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London mayor calls for ban on wood-burning stoves

Wood-burning stoves could be banned in some areas to combat air pollution under proposals by the London mayor, Sadiq Khan.

Under the proposals, wood-burning stoves would be banned in urban areas with poor air quality. In recent years, wood-burning stoves have increased in popularity with 1.5m sold across Britain (they are most popular in south-east England, where 16% of households have them, compared with 5% nationally).

Between a quarter and a third of all of London’s fine-particle pollution is estimated to come from domestic wood burning. Khan said: “Non-transport sources contribute half of the deadly emissions in London, so we need a hard-hitting plan of action to combat them similar to moves I am taking to reduce pollution from road vehicles.”

“With more than 400 schools located in areas exceeding legal pollution levels, and such significant health impacts on our most vulnerable communities, we cannot wait any longer, and I am calling on government to provide the capital with the necessary powers to effectively tackle harmful emissions from a variety of sources.”

The mayor has asked the environment department to amend the Clean Air Act to allow for the creation of zero-emission zones where the burning of solid fuel is not allowed from 2025 on-wards.

A Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) spokesperson told the Guardian: “We are determined to improve air quality and have put in place a £3bn plan to reduce roadside emissions.”

“Next year we will publish a comprehensive Clean Air Strategy which will address all sources of air pollution. We are also raising consumer awareness about the impact of burning wood on health and working with industry to help reduce harmful emissions.”

London’s emergency air quality alert was triggered last week for the seventh time in thirteen months. Polluted air from the continent combined with toxic air in London to create dangerous levels of pollution.

[Source: The Guardian]

New regulations for fuel specifications come into force 2 October 2017 (NZ)

New Zealand’s fuel specifications are changing as follows:

  • Introducing a total oxygen limit, which potentially allows a wider range of fuel blends;
  • Increasing New Zealand’s limit for methanol in petrol from one to three per cent volume;
  • Raising the biodiesel blend limit in diesel from five to seven per cent; and
  • Reducing the sulphur level allowed in petrol from 50 to 10 parts per million.

These amendments will take effect from 2 October 2017, except for the change to the maximum sulphur level, which will come into effect on 1 July 2018.

More information is available on the Ministry for Business, Innovation & Employment’s website on the 2016/17 updates to New Zealand’s engine fuel specifications.

Improving the quality of WHO guidelines over the last decade: progress and challenges

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidelines range from specific interventions targeting emerging health issues to general public health guidance. In 2007, WHO established the Guidelines Review Committee (GRC) to ensure that WHO guidelines meet the highest international standards and contain trustworthy and implementable recommendations. While the GRC played a positive role in the quality control of guidelines, these were often too long and technical, dissemination needed to improve and more products were needed for targeted audiences among other concerns such as issuing recommendations despite low-quality evidence,

A recent WHO evaluation concluded that although the GRC played a positive role in quality control of guidelines, the guidelines were often too long and technical, distribution needed to improve, and more derivative products are needed for specific audiences. Other identified concerns include issuance of strong recommendations despite low-quality evidence, suboptimal use of evidence in developing recommendations, insufficient diversity among guideline development group members, and incomplete adherence to WHO’s conflict of interest policy.

The production of high-quality guidelines is challenging for any organisation. WHO faces additional challenges having to adapt global recommendations to a local setting, which requires derivative products such as implementation tools or how-to manuals to ensure uptake. WHO Collaborating Centres, of which there are over 700 globally, play a crucial role in supporting guideline development; however, confusion arises when Collaborating Centres publish advice that is interpreted as being issued by WHO when this is not the case. Development of guidelines for emergency settings is particularly challenging because of time constraints and the evidence to inform future actions is often insufficient, particularly in the context of evolving or emerging public health threats. Finally, the framework underpinning guideline development at WHO—the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE)—was initially developed for clinical interventions, and although GRADE can be successfully applied to the development of guidelines in public health, there are numerous challenges, such as the formulation of recommendations on complex interventions, use of non-traditional types of data (eg, big data), and hazard identification.

Several steps would improve the quality of guidelines issued by WHO. First, WHO needs to put the necessary resources, both monetary and staff time, into producing trustworthy and effective guidelines. Second, WHO needs to promote and support evaluations of its guidelines to ensure an ongoing cycle of quality improvement. Third, collaboration needs to be augmented both within WHO and with external partners so that common challenges are discussed and solutions shared. Fourth, clear processes and methods for guideline development in the context of emergencies are needed to help to ensure valid recommendations and optimal transparency and usability, regardless of the development timeframe. Finally, guideline development must be receptive to the needs of end users. Guidelines need to be succinct and written for the target audience, while still describing transparent methods. Tools for guideline implementation, adaptation, and updating need to be planned from the beginning of each guideline development process, and not treated as afterthoughts.

WHO looks forward to its next 10 years of guideline development, meeting the substantial challenges head on, while continuing to self-reflect, evaluate, learn, and evolve. In an increasingly crowded arena of global health, WHO will work to ensure that its guidelines remain a trustworthy source of relevant, usable, and impactful normative guidance for Member States and the global public health community.

[Source: The Lancet]

Stuttgart judge demands diesel bans from 2018

A Stuttgart judge has ruled that retrofitting illegally polluting diesel vehicles will not solve the German region’s air quality crisis and demanded a diesel ban be implemented in the city from January 2018.

The ruling means Stuttgart’s government must rewrite its Air Quality Plan (AQP), as the current version is inadequate and will not protect people’s health in the shortest time possible.

Air quality in the region is illegally poor, regularly breaching limits for toxic gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and dangerous coarse particles (PM10). The levels are some of the worst in Germany.

Stuttgart’s local government came up with a draft Air Quality Plan in response to legal action launched by environmental lawyers ClientEarth and German charity Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH).

The draft plan contained some positive measures – including a reactive ‘peak pollution’ diesel ban – but was not adequate to tackle Stuttgart’s air pollution, in the charities’ view. Shortly before the hearing, Stuttgart’s authorities tried to take a step back and avoid diesel bans, relying on the car industry’s proposals to retrofit older “Euro 5” diesel models.

But the judge agreed with ClientEarth and DUH that it was insufficient and ruled that restricting access to the most polluting diesel vehicles is unavoidable to protect the health of people living and working in Stuttgart.

ClientEarth clean air lawyer Ugo Taddei said: “Hot on the heels of Dusseldorf and Munich, now Stuttgart too has been ordered by a court to introduce restrictions on the most polluting diesel vehicles. In striking contrast to reluctant governments and a discredited car industry, courts across Europe are stepping in to protect people’s right to clean air and to impose effective measures that will put a definitive end to this public health crisis.

“The judge has clarified that a diesel ban is unavoidable. Stuttgart’s authorities must now find rapid and effective ways to solve the region’s air quality issues. This should include a more structured approach that acknowledges the emissions issues with diesel vehicles – it must also not put undue confidence in what retrofitting can achieve.”

Lawyer Remo Klinger, who represented the NGOs in the case, said: “The court saw through the bluster of the Stuttgart authorities’ plan, posing critical questions and dismissing the arguments. We now have a reinforced decision that says diesel bans are the way forward and actionable as of today. This goes even further than the progressive decision by Düsseldorf in September – diesel bans are not just permitted in certain streets: they can be implemented for the whole low emission zone.”

Debate around diesel bans is ongoing in Germany, which is home to many global automotive heavyweights. Most recently, Munich’s mayor announced he would implement a diesel ban, on the basis that he could see “no other way” to bring alarming air pollution levels in the region down as quickly as possible.

A decision is due this autumn from the German Federal Administrative Court, which will determine whether cities have the power to ban diesel vehicles or the federal government must decide.

Stuttgart’s authorities must now introduce restrictions on diesel vehicles from January 2018 to tackle the public health emergency facing the city.

[Source: ClientEarth]

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!

Air pollution more harmful to children in cars than outside

Children are at risk of dangerous levels of air pollution in cars because exposure to toxic air is often far higher inside than outside vehicles. Prof Sir David King, a former UK Government chief scientific adviser, writing for the Guardian, says walking or cycling to school would be much better for children’s health. The warning comes as the UK government faces a third legal defeat for failing to tackle the country’s illegal levels of air pollution. Air pollution is known to damage children’s developing lungs but recent research also indicates it harms children’s ability to learn at school and may damage their DNA.

“Children sitting in the backseat of vehicles are likely to be exposed to dangerous levels [of air pollution],” said King. “You may be driving a cleaner vehicle but your children are sitting in a box collecting toxic gases from all the vehicles around you.” King, who now advises the British Lung Foundation says “It’s been shown that the health benefits of walking and cycling far outweigh the costs of breathing in pollution. If more drivers knew the damage they could be doing to their children, I think they’d think twice about getting in the car.”

A range of experiments, some as far back as 2001, have shown that drivers inside vehicles are exposed to far higher levels of air pollution than those walking or cycling along the same urban routes. Prof Stephen Holgate, an asthma expert at Southampton University and chair of the Royal College of Physicians working party on air pollution, said there was enough evidence to tell parents that walking and cycling exposes their children to less air pollution than driving and increase physical exercise. Children are more vulnerable than adults, because air pollution can stunt the growing of their lungs and it increases the risk of sensitisation which can lead to asthma and other respiratory conditions. “There are multiple benefits to be gained. But parents are confused at the moment because they think there is less pollution in cars than outside, which is not the case.”

Recent research has added to the concern about the impact of air pollution on children, beyond the direct harm to their lungs. A study in Barcelona showed that air pollution reduces the ability of children to concentrate and slows their reaction times. A smaller study, in California, showed higher levels of traffic-related air pollution correlated with increased DNA damage in children.”

The environmental law firm ClientEarth has defeated the ministers twice in the courts over the adequacy of government air quality plans. Ministers’ latest proposals were published on 5 May but were widely condemned as inadequate, and ClientEarth is now suing the UK government a third time.

“Air pollution hasn’t been taken seriously,” said Holgate. “There is a very strange situation where the government has to make laws by being taken to court repeatedly. In my view it is really quite appalling that we haven’t started to deal with this properly and put children’s and adults’ health first.”

[Source: The Guardian, 12 June 2017]

Google Street View cars to map air quality in California

The Environmental Defense Fund and the University of Texas in Austin (UT Austin) along with Google Earth Outreach deployed two Google Street View mapping cars equipped with air quality sensors to measure and chart air pollution in Oakland, California and provide a detailed picture of where people are at greatest risk of breathing unhealthy air at 30 metre intervals.

Over the course of the year-long project, the cars made three million unique measurements while driving more than 22,530 kilometres, with each street being sampled an average of 30 times, creating one of the largest, most spatially precise datasets of mobile air pollution measurements ever assembled.

Conventional assessments of urban pollution rely on data from a relative handful of fixed air quality monitors, emission inventories and computer models to characterize air pollution in a city. There are just three stationary, regulatory-grade air quality monitors which measure urban background pollution levels in Oakland. However, uncertainties remain about the variation in pollution levels in the areas between the monitors, making it difficult to know precisely where dirty air comes from or who is affected.

“The new mobile technology allows us to measure air pollution levels where people actually breathe the air, at street level,” said Joshua Apte, assistant professor at UT Austin, and lead author of the study. “By allowing us to understand how air pollution varies between and even within city blocks, this technique will help policymakers and the public make smarter choices about how to reduce pollution and improve public health.”

[Source: Adam Frost, Traffic Technology Today, 8 June 2017]