate and air scientist Dr Kathleen Kozyniak said what used to take just one still frosty day to get exceedance now took two. “There is an overall improving trend and health-wise, any winter month without an exceedance is a win for Napier and Hastings residents.”

Dr Kozyniak relies on technical equipment based at Marewa Park and St John’s College to measure the National Environmental Standard for particulate matter (PM10). An exceedance is any reading above 50 micrograms per cubic metre averaged over 24 hours. “The weather itself may have played a part, but I think people’s efforts to adopt clean forms of heat are reaping benefits. The aim is to have no more than one exceedance per year by 2020. If we continue to decrease our emissions we should make it.”

Before the council’s HeatSmart programme began in 2009, there were a high number of annual exceedances, particularly in Hastings and to a lesser degree in Napier. HeatSmart was set up to improve air quality in Hawke’s Bay by reducing air pollution from home wood burners and fires due to the adverse effects it has on people’s health.

Council’s client services manager Mark Heaney, who oversees the HeatSmart programme, said since HeatSmart started, more than 9500 fireplaces had been upgraded or replaced along with insulation retrofits and upgrades in many homes. “In spite of the inversion layer over both cities on cold, still winter nights, the number of exceedances each year has generally been tracking down,” Mr Heaney said.

Dr Kozyniak wanted to remind people to continue to be mindful when using a fire and if it looked smoky outside then people should look to improve it.

[Source: NZ Herald, 11 July 2017]

Air Pollution from cars is causing nature to change in dramatic ways

Along mile after mile of Britain’s rural highways, especially the closer you get to London, every spring you will see masses of cow parsley. Many people now think of as an attractive addition to the landscape. It’s a pity they do, for the point about the syndrome is this: there’s lots of cow parsley, sure. But what you often won’t find is the lovely variety of wildflowers that 30 to 40 years ago decorated these same roadside verges. The cow parsley is crowding out wild flowers largely because of nitrogen from vehicle exhaust, especially diesel ones, which enriches the soil; and richer soil means fewer different species of plant can grow (whereas poor soil allows a wide variety of wild plants to coexist). It’s a striking example of how air pollution from motor vehicles is impacting on the natural world.

We know only too well how it impacts on us. This same air pollution causes 40,000 premature deaths in Britain every year and is now right at the top of a list of environmental health concerns. Vehicle emissions are breaking EU air quality laws, and the government has had to be ordered by the supreme court to find an effective strategy.

But what is not nearly so well appreciated is the way in which air pollution is now playing havoc with the natural environment too, principally through the atmospheric deposition of nitrogen compounds and perhaps also through particulates, the microscopic soot particles that diesel engines emit. It is the nitrogen that is doing the most obvious damage, enriching the soil which means only certain grass species and others such as stinging nettles, brambles and cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris, it’s scientific name), will be able to out-compete everything else.

And there is growing evidence that particulate pollution is behind the sudden disappearance of house sparrows from central London; whether it was connected to the widespread uptake of diesel vehicles remains to be investigated.

[Source: The Guardian, 1 June 2017]

Louise will take on the Step Up Sky Tower Stair Challenge

Louise will be taking part in the Step Up Sky Tower Stair Challenge on Friday 11 August 2017 (along with her Auckland Seido Karate Black Belt team) to raise funds and awareness for Leukaemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand. That means racing up the 1,103 steps of the Sky Tower (the tallest structure in the southern hemisphere)!

Every day, six children and adults in New Zealand are diagnosed with a blood cancer like leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma. Leukaemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand is the national charity dedicated to supporting patients and their families, this support can last months or even years.

Leukaemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand receives no government funding, so please sponsor Louise and help support this great cause.

It’s simple (and secure) – follow the link below and click on the “donate now” button in the top right of the page.

Step Up Sky Tower Stair Challenge – Sponsor Louise

Good luck Lou!