Greek economic crisis has cleared the air

EVEN the darkest cloud may have a silver lining. The sharp drop in air pollution that accompanied Greece’s economic crisis could be a boon to the nation’s health.

Mihalis Vrekoussis of the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia and colleagues used three satellites and a network of ground-based instruments to measure air pollution over Greece between 2007 and 2011. Levels of nitrogen dioxide fell over the whole country, with a particularly steep drop of 30 to 40 per cent over Athens. Nitrogen monoxide, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide also fell (Geophysical Research Letters, DOI: 10.1002/grl.50118).

Pollution levels have been falling since 2002, but the rate accelerated after 2008 by a factor of 3.5, says Vrekoussis. He found that the drop in pollution correlated with a decline in oil consumption, industrial activity and the size of the economy. “This suggests that the additional reported reduction in gas pollutant levels is due to the economic recession,” he says.

In Athens, a combination of heavy car use and lots of sunshine have created serious health problems, so city dwellers should see real benefits. Sunlight triggers chemical reactions that make the car exhaust pollution more harmful, for instance by forming small particulates that cause respiratory diseases. “Hospital admissions for asthma should decline,” says Dwayne Heard of the University of Leeds in the UK.

It’s not all good news: despite the drop in pollutants, levels of ground-level ozone – another cause of respiratory disease – have risen. Ozone would normally be suppressed by nitrogen oxides, but those have declined. That will take the edge off the benefit, says Heard.

Greece isn’t the only country where air pollution has dropped. Nitrogen oxide levels fell across Europe after the 2008 financial crisis (Scientific Reports, doi.org/j74). In the US, nitrogen dioxide levels fell between 2005 and 2011, with the sharpest fall at the height of the recession (Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, doi.org/j75).

Such declines can be one-offs, or governments can help make them permanent, says Ronald Cohen of the University of California, Berkeley, who led the US study. “A time of crisis is a real opportunity to initiate change.” After the 2008 financial downturn, for instance, the US and Europe committed to pollution cuts. “In 10 years, there will be an end to air pollution in the US and Europe,” says Cohen. “It’s an incredible success story.”

Greece, however, is not seizing the current opportunity, says Vrekoussis. “Investments in clean technologies and low-carbon green strategies have been abandoned,” he says. “I’m afraid that in the long run the negative effects will override the positives.”

Global greenhouse gas emissions initially fell in the wake of the financial crisis, but not by much. Emerging economies like China and India continued their economic growth, so a small emissions drop in 2009 was followed by a huge rise in 2010 which continued in 2011.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21729014.300-greek-economic-crisis-has-cleared-the-air.html

 

People told to stay indoors as air pollution in Beijing reaches hazardous levels – off-the-chart air-quality reading of 728

 

Associated Press

 

Saturday, 12 January 2013

 

 

 

Air pollution levels in China’s notoriously dirty capital were at dangerous levels today, with cloudy skies blocking out visibility and warnings issued for people to remain indoors.

 

 

 

Local authorities warned that the severe pollution was likely to continue until Tuesday.

 

The Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center has reported air-quality indexes between 176 and 442 from its monitors throughout the greater Beijing area since yesterday. The index indicates the level of airborne PM 2.5 particulates, which are tiny particular matters considered the most harmful to health.

 

The air is considered good when the index is at 50 or below, but hazardous with an index between 301 and 500, when people are warned to avoid outdoor physical activities.

 

Monitors in Beijing reported air quality indexes above 300 yesterday, and the centre’s real-time reports showed Beijing remained heavily polluted today, with the indexes at or approaching 500 at 5pm from some monitoring stations.

 

A warning scrolled across the monitoring centre’s website said that the density of PM2.5 had reached 700 micrograms per cubic meter in many parts of Beijing and that the polluted air was expected to linger for the next three days.

 

Monitors at the US Embassy in Beijing recorded an off-the-chart air-quality reading of 728 as of 4pm Saturday and said the PM2.5 density had reached 845 micrograms per cubic meter.

 

Readings are often different in different parts of Beijing.

 

According to rules issued by the city government in December, all outdoor sports activities are to stop and factories have to reduce their production capacity if Beijing’s official air-quality index exceeds 500.

 

Air pollution is a major problem in China due to its rapid pace of industrialization, reliance on coal power, explosive growth in car ownership and disregard to environmental laws.

 

In Beijing, authorities have blamed foggy conditions and a lack of wind for the high concentration of air pollutants.

 

Several other cities, including Tianjin on the coast east of Beijing and southern China’s Wuhan city, also reported severe pollution over the last several days.

 

AP

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/people-told-to-stay-indoors-as-air-pollution-in-beijing-reaches-hazardous-levels-8448944.html#

Excess pneumonia deaths linked to engine exhaust

Repost File 2008

Contact: Rachael Davies
rdavies@bma.org.uk
44-020-738-36529
BMJ-British Medical Journal

Atmospheric pollutants and mortalities in English local authority areas

Engine exhaust fumes are linked to excess deaths from pneumonia across England, suggests research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The annual death toll is comparable to that caused by the London smog in 1952, suggests the author.

Data on atmospheric emissions, published causes of death, and expected causes of death for 352 local authority jurisdictions in England were combined to calculate the impact of pollution on death rates between 1996 and 2004.

Levels of air pollution varied substantially among the local authorities.

Calculations revealed that pneumonia, peptic ulcer, coronary and rheumatic heart diseases, lung and stomach cancers, and other diseases, were all associated with a range of emissions, as well as deprivation, smoking, binge drinking and a northern location.

Further analysis, allowing for the effects of the social factors, showed that pneumonia deaths were strongly and independently linked to emissions, with the exception of sulphur dioxide from coal burning.

The primary culprits were emissions associated with oil combustion, including vehicle exhaust fumes.

During the eight years of the study there were almost 390.000 deaths from pneumonia.

And 35 local authorities accounted for almost 54,000 of these deaths, or around15,,000 more than would be expected.

“Total annual losses as a result of air pollution probably approach those of the 1952 London smog,” writes the author.

Because the links were so strong across all categories of exposure and deaths were so much higher than would be expected, this suggests that these pollutants directly damage lung tissue, he says.

Excess deaths from the progressive lung disease COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and rheumatic heart disease, both of which are characterised by failing lung function, could also be precipitated by engine exhaust, he adds.