Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Obama on Air Pollution

Obama tightens air pollution limits
Suzanne Goldenberg US environment correspondent, Monday 17 December 2012 06.11 EST

EPA to cut release of soot from power plants and diesel engines, following link to higher rates of heart attacks and lung diseases

The Obama administration has set new limits on a deadly form of air pollution – and risked a backlash from industry early in a second term – by tightening restrictions on soot from smoke stacks and diesel engines.

The new rules from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will reduce the amount of soot released from power plants, diesel engines, refineries, and other industries.

The microscopic particles are linked to early death and higher rates of heart attacks, strokes and lung diseases, such as asthma.

The EPA administration in announcing the new standards on Friday promised sweeping public health benefits. "Families from around the country will benefit from the simple fact of being able to breathe cleaner air," said Jackson, adding that her two sons suffered from asthma.

The rules, finalised in response to a court-ordered deadline, were strenuously opposed by industry groups and by some members of Congress, setting up the stage for heightened confrontation during Obama's second term.

The administration is expected to roll out other pollution controls, which were put on hold in an election year.

The main oil lobby group, the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement: "There is no compelling scientific evidence for the policy decision to develop more stringent standards. The existing standards are working and will continue improving air quality."

James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who is the Senate's biggest doubter of climate change, said the new rules were the first wave of "an onslaught of post-election rulemakings that will place considerable burdens on our struggling economy and eventually push us over the 'regulatory cliff'".

Clean air advocates praised the decision as long overdue. The air quality standards were raised only after environmental group Earth Justice sued the EPA to enforce standards recommended by its own scientific advisers.

The American Lung Association, which had supported the suit, said in a statement that the new standard would save lives.

"We know clearly that particle pollution is harmful at levels well below those previously deemed to be safe," the statement said. "By setting a more protective standard, the EPA is stating that we as a nation must protect the health of the public by cleaning up even more of this lethal pollutant."

The new standards will limit annual average soot emissions to 12 micrograms per cubic metre of air by the end of the decade. The level, significantly more stringent than the standard of 15 micrograms set in 1997, was in the middle of a range of 11 to 13 micrograms recommended by EPA scientists.

Microscopic particles lodge in lungs and in the bloodstream and are especially dangerous to children and older people. They have been linked to severe asthma attacks.

Jackson said the new standards would result in health savings of between $4bn and $9bn. They will cost up to $350m to implement.

About 66 counties in the country now exceed the current standards, but the EPA estimates that by 2020 only seven counties – all in California – will have trouble meeting the new air quality standards.

The agency will rely on air quality monitors across the country to check on soot levels – especially along busy roads in urban areas. People living on busy roads are at a higher risk of exposure to soot particles.

Source: Guardian

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dirty Minds

Outside In: Dirty Minds

Pollution is ubiquitous in cities, but few rival Mexico City, one of the most smog-filled places in the world. Air pollution is known to cause asthma and other respiratory ailments, even heart disease. But it was still a leap when neuropathologist and toxicologist Lilian Calderón-Garcidueñas suggested that it might affect cognitive function—namely memory and learning.

After all, the brain is walled off from potential harm by the blood-brain barrier—tightly bound cells that restrict the passage of particles from the bloodstream into the cerebrospinal fluid bathing the brain. But Calderón, who works both at the University of Montana and Mexico's National Institute of Pediatrics, has found that the blood-brain barrier is not as impenetrable as once thought.

She recruited healthy children from Mexico City and nearby Polotitlán, where the air is much cleaner. After two years, Calderón was shocked to find that the Mexico City children lagged significantly on tests of memory and learning. MRIs revealed that about half of them had brain lesions similar to those found in Alzheimer's patients."People living in mega-cities do not have an intact blood-brain barrier," she says. "These lesions, they are leaks."

Severe air pollution, Calderón finds, leads to neuroinflammation and damages the brain's white matter. There's evidence that particulate from industrial smokestacks, car and truck exhaust, tobacco smoke, and other sources may be small enough to access the brain directly through neurons in the nose.
Another recent study, at the University of Ohio, found that mice exposed to particulate matter show not only sensory, memory, and learning impairments but also signs of depression.

Although pollution appears to cause measurable harm to the brain, Calderón does not believe that Mexico City's kids are destined to develop a severe neurodegenerative disease. They may be at higher risk, but exercising the mind can mediate damage that is otherwise beyond control.

"There is a lot of plasticity in the brain," Calderón emphasizes. The child whose parents read to him will fare better than the child left to sit in front of the TV all day. "You make new connections, new synapses. But if you are not using your brain, you cannot compensate."

Source: Psychology Today, March 2012

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Asthma-Allergy Connection

An estimated 20 million Americans have asthma, chronically inflamed airways that swell and make breathing difficult. And for at least 6 percent of them, inhaled allergens (such as pollen) can trigger the attacks, says New York City allergist Clifford Bassett, M.D. If you have asthma, getting your seasonal allergies under control should help you. If you don't, doing so could prevent you from developing asthma in the first place.

Soruce: Natural Health, May 2012