View topic - Outdoor air pollution is a significant health risk

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PostPosted: July 13th, 2013, 8:46 am 
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Residents downwind of coal-fired generation plants might want to add support to a quick conversion to natural gas. This study provides evidence that polluted air (in the form of fine particles inhaled over long periods of time) makes "outdoor air pollution among the most important environmental risk factors for health".

Much of the damage occurs in Asian cities where crowding and pollutants are high. But another study done in Europe (link in text) finds that even low concentrations of pollutants increase risk of lung cancer.

The results below are compared against the effects of climate change suggesting that polluted air is the more immediate issue to deal with in terms of safeguarding human health (this is also likely to be a critical issue with the larger voting public).

The coal phaseout going on in America and Canada should reduce health risk with time (eg. "Obama's war on coal"... no signs yet of Republican deniers jumping in with claims that these findings are lies and deception being spread by nuclear and natural gas lobbyists in Washington).

Quote:
Researchers estimate over two million deaths annually from air pollution

Jul 11, 2013

Over two million deaths occur each year as a direct result of human-caused outdoor air pollution, a new study has found.

In addition, while it has been suggested that a changing climate can exacerbate the effects of air pollution and increase death rates, the study shows that this has a minimal effect and only accounts for a small proportion of current deaths related to air pollution.

The study, which has been published today, 12 July, in IOP Publishing's journal Environmental Research Letters, estimates that around 470,000 people die each year because of human-caused increases in ozone.

It also estimates that around 2.1 million deaths are caused each year by human-caused increases in fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – tiny particles suspended in the air that can penetrate deep into the lungs, causing cancer and other respiratory disease.

Co-author of the study, Jason West, from the University of North Carolina, said: "Our estimates make outdoor air pollution among the most important environmental risk factors for health. Many of these deaths are estimated to occur in East Asia and South Asia, where population is high and air pollution is severe."

According to the study, the number of these deaths that can be attributed to changes in the climate since the industrial era is, however, relatively small. It estimates that a changing climate results in 1500 deaths due to ozone and 2200 deaths related to PM2.5 each year.

Climate change affects air pollution in many ways, possibly leading to local increases or decreases in air pollution. For instance, temperature and humidity can change the reaction rates which determine the formation or lifetime of a pollutant, and rainfall can determine the time that pollutants can accumulate.

Higher temperatures can also increase the emissions of organic compounds from trees, which can then react in the atmosphere to form ozone and particulate matter.

"Very few studies have attempted to estimate the effects of past climate change on air quality and health. We found that the effects of past climate change are likely to be a very small component of the overall effect of air pollution," continued West.

In their study, the researchers used an ensemble of climate models to simulate the concentrations of ozone and PM2.5 in the years 2000 and 1850. A total of 14 models simulated levels of ozone and six models simulated levels of PM2.5.

Previous epidemiological studies were then used to assess how the specific concentrations of air pollution from the climate models related to current global mortality rates.

The researchers' results were comparable to previous studies that have analysed air pollution and mortality; however, there was some variation depending on which climate model was used.

"We have also found that there is significant uncertainty based on the spread among different atmospheric models. This would caution against using a single model in the future, as some studies have done," continued West


http://phys.org/news/2013-07-million-de ... ution.html

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PostPosted: July 13th, 2013, 12:44 pm 
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I agree, but "significant" has several different meanings.

My wife grew up in Pittsburgh in the 40s,, 50s. The air was very dirty through most of that period. She now has no "significant" health issues, takes no medication. The only members of her family who have shown "significant" problems have been those who smoked.

Studies like the one described are good for detecting small but statistically significant increases in mortality and health risk. Then comes the debate over how much savings in health cost and suffering can we get for how much expenditure. Pittsburgh back then, and most Chinese cities now, can save a bunch for an entirely acceptable expenditure. But here in Atlanta, we're arguing about ozone levels that probably can't be reduced much except by reductions in auto travel that are disproportionately costly, and politically unacceptable. Atlantans aren't going to make giant sacrifices for rather modest improvements in respiratory and related health. And personally, I'm not going to, either.


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PostPosted: July 13th, 2013, 3:11 pm 
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EZ, I was about to take you at your word on Pittsburgh's air pollution cleanup since I'd read myself several times about the improved air quality... when a quick look at the wiki showed that Pittsburgh still has some of the highest particulate concentrations in American cities... sheesh. But that's a wiki so who knows who wrote that.

Smokestack emissions, especially from coal plants, still are an air pollution problem, not only for particulates, but also for ozone, mercury, dioxin, arsenic, formaldehyde, etc, and the GHGs.

Coal isn't popular here in Canada since the American pollutants drift north across the border. Ontario is set to be entirely coal-free in a year or two.... hopefully America won't screw up it's phaseouts as badly as our Ontario govvie did, to the tune of several hundred million in lost tax dollars as a result of natural gas plant cancellations, NIMBYs and politics.

Transportation-related ozone may be hard to reduce with the cultural need to drive but the benefits from smokestack cleanups, coal conversion to NG, are significant enough so that I can't see America not adopting that measure for a variety of reasons. Obama keeps referring to natural gas, speech after speech, so that may be an indication where the wind's blowing.

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PostPosted: July 14th, 2013, 5:40 pm 
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Not to put a damper on your post,FT, but I thought the fact that coal plants cause a lot of premature deaths was 'old news' esp. here in Ont. It seem to get a lot of publicity around the time the phase-out of coal was announced. IIRC, there was a medical org(OMA,CMA?) that lobbied for the phase-out based on health effects.

BTW(and Google this if you like), the list of pollutants from a coal fired station include more radionuclides than from most nuclear stns.

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PostPosted: July 14th, 2013, 7:07 pm 
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Ambient Air has been an issue for more than 2 decaded here in the US. I live in an EPA Non- attainment area due to coal power plants west and south of Lake Michigan. Unfortunately tracking the chronic effects of fugitive ambient air emissions is a difficult issue when you add in the synergistic impacts of other health related issue like smoking, and heavy alcohol use.

I also don't disagree that the impact is more immediate than climate change. It's been impacting us for over 100 years now, and continues to impact us. But the reality is that both ambient air and climate change are pretty well fixed by the same action. It's not a popular action... but

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PostPosted: July 15th, 2013, 7:30 am 
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Wotrock,

Quote:
I thought the fact that coal plants cause a lot of premature deaths was 'old news' esp. here in Ont.


Yeah, the effects of coal have been known since the industrial revolution and earlier, but the use of coal and the deaths keep on coming (for instance, the London smog disaster of 1952 which killed over 10,000 in several days and more recently smog in Chinese cities becoming known despite news blackouts).

The study above was newsworthy for the evidence that polluted air now kills over two million a year around the world and that compared against the predicted effects of climate change.

I've read about the radioactive fallout from coal, not sure what the effects are exactly... the Ontario government has to make a decision soon on whether to build two new nukes in Darlington. The natural gas plant in Mississauga was screwed up so badly, the decision to go with nukes may be more popular with the public if the political pros and cons are only being considered.

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PostPosted: July 15th, 2013, 3:18 pm 
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frozentripper: "EZ, I was about to take you at your word on Pittsburgh's air pollution cleanup since I'd read myself several times about the improved air quality... when a quick look at the wiki showed that Pittsburgh still has some of the highest particulate concentrations in American cities... sheesh. But that's a wiki so who knows who wrote that."

The particulates being counted today are finer and of a different nature. My wife and her family would laugh and laugh at your suggestion that Pittsburg's air today is just as full of particulates. Back then, the particles were quite visible on window sills, and could be swept off surfaces into dust pans. It was similar in Chicago back then. And the MIT campus back in 1960 was sooty from nearby factories. Go back to those cities now, and subjectively the air and the windowsills are much cleaner.

I can't use EPA numbers unless they are obtained in a way that allows comparison.


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