A new study in The Lancet has shown that between 2013 and 2017, air pollution in 74 key Chinese cities fell by a third, driven by a 85.4% decline in household air pollution and a 12% decline in PM2.5. As a result, the death rate attributable to air pollution has plummeted by more than 60%, saving hundreds of thousands of lives.
(Although – gulp – the average annual population-weighted PM2·5 exposure in China was 52·7 μg/m3 (95% uncertainty interval [UI] 41·0–62·8) in 2017, which is 9% lower than in 1990 (57·8 μg/m3, 45·0–67·0)).
[Source: Future Crunch, 17 Sep 2020]
This paper presents a case study from Auckland, where traffic flows reduced by 60–80% as a result of a government-led initiative to contain the virus by limiting all transport to only essential services. Ambient pollutant concentrations of NO2, O3, BC, PM2.5, and PM10 are compared between the lockdown period and comparable periods in the historical air pollution record, while taking into account changes in the local meteorology.
This ‘natural experiment’ in source emission reductions had significant but non-linear impacts on air quality. While emission inventories and receptor modelling approaches confirm the dominance of traffic sources for NOx (86%), and BC (72%) across the city, observations suggest a consequent reduction in NO2 of only 34–57% and a reduction in BC of 55–75%. The observed reductions in PM2.5 (still likely to be dominated by traffic emissions), and PM10 (dominated by sea salt, traffic emissions to a lesser extent, and affected by seasonality) were found to be significantly less (8–17% for PM2.5 and 7–20% for PM10).
[Source: Patel H., et al., 2020. Implications for air quality management of changes in air quality during lockdown in Auckland (New Zealand) in response to the 2020 SARS-CoV-2 epidemic. Science of the Total Environment. Vol 746. Dec 2020. 141129. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.141129]
New research finds brake dust has a “worrying” effect on health, with potentially “important policy implications” given it makes up a larger proportion of traffic pollution than exhaust fumes. When cars brake, they release metallic dust into the air. According to scientists behind the study, these particles stop vital immune cells from doing their job of protecting our lungs and lead to a greater risk of bacterial infections such as coughs, colds, pneumonia and bronchitis.
The UK-based research group was surprised to find that the brake dust had similar effects as diesel fumes, which typically receive more attention.
The study points out that exhaust pollution only makes up 7% of small particulate matter pollution (PM2.5). The rest comes from non-exhaust sources – namely from tires, clutches and brake pads. The latter is responsible for 20% of particulates.
Ian Mudway, who led the research at the MRC Centre for Environment and Health at King’s College, London, said that while it is “completely justified” that all eyes are on exhaust emissions, “we should not forget the importance of other components”.
A European transition to electric cars, which have less need to brake, “could be a slight benefit”, said Florent Grelier, an engineer at Brussels-based green group Transport & Environment. “Though of course, any car with a brake is going to be contributing.”
Mudway agreed, saying: “There is no such thing as a zero-emission vehicle, and as regulations to reduce exhaust emissions kick in, the contribution from these sources are likely to become more significant.”
According to Grelier, it is possible non-exhaust pollutants will be included in the post Euro-6 car emissions regulation, due in mid-2020. “That being said, the negotiations are still in very early stages,” he added.
He forecast that continued pressure from the EU’s Joint Research Centre and mounting scientific scrutiny will extend the conversation from exhausts to non-exhaust sources of air pollution.
Frans Timmermans, European Commission executive vice-president in charge of the European Green Deal, has said new measures are required to address tire pollution.
[Source: Car Lines, Feb 2020]
Continued exposure to air pollution has been linked to a whole host of diseases from pulmonary ailments to brain-related ones in people of all ages. It follows then that reducing exposure to toxic air should have health benefits. And indeed, that is what the authors of a new study have found.
In fact, say the researchers from the Environmental Committee of the Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS), the health benefits can be quite dramatic. “Reducing pollution at its source can have a rapid and substantial impact on health,” they explain in the paper published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.
“Within a few weeks, respiratory and irritation symptoms, such as shortness of breath, cough, phlegm, and sore throat, disappear; school absenteeism, clinic visits, hospitalizations, premature births, cardiovascular illness and death, and all-cause mortality decrease significantly.”
They reached this conclusion after reviewing the results of various interventions worldwide that have served to reduce the extent of air pollution at its source. They then evaluated the outcomes and examined how long they took to manifest themselves. The results were eye-opening.
In Ireland, for instance, during the early stages of a ban on smoking the health benefits included a 13% drop in all-cause mortality, a 26% drop in the rate of ischemic heart disease, a 32% drop in the number of strokes, and a 38% drop in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Not only that but non-smokers also greatly benefited from the ban on smoking. Perhaps that should come as no surprise as second hand smoking has been known to have adverse health effects for non smokers who are exposed to cigarette smoke.
Meanwhile, a 13-month-long closure of a steel mill in Utah, in the United States, led to a state of affairs whereby hospitalizations for pneumonia, pleurisy, bronchitis and asthma were halved. The daily mortality fell by 16% for every 100 μg/m3 PM10 (a pollutant) decrease. Pregnant women were less likely to have premature births while school absenteeism by children also decreased by 40%.
In Nigeria, where indoor cooking has long been a health hazard, especially for poor families, in families that reduced indoor air pollution at home by using clean cook stoves pregnant women gave birth to children with higher birthweights, experienced greater gestational age at delivery, and had less perinatal mortality, the researchers say.
“We knew there were benefits from pollution control, but the magnitude and relatively short time duration to accomplish them were impressive,” said Dean Schraufnagel, a physician who was the report’s lead author. “Our findings indicate almost immediate and substantial effects on health outcomes followed reduced exposure to air pollution. It’s critical that governments adopt and enforce WHO guidelines for air pollution immediately.”
[Source: Car Lines, Jan 2020]
Ditching fossil fuels would pay for itself through clean air alone.
The evidence is now clear enough that it can be stated unequivocally: It would be worth freeing ourselves from fossil fuels even if global warming didn’t exist. Especially now that clean energy has gotten so cheap, the air quality benefits alone are enough to pay for the energy transition.
This conclusion has been reaffirmed by the latest air quality research, presented at a recent hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform by Drew Shindell, Nicholas professor of earth science at Duke University (and a lead author on both recent IPCC reports).
Shindell’s testimony reveals that the effects of air pollution are roughly twice as bad as previously estimated.
“The air quality scientific community has hypothesized this for at least a decade, but research advances have let us quantify and confirm this notion, over and over,” says Rebecca Saari, an air quality expert who teaches in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Waterloo. “The air quality ‘co-benefits’ are generally so valuable that they exceed the cost of climate action, often many times over.”
If the numbers are shocking, it’s because the science has been developing rapidly. First, says Shindell, “there’s been a huge upsurge in work in developing countries, in particular China,” which has produced larger data sets and a wider, fuller picture of the real-world effects of exposure.
Second, where scientists used to focus almost exclusively on pollution effects for which there is an established and well-understood biological pathway, the recent production of enormous data sets (for instance, the entire population of more than 60 million Medicare patients) has allowed them to uncover new statistical correlations.
With giant data sets, “you can control for socioeconomic status, temperature, hypertension and other existing conditions,” and other variables, says Shindell. “You can convincingly demonstrate that correlation is in fact causal, because you can rule out essentially every other possibility.”
For example, scientists now know that exposure to smog (tiny, microscopic particulates) hurts prenatal and young brains. Even though they don’t yet fully understand the biological mechanism, they know it reduces impulse control and degrades academic performance. Similarly, they know it hurts the kidneys, the spleen, even the nervous system.
“The well-understood pathways, things like strokes, lower respiratory infections, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, only seem to capture about half the total,” Shindell says. “When you look at the [new] studies, you find that air pollution seems to affect almost every organ in the human body.”
“About twice as many people die in total as die just from the pathways we understand,” says Shindell. “We’ve been underestimating all along.”
While that may sound like a big jump, it is likely a lower bound. On both air pollution and climate change, the study omitted many effects that “are clearly present but cannot yet be reliably quantified.” The true numbers are almost certainly higher.
New air pollution research ought to break the climate policy logjam
Climate change has often been framed as an intractable problem for international coordination, a matter of shared sacrifice, with every country incentivized to be a “free rider,” reaping the benefits without taking on any of the costs.
But the latest air pollution research, coupled with the plunging cost of clean energy, should render that dynamic moot.
It is true that climate change can only be averted with the entire world’s cooperation; if the US reduces its emissions to net zero but the other countries of the world (especially China and India) continue on their current trajectory, it will make almost no difference in temperature. The health benefits of avoided severe heat will not manifest.
However — and this is the crucial fact — the air quality benefits will manifest, no matter what the rest of the world does. Shindell’s team ran a version of their scenario in which the US came into compliance with a 2°C pathway but the rest of the world continued with current policies. “We found that US action alone would bring us more than two-thirds of the health benefits of worldwide action over the next 15 years,” Shindell testified, “with roughly half the total over the entire 50-year period analyzed.”
The air quality benefits arrive much sooner than the climate benefits. They are, at least for the next several decades, much larger. They can be secured without the cooperation of other countries. And, by generating an average of $700 billion a year in avoided health and labor costs, they will more than pay for the energy transition on their own. Climate change or no climate change, it’s worth ditching fossil fuels.
And if this is true in the US — which, after all, has comparatively clean air — it is true tenfold for countries like China and India, where air quality remains abysmal. A Lancet Commission study in 2017 found that in 2015, air pollution killed 1.81 million people in India and 1.58 million in China.
Air pollution ought to be seen as a global civil rights crisis
The extraordinary level of suffering humanity is currently experiencing from air pollution is not necessary for modernity; it could be reduced, at a cost well below the net social benefits, with clean energy technologies on hand.
If they are not necessary, then the millions of lives ended or degraded by fossil fuels every year are a choice. And when suffering on this scale, that is this brutally inequitable, becomes a choice, it enters the same ethical terrain as war, slavery, and genocide. The effects are more distributed over time and geography, as are the decision-making and the moral culpability, but the cumulative impact on human well-being — on our longevity, health, learning, and happiness — is comparable, and every bit as much worth fighting.
An appellate court in Missouri upheld more than $2 billion in damages against Johnson & Johnson, saying the company knew there was asbestos in its baby powder.
A Missouri appeals court on Tuesday ordered Johnson & Johnson and a subsidiary to pay $2.1 billion in damages to women who blamed their ovarian cancers on the company’s talcum products, including its iconic baby powder.
The decision slashed by more than half a record award of $4.69 billion in compensatory and punitive damages to the women, which was made in July 2018.
Johnson & Johnson still faces thousands of lawsuits from consumers who claim its talcum products were contaminated with asbestos that caused cancer. The company announced last month that it would stop selling baby powder made from talc in North America, though it would continue to market the product elsewhere in the world.
A spokeswoman said Johnson & Johnson would seek further review of the ruling by the Supreme Court of Missouri and defended its talcum products as safe.
“We continue to believe this was a fundamentally flawed trial, grounded in a faulty presentation of the facts,” Kim Montagnino, the spokeswoman, said. “We remain confident that our talc is safe, asbestos free and does not cause cancer.”
Mark Lanier, the lawyer who represented the plaintiffs, urged consumers to discard any baby powder they had in their homes. Six plaintiffs in the case died before the trial started, and five more women have died since the jury trial ended in 2018, he said.
Since this is a civil suit, “all you can do is fine them, and we need to fine them sufficiently that the industry wakes up and takes notice,” Mr. Lanier added.
In its decision, the appellate court noted that the company’s internal memorandums from as far back as the 1960s indicated that its talcum products — referred to as the “golden egg,” “company trust-mark” and “sacred cow” — contained asbestos, and that the mineral could be dangerous.
“A reasonable inference from all this evidence is that, motivated by profits, defendants disregarded the safety of consumers despite their knowledge the talc in their products caused ovarian cancer,” the court said.
The plaintiffs “showed clear and convincing evidence defendants engaged in conduct that was outrageous because of evil motive or reckless indifference,” the court said.
The court awarded $500 million in actual damages and $1.62 billion in punitive damages, reducing the original award of $550 million in compensatory damages and $4.14 billion in punitive damages after dismissing claims by some of the plaintiffs.
Johnson & Johnson has argued that faulty testing methods and shoddy science were responsible for findings of asbestos in its products. But thousands of people — mostly women with ovarian cancer — have sued, saying they were never warned of the potential risks.
The main ingredient in baby powder and many other bath powders was talc, a natural mineral known for its softness. Talc also helped lend baby powder its unique fragrance, said to be one of the most recognizable in the world.
In 1980, after consumer advocates raised concerns that talc contained traces of asbestos, an infamous carcinogen, the company developed an alternative powder made from cornstarch.
Though talcum powder has been promoted as soft and gentle enough for babies, and is sold with other infant products in stores, adult women have long been the main purchasers, using baby powder in pubic areas and to prevent chafing between the legs. Many women in hot climates use baby powder to stay dry.
Early lawsuits against the company pointed to talc as a cause of ovarian cancer, though the scientific evidence was not conclusive. In later cases, plaintiffs’ lawyers zeroed in on asbestos contamination as the culprit, saying the carcinogen could cause cancer even in trace amounts.
Talc is used in many cosmetic products, including lipstick, mascara, eye shadow, blush and foundation. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration issued several alerts warning that asbestos had been found in makeup, including eye shadow sold at Claire’s, a retailer popular with teenage girls.
Talc and asbestos are natural minerals, and their underground deposits develop under similar geological conditions. As a result, veins of asbestos may crisscross talc deposits in mines.
Indeed, internal memos unearthed during litigation revealed that Johnson & Johnson had been concerned about the possibility of asbestos contamination in its talc for at least 50 years. Asbestos was first linked to ovarian cancer in 1958, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer affirmed it was a cause of the cancer in a 2011 report.
As of March, Johnson & Johnson faced more than 19,000 lawsuits related to talc body powders. So far, the legal record has been mixed, with the company prevailing in some cases and losing in others. It is appealing nearly all of the cases it has lost.
Late last year, Johnson & Johnson recalled 33,000 bottles of baby powder after F.D.A. investigators said they had discovered asbestos in a bottle bought from an online retailer. But the company later said its own tests exonerated the product.
Johnson & Johnson is fending off lawsuits on other fronts as well, most notably ones related to opioids. In August 2019, an Oklahoma judge ruled that the company had oversold the benefits of the drugs while playing down the risks, and ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million in damages.
In October, in an unrelated case that involved the antipsychotic drug Risperdal, a Philadelphia jury ordered the company to pay $8 billion to a Maryland man who claimed he had been harmed by using the drug.
Johnson & Johnson is one of several companies racing to develop a vaccine to protect against the coronavirus. The company recently announced it would move up the start date for its safety trials in humans to the end of July. Johnson & Johnson has already signed deals with the federal government to create enough manufacturing capacity to make more than a billion doses of a vaccine, once it is found safe and effective.
“At some point there is a reputational question that mass tort cases bring, and they’re going to have to be concerned,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor who teaches about product liability at the University of Richmond in Virginia.
“They’ve built their entire reputation on being a family-friendly product producer,” Mr. Tobias said. “The classic example of that is talc, and the injuries these women suffered are severe.”
In February 2020, the Ministry for the Environment released a suite of proposed amendments to the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality (NESAQ). Standards currently exist under the NESAQ for particulate matter less than 10 micrometres in diameter (PM10) and wood burners. The proposed amendments include:
- new ambient standards for particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter (PM2.5),
- more stringent national wood burner design standards, and
- new standards for mercury emissions to air.
The aim of these proposed amendments is to bring New Zealand’s current air quality standards in line with international standards, improve air quality and associated health effects.
The Ministry is currently seeking feedback on these proposed amendments. The consultation documents and related information are available on the Ministry’s Improving the quality of our air website. Submissions close at 5pm on 31st July, 2020.
A woman walks across an empty Deansgate in central Manchester in late April. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images
Two million people in the UK with respiratory conditions such as asthma have experienced reduced symptoms during the coronavirus lockdown, according to the British Lung Foundation.
A survey by the charity of 14,000 people with lung conditions found one in six had noticed improvements in their health. Among children, the figure was higher, with one in five parents saying their child’s condition had been alleviated. Asthma sufferers in particular reported benefits, with one in four noting relief.
There is a well-established link between air pollution and lung disease. Of the 12 million people in the UK who live with conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, about 8 million have been diagnosed with asthma, of which 5.4 million are receiving treatment.
The number of visits to hospital emergency departments for asthma in England have also fallen by half during lockdown, according to Public Health England data. But it is unclear how much of the decrease is due to a reduction in symptoms or people’s reluctance to visit hospital during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Zak Bond, of the British Lung Foundation, said: “Now, more than ever before, we have all become aware of how important it is to look after our lungs, and the government has a duty to ensure that as the country recovers from Covid-19, we can continue to keep air pollution levels down and keep pushing them lower.”
There is growing evidence from around the world linking increased Covid-19 infections and deaths to air pollution exposure. On Friday, a cross-party group of MPs said air pollution must be kept at low levels to help avoid a second peak of infections.
Bond called for the rapid introduction of clean air zones in cities, where charges deter the use of the most polluting vehicles. But these have been delayed in cities such as Manchester, with officials citing the need to focus on the coronavirus response.
Bond said more support was needed for public transport, cycling and walking, and tougher air quality laws: “We want to see the government commit to reaching the World Health Organization’s guidelines for fine particulate matter by 2030 at the latest.”
Each year, air pollution leads to tens of thousands of early deaths in the UK. More than a third of local authorities in England have levels of fine particle pollution above the WHO’s limit. Nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant produced largely by diesel vehicles, is at illegal levels in 80% of urban areas.
Stephen Holgate, Medical Research Council clinical professor of immunopharmacology at the University of Southampton, said: “As one of the biggest health problems of our time, air pollution has the potential to harm everyone. It is so important we take this opportunity to recognise the lived experiences of people with lung conditions and apply what we have learned from the impact of lockdown to build a future where we prioritise clean air.”
The lockdown led to traffic falling to 1955 levels while both fine particle and NO2 pollution fell by up to half in cities. The British Lung Foundation survey found that more than 50% of people with lung conditions said they had noticed a decrease in air pollution since the start of lockdown.
One asthma sufferer, Paul, 14 from Liverpool, has often found it difficult to breathe, but has had to use his reliever inhaler a lot less during lockdown. “You can really feel the difference now,” he said. “I walk out, and I’m hit with clean air which is like a utopia compared to before.”
Dr Alison Cook, the chair of the Taskforce for Lung Health, a coalition of 30 organisations, said: “Children deserve to breathe cleaner air and to grow up in a country where their health is not put at risk by going outside.”
[Source: The Guardian 4 June 2020]
This is a huge opportunity – and a wero – to demonstrate commitments to diversity, write sector engineers Troy Brockbank, Elle Archer, Sifa Pole and Sina Cotter Tait.
Aotearoa is awash with discussion on how we might re-imagine our post-Covid future; what could and should our economy and society look like? The budget announcement of infrastructure spend and training is an chance for the construction industry to develop specific, targeted actions for impact. As Māori and Pasifika engineers working in the construction and infrastructure sector, we’re calling on the industry to build equity into its response for Māori and Pasifika workers. It’s a huge opportunity – and a wero – for our government and industry to demonstrate their recent public commitments to the Diversity Accord.
The construction industry is headed into difficult times, with industry analysts predicting up to a third of jobs at risk. Māori and Pasifika workers are heavy lifters in the industry, over-represented in the lowest-earning tiers of the industry, and exposed to a disproportionate and inequitable share of the recessionary risks. The consequences of this are grim – loss of crucial income and wellbeing for Māori and Pasifika families and communities, with significant downstream effects for our already-marginalised communities. However, the prospect of a well-funded Infrastructure-Led recovery presents the construction industry with a unique opportunity to address these inequities faced by Māori and Pasifika communities in Aotearoa, and to advance its own goals towards a diverse and inclusive industry.
What should our industry be doing? The TL:DR
Five ideas for meaningful change:
- Expand the criteria for ‘Shovel-Ready Projects’ to consider how these projects will give effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi
- Align priority work to the Wellbeing Budget Priorities, by adopting social procurement to select for firms offering employment to, and investing in, Māori and Pasifika workers
- Engage with, and increase Māori and Pasifika representation in industry leadership groups
- Rebalance the notoriously unfair risk carried by subcontractors and contract/casual labour through smart procurement and grounded risk allocation
- Ensure adequate accessibility to opportunities and career paths through innovative skills training and cross-industry partnerships.
What could it look like to consider Māori and Pasifika voices and values in the Covid-19 construction industry and infrastructure sector response?
This is a once in a generation opportunity to change how we think about our industry, calling for commitment, courage and long-term vision.
Project procurement is the most powerful lever our government has to effect change for Māori and Pasifika in the construction industry. Infrastructure New Zealand’s inclusion of social procurement as a guideline for the selection of “Shovel Worthy Projects” is excellent. We suggest also attaching well-considered diversity conditions to support Māori and Pasifika inclusion and representation, as a way of aligning with the Budget2020 priority. This isn’t as radical as it sounds – such conditions are becoming commonplace for other outcomes we value, such as environmental sustainability and gender diversity.
We don’t believe that our industry and our country can afford not to prioritise social outcomes in a nationwide recovery effort.
…As Minister Kris Fa’afoi has said: “We don’t succeed unless all of us succeed.” These words are resonant today. Protection of the construction industry must include our most vulnerable members and by extension our wider communities – and opportunities must be designed to be extended equitably to all.
Abridged – Full article here:
Troy Brockbank (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Hine, Ngāpuhi) is kaitohutohu matua taiao / senior environmental consultant; Elle Archer (Ngati Tamatera, Ngapūhi, Tuhoe) is a tech industry director and adviser; Sifa Pole (Pasifika-Tonga) is a professional engineer; Sina Cotter Tait (Pasifika-Samoa) is a chartered professional engineer and director.
The contributors acknowledge their identities as individual industry participants of Māori and/or Pasifika heritage, and do not claim to speak on behalf of a wider collective.
[Source: The Spinoff]