Navigation path

Science for
Environment Policy

News Archive » Air Pollution

Here you will find all Science for Environment Policy publications, organised by topic.

Browse archives by year and theme below.

Nitrification inhibitors — climate change mitigation tool recommended by the IPCC – may be less effective than previously thought

Nitrification inhibitors are thought to mitigate climate change by reducing emissions of nitrous oxide — a potent greenhouse gas — from land. However, they may not be as effective as once thought, a new study suggests. The researchers found that, while inhibitors decrease emissions of nitrous oxide, they can increase emissions of ammonia — which is later converted to nitrous oxide. They recommend these effects are considered when evaluating inhibitors as a mitigation technology.

Nitrous oxide could be removed from the atmosphere with simultaneous generation of renewable energy

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a potent greenhouse gas and atmospheric pollutant. A new study proposes tackling both problems by removing N2O from the atmosphere using a combination of two innovative technologies — photocatalytic breakdown of the N2O to nitrogen and oxygen, and this within a solar chimney power plant that generates renewable electricity. Although some way off from commercial development, the researchers say this approach is feasible, and they outline how these two technologies can be integrated to reduce the climate impact and polluting effects of N2O emissions.

Car-free cities: healthier citizens

No cities are yet fully car-free, but many have managed or plan to restrict access to city centres for privately owned combustion-engine passenger cars. Health benefits will come from reduced traffic-related air pollution, less noise and lower levels of heat emitted from vehicles. The greatest health benefit, however, is likely to come from increased physical activity as people walk, cycle and move to catch public transport, according to a review of the potential health benefits of car-free cities.

Greener cities and more exercise could dramatically reduce urban mortality rates

Researchers have estimated that, annually, almost 3 000 deaths (i.e. 20% of mortality) in Barcelona, Spain, are premature, and would be preventable if residents lived in urban environments that met international exposure recommendations for physical activity, air pollution, noise, heat and access to green spaces. The results emphasise the need to reduce motorised traffic, promote active and public transport, and provide adequate green space to encourage exercise and mitigate the impacts of environmental hazards in cities.

Socioeconomic status and noise and air pollution - September 2016

Lower socioeconomic status is generally associated with poorer health, and both air and noise pollution contribute to a wide range of other factors influencing human health. But do these health inequalities arise because of increased exposure to pollution, increased sensitivity to exposure, increased vulnerabilities, or some combination? This In-depth Report presents evidence on whether people in deprived areas are more affected by air and noise pollution — and suffer greater consequences — than wealthier populations.

Aerosol pollutants can have long-range effects on ocean oxygen levels

Oxygen decline is occurring in many of the world’s oceans and has important consequences for marine ecosystems, but the causes are not fully understood. Aerosol pollutants may be partly responsible, according to a new study which modelled the effects of atmospheric pollution over the Pacific Ocean. The findings suggest that air pollution can exacerbate climate impacts on the ocean, even when the source is far away.

Coordinated policies can benefit both air quality and climate change

Pollutants emitted by human activities have caused declines in air quality and drastic changes to climate. Despite being inextricably linked, these two major environmental issues tend to be viewed separately by policy. However, in certain instances, considering these issues together could lead to strategies that benefit both, according to a newly published review.

Chittagong ship recycling industry linked to carcinogenic air pollution

Dangerously high air pollution in the vicinity of shipbreaking yards has been detected by a recent study, where the concentrations of toxic chemicals in the air were found to be above carcinogenic risk limits (as set by the World Health Organisation). The research, carried out in Chittagong, Bangladesh, noted that shipbreaking activities and the subsequent processing and treatment of materials – particularly the burning of waste — result in emissions of persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

Ship recycling: reducing human and environmental impacts – June 2016

The ship-recycling industry — which dismantles old and decommissioned ships, enabling the re-use of valuable materials — is a major supplier of steel and an important part of the economy in many countries, such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Turkey. However, mounting evidence of negative impacts undermines the industry’s contribution to sustainable development. This Thematic Issue presents a selection of recent research on the environmental and human impacts of shipbreaking.

Air quality assessment in the EU: room for improvement?

Different modelling approaches are used to design and assess air quality plans across Europe. This study assessed the strengths and weaknesses of these different approaches. The researchers conclude that a large variety of models is in use, without a preferred or standard model having emerged yet. They identify integrating local-scale and large-scale models and verifying models with measurements as the most important challenges.

Mercury levels exceed safety standards for fish in six European freshwater and estuary sites

Mercury levels in bream (Abramis brama) collected from six European sampling sites from 2007 to 2013 exceeded the Water Framework Directive’s safety limit for fish in all but one site in 2012, a new study discovers. The findings suggest greater efforts need to be made to prevent mercury pollution.

Identifying emerging risks for environmental policies

How can we better anticipate environmental changes? In our rapidly changing world, risks occur from ongoing changes (such as those occurring in the climate), to more sudden-onset risks, such as mutating microbial pathogens. This Future Brief explores some of the tools and approaches that can be used to identify emerging risk, including strategic foresight tools, citizen science and state-of-the-art monitoring technologies.

Building materials used between 1950 and 1980 in Europe may contribute to PCB air pollution

European buildings built in the 1950s, 60s and 70s may contribute towards levels of toxins in the body, a new study suggests. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were found at elevated levels in children that lived in houses and studied in schools built during this period, before PCBs were more thoroughly regulated in the construction industry. Although food is generally a more concentrated source of these toxins, the authors say exposure through these environments should be minimised wherever possible.

Very high CO2 levels decrease yield and antioxidant content of some green vegetables

Increases in the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere can be beneficial to crops, by providing a source of carbon for growth. However, very high levels of CO2 have the reverse effect, decreasing the yield and quality of vegetable crops, a new study has shown. The researchers say atmospheric CO2 concentration should be kept below 5 000 ppm to enhance the yield of leafy vegetables such as cabbage and lettuce.

Subway stations with platform sliding doors and good ventilation reduce passengers’ exposure to PM2.5

Underground trains are among the most widely used public transport systems in cities worldwide. A study investigating the chemical composition and source of particles in Barcelona subway stations found that a new station design, with sliding doors that separate the platform from the tunnel and good ventilation, reduced the concentration of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) by over 50% compared with older station designs.

Poor air quality associated with increased risk of preterm birth

Research using the Environmental Quality Index (EQI) linked increased risk of preterm birth with poor air quality, but not with overall low environmental quality. The study is one of the first to explore the relationship between preterm birth and environmental quality across a range of different environmental domains (including water, air, land, built environment and sociodemographic aspects).

Health impacts of climate change in the indoor environment: a UK review

The health risks associated with climate-induced changes to indoor environments are explored in a new study. UK-based researchers synthesised findings of how climate change — and mitigation and adaptation measures — might affect the inside of buildings, through overheating, air quality, allergies and infections, flood risk and other exposure risks.

Air quality health impact assessments should use combination of metrics

Health impact assessments (HIAs) provide information on the potential health impacts of policies, and are important for developing regulation on air pollution. In this study, researchers evaluated the metrics currently used in air quality HIAs to provide recommendations for their use in policy.

Methane emissions from LNG-powered ships higher than current marine fuel oils

Due to regulation on sulphur emissions, liquefied natural gas (LNG) has increased in use as a maritime fuel. This study measured exhaust gases from a ship with dual-fuel engines running on LNG and marine gas oil (MGO). Although NOX and CO2 emissions were lower for LNG compared to MGO, hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions were higher. The authors say future work should reconsider the climate impact of LNG.

Emissions from 2008–2015 VW diesel vehicles fitted with ‘defeat devices’ linked to 59 premature deaths

In September 2015, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) alleged that Volkswagen (VW) violated the US Clean Air Act by fitting ‘defeat devices’ in their light-duty diesel vehicles to falsify the results of emissions tests. According to a study assessing the potential impact of this decision, an extra 59 early deaths in the US are likely to be caused by exposure to PM2.5 and ozone.

Air quality impact of diesel ‘severely underestimated’

Hydrocarbons are precursors to hazardous air pollutants including ozone and particulate matter. Hydrocarbons from diesel make up over 50% of all hydrocarbons in the air in London, a new study has found. The authors also estimate that they contribute up to half of total ozone production potential in London, and say future air quality control strategies must focus more on these pollutants.

Black carbon emissions of individual cars measured under real conditions

Measurements of individual vehicle emissions are usually made in laboratory tests. In this study, researchers followed cars driving in real conditions to measure emissions of air pollutants, including black carbon and nitrogen oxides. The study shows that diesel cars contribute disproportionately to air pollution, and highlights the value of on-road measurements.

Ozone pollution reduces tomato fruit yield and viability

Ozone harms pollen viability of tomatoes, leading to reduced fruit weight, size and quality, a recent study has revealed. The researchers suggest the effect of ozone on pollen could be a useful way to rapidly test for pollution-induced stress on crop plants in risk assessments.

Shorter shipping routes not necessarily more climate friendly

For economic and political reasons, freight shipping has begun to utilise shorter routes across Arctic waters. This study assessed the costs, emissions and climate impact of trade using the Northern Sea Route between the Northern Pacific and Europe. It concludes that there are no overall climate benefits to using this route, even though it reduces voyage distance, due to the additional impact of emissions in the Arctic region.

Exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons: first nationwide survey in Spain

The BIOAMBIENT.ES project is the first human biomonitoring programme to estimate levels of environmental pollutants at national level in Spain. This study reports its findings on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), chemicals that are ubiquitous in the environment. The results will help to establish reference values, identify highly exposed populations and evaluate effectiveness of policies.

Traffic pollution associated with risk of developing type 2 diabetes

Long-term exposure to traffic-related air particle pollution is linked with type 2 diabetes, a new study in Germany has found. Furthermore, the study found that people living close to busy roads were at greater risk of developing the disease than those living further away.

Travelling slower reduces fuel consumption and nitrogen oxides emissions of ships

Ships that reduce their speed use less fuel, which lowers costs for shipping companies. The slow steaming practice also cuts nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions. A study found that ships travelling on four European routes lowered their NOx emissions by 12% during the economic crisis of 2008/2009. Shipping continues to be a major way of transporting goods, however, and as the global economy recovers the researchers and civil society call for additional measures to reduce NOx emissions from shipping and improve air quality in Europe.

Techniques to reduce spray drift pollution from vineyards

Several mitigation techniques can greatly reduce spray drift pollution from pesticide spraying in agricultural systems, shows a new study. Researchers tested the effectiveness of several strategies; results ranged from a 38% reduction in spray drift using low-drift equipment to a 98% reduction when hedgerows are present alongside fields.

Green spaces linked to improved cognitive development in schoolchildren

Exposure of primary schoolchildren to outdoor green spaces is linked to an improvement in their cognitive development, finds a new study, which is the first of its kind. The association may be partly explained by reductions in traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) near green areas.

Shore side electricity: key policy recommendations for uptake

A new study quantifies the economic and environmental potential of powering docked ships in European ports using local electricity networks. The authors give key recommendations on policy actions to enable implementation in European harbours.

Composition of particulate matter influences its long-term health effects

A link between particulate matter (PM) exposure and inflammatory disease has been shown by many studies, but few have explored how the chemical composition of PM influences inflammatory processes. This study investigated the connection between different components of PM and markers of inflammation in the blood, finding that long-term exposure to transition metals, emitted by traffic and industry, may cause chronic inflammation.

Using revenues from congestion charging to expand green spaces increases public acceptance

Congestion charges are an effective means of reducing road traffic, but are often strongly opposed by the public. This study combined quantitative and qualitative methods to explore attitudes towards congestion charging in Spain, finding that opposition is reduced when revenues are spent on environmental improvements.

First detection of novel flame retardants in Antarctic species

Groups of chemicals used as flame retardants were present in the bodies of Antarctic rock cod (Trematomus bernacchii), young gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua), and brown skua seabird (Stercorarius antarcticus) collected from King George Island, Antarctica. This study is the first to find some of these chemicals in Antarctica, confirming that they undergo long-range transport and can reach isolated areas where they are not widely produced or used.

Reducing global particulate matter pollution could save millions of lives

Globally, more than 3.2 million premature deaths per year are attributed to exposure to ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5). A new study estimates that 2.1 million premature deaths could be avoided if countries achieved the WHO guideline for PM2.5. Even meeting their closest WHO interim concentration targets could avoid 750 000 (23%) deaths attributed to PM2.5 per year.

Increasing energy efficiency in the home may boost life expectancy and health

Changes in the home that increase energy efficiency, such as improved insulation and ventilation control, have the potential to reduce indoor air pollution. This study assessed the health impact of interventions in the UK arising from changes to indoor concentrations of fine particulate matter and found that such changes could improve health and increase life expectancy for men and women by three and two months, respectively.

Health effects of cruise ship air emissions in Greek ports

Over 2500 tons of the air pollutants nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) were released by cruise ships across the five busiest Greek cruise ports during 2013, a new study found. The researchers also examined the costs of the potential health impacts of this pollution, finding they could be as high as €24.3 million.

Biodiversity slows spread of pesticide resistance

The ability of organisms to adapt to toxic chemicals like pesticides is essential for their survival, but also an agricultural annoyance. This study shows that interactions between different species can delay the development of pesticide resistance and therefore suggests that biodiversity supports effective pest management.

Minamata Convention will help China and India avoid mercury emissions in 2050

Under the United Nations Minamata Convention on mercury, China and India could avoid a combined 242 tonnes of mercury emissions in 2050 from coal-fired power plants, a new study predicts. This amount is equal to approximately 12% of total emissions in 2010. While the benefits will be mostly regional, lower mercury deposition in surrounding oceans is good news for Europeans who eat fish sourced from those waters.

Reduced heavy metals and nitrogen in mosses reflect falling air pollution across Europe

Deposition of heavy metals and nitrogen is falling across Europe, a new study suggests. The researchers used the levels of these pollutants in mosses as indicators of how deposition has changed from 1990 to 2010. These reductions are likely to be the result of effective air pollution policies, they say.

Air pollution linked to increased incidents of stroke

Exposure to gaseous and particulate matter pollution have been found to increase the immediate risk of stroke, a review of medical studies has shown. The increased risk is most pronounced the same day as the exposure, and for fine particles the increased risk persists over several days. The authors hope information from this study will help policymakers to develop suitable controls to limit the risks posed by these harmful air pollutants.

Exposure to fine particle air pollution during pregnancy may increase child’s risk of developing Autism Spectrum Disorder

The chances of a child developing Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are higher if the mother is exposed to high levels of fine particulate air pollution during pregnancy, a recent study suggests. This increased risk was associated specifically with exposure in the last three months of pregnancy, the researchers found.

Agricultural ammonia emissions could be reduced without affecting crop yield

Ammonia released by nitrogen fertilisers in Spanish agriculture could be reduced by up to 82% with only a very minimal impact on crop yield, finds new research. This could be achieved by combining optimised management of manure with the use of non-urea synthetic fertilisers.

Latest emission control technology could eradicate harmful air pollution hotspots

Switching to the best available emission control technologies could eliminate 99% of particulate matter pollution 'hotspots', a new study suggests. The researchers reached this conclusion by expanding the local-scale capabilities of an existing computer model that estimates the effects of air pollution policies and control measures.

Waste incinerator impacts monitored via milk and vegetable quality

Emissions from well-regulated household waste incinerators do not reduce the quality of vegetables and milk produced nearby, a Dutch study suggests. Researchers found that levels of certain contaminants were similar whether vegetables and milk came from the area surrounding three incinerators, or from elsewhere in the Netherlands. They say biomonitoring programmes could offer a way to increase the understanding of the real impacts of waste incineration and to improve communication between waste management companies and local communities.

Global health impact of PM2.5 air pollution assessed

PM2.5 air pollution can have a significant impact on human health, not only for local populations, but also in regions far from its source of emission, shows a new study. The study calculates ‘damage factors’ to human health of PM2.5 and in different parts of the world.

East Asian air pollution to have bigger global impact under climate change

Greater amounts of air pollutants emitted in East Asia will move around the globe under climate change, a recent study predicts. Changes to wind speeds and air pressure will mean that movement of pollution from this region is enhanced under a changing climate. These results highlight the need for globally coordinated efforts to tackle air pollution and climate change.

Radioactive particles from Chernobyl disaster may be re-released by wildfires

Fires in forests contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear accident could lead to areas of Europe and Russia being exposed to further radioactive fallout, new research has found. The study examined the spread of the fallout and the health effects on people and animals under three different scenarios: 10, 50 and 100% of the forests being burnt.

Waters acidified by air pollution have recovered as predicted

Back in 1999, a group of scientists predicted how changing air pollution levels would affect the acidity of lakes and rivers in Europe in 2010 using a computer model. A follow up study has now gathered actual measurements of these waters to see if the predictions came true. The observations show that most of the rivers and lakes did recover from acidification, as forecast by the model, and demonstrate the model’s value in predicting future water chemistry, the authors say.

Careful urban tree planting and pruning needed to reduce trapping of air pollution

Careful planting and pruning is needed to ensure that air pollution in tree-lined streets is minimised, new research suggests. While planting trees in urban areas can have many benefits, such as enhancing biodiversity, trees can trap particulate matter pollution, say the study’s authors.

New emissions certification test for cars could be improved, study concludes

A test currently under development for certifying levels of vehicle emissions may not adequately represent real world driving conditions, a new study suggests. The authors measured emissions during the new Worldwide Light-Duty Test Cycle (WLTC) compared with those in existing driving cycles and highlighted areas where the test could be potentially improved.

Citizen scientists map air pollution with smartphones

Citizen scientists have helped to map pollution across the Netherlands using their smartphones. Their results, produced by thousands of volunteers, are presented in a study which shows how a combination of mass participation and smartphone technology can be a powerful approach to environmental monitoring.

European air quality in 2020: success story for PM2.5

Levels of the air pollutant PM2.5 in Europe will continue to fall in 2020, concludes a recent study. Furthermore, deposition of nitrogen from air pollution will also drop. The outlook seems less positive for ground-level ozone, however, as large amounts of this pollutant continue drift over to Europe from other continents.

Fourteen days of poor air quality caused 4 000 extra healthcare visits in UK

Real time monitoring of public health during two periods of high air pollution in the UK showed that there were an estimated 3 500 extra healthcare visits for acute respiratory symptoms and approximately 500 for severe asthma during these spells in 2014. The results of this research are presented in a new study which demonstrates the value of such ‘syndromic surveillance’ systems for exploring air quality’s effects on human health.

Methane: satellite data may improve emissions estimates

Greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories are significantly underestimating methane emissions from a region in the southwest of the United States, and potentially elsewhere, a new study has found. The authors of the study suggest that satellite data could be used to identify and quantify new sources of methane, such as fracking.

Two for the price of one: climate change mitigation measures also reduce air pollution

Effective greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation measures to stabilise global temperature change to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures would also substantially reduce air pollutant emissions, recent research predicts. A variety of mitigation options are available, including switching from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy. To achieve the necessary GHG emission reductions, one key option is to impose carbon taxes. However, these would need to be high to help achieve this target, according to the study’s authors.

Air pollution modelling could help predict algal blooms

Models that predict how nitrogen from the air is deposited in the sea could be useful in predicting algal blooms. Based on the knowledge that excess nitrogen increases algal growth rates, researchers simulated nitrogen deposition in the North Sea and suggested that, using predicted weather data, it might be possible to adapt this approach to predict algal blooms.

Greater efforts to reduce ammonia emissions needed to meet air pollution targets

Levels of particulate matter (PM) in the atmosphere are linked to ammonia emissions. However, reducing ammonia emissions only as far as targets set out by the Gothenburg Protocol will not necessarily ensure compliance with EU PM limits, according to a new study. Greater reductions in ammonia emissions would reduce the number of days when PM limit values are exceeded, the researchers found.

Deadly effects of particulate matter pollution shown in French study

Particulate matter (PM) pollution has a significant effect on death rates in French cities, a new study shows. The research confirms the short-term impacts of PM10, but also sheds new light on the effects of smaller particulates: PM2.5 and PM10-2.5. Its results could help inform public health advice, the authors propose.

Wider gaps between cycle paths and traffic reduce active commuters’ air pollution dose

Setting cycle and footpaths further back from the road can significantly lower the amount of air pollution that cyclists and pedestrians inhale, suggests new research. While wide gaps are not always practical, the study shows that even small increases in distance could substantially reduce the dose of pollution.

Semiconductor and aluminium industries underestimate greenhouse gas emissions

Emissions of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) tetrafluoromethane (TFM) and hexafluoroethane (HFE) reported by industry accounted for only around half actual levels measured in the atmosphere between 2002 and 2010, new research reveals. The semiconductor and aluminium production industries, the two main sources of these gases, have reported success in their voluntary efforts to control these emissions. However, this does not match ‘top-down’ atmospheric monitoring, the researchers say.

Regional air pollution improvements have global health benefits

Reductions in emissions of fine particle air pollution can prevent premature deaths, not just locally, but also in countries thousands of kilometres away, new research illustrates. The transcontinental study examines the effects of reducing air pollution emitted from Europe, North America, South and East Asia by 20% and shows that, for example, reductions in the EU would mean 3700 fewer premature deaths in the other three regions every year.

Sulphur and nitrogen pollution falling - but still harming ecosystems

European emissions of sulphur and nitrogen pollution have fallen greatly in recent decades, a new report shows. However, even at present levels they harm sensitive ecosystems, and will continue do so for some years to come.

Air pollution and climate policies not in conflict

Air pollution policy does not undermine the long-term goals of climate change policy, a new study concludes. Although reductions in the pollutant sulphur dioxide could have some warming effects on the Earth’s temperature, the impacts are only short term and will never outweigh climate policy’s cooling effects.

Long-term exposure to air pollution associated with an increased risk of type-2 diabetes

Long-term exposure to air pollution may increase the risk of developing type-2 diabetes, a Swiss study has found. The results also suggest that the association between type-2 diabetes and air pollution occurs at concentrations below World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guidelines.

Both traffic noise and air pollution linked to stroke

Road traffic noise and air pollution both increase the risk of having a stroke, recent research from Denmark suggests. The results suggest that traffic noise is more strongly associated with ischaemic stroke, whereas only air pollution appears to be linked with more serious, fatal strokes.

Ozone levels still pose risk to health and vegetation

Peak levels of ozone pollution have fallen at rural and urban sites in both Europe and the US in recent years, a new study shows. However, the research also found that limits to protect health and ecosystems are still being exceeded.

Air pollution and the brain: potential neurological risk shown in Parkinson’s study

Elderly patients with Parkinson’s disease are at greater risk of emergency hospitalisation, as well as premature death, following short periods of increased air pollution by fine particles, finds a US study. The researchers believe that these findings support the theory that fine particles may affect the brain. They also found possible links between pollution and hospitalisation rates for diabetes patients.

Time spent in traffic has major effect on personal exposure to cancer-causing chemicals

Our lifestyles determine how often we are exposed to cancer-causing chemicals, such as those in traffic emissions and cigarette smoke. A Swedish study reveals how exposure to these chemicals varies from person to person. Among its findings, the amount of time a person spends in traffic or refuelling their car significantly affects how much benzene and butadiene they could inhale.

Individual power stations' emissions can be identified from a distance

Air pollutants and greenhouse gases (GHGs) from a coal-fired power station have been correctly identified 12 km away, researchers report in a new US study. Their monitoring method paves the way for a space-based satellite system which can check emissions reported by individual power stations against actual emissions.

Childhood obesity linked to traffic pollution

Traffic pollution contributes to childhood obesity, a recent study concludes. In the US investigation of over 4 500 children, the researchers estimated that air pollution increased the body mass index (BMI) of 10-year olds in the most polluted areas of study by 0.4 units, compared to those in the least polluted areas. It is thought that pollution may have slowed the children’s metabolism.

Cyclists map Antwerp air pollution with on-bike monitors

Cyclists with pollution monitors and GPS trackers attached to their bicycles have produced detailed maps of Antwerp’s air quality, as part of a recent study. Their data show that a gap of just a few metres between cycle lanes and cars significantly reduces cyclists’ risk of inhaling high levels of ultrafine particle pollution.

Simple Swedish device effectively reduces harmful indoor air pollution

Indoor air quality can be significantly improved using a simple device which traps harmful chemicals emitted from glues, paints and building materials, a new study has shown. Designed in Sweden, the researchers demonstrate that the 'surface emissions trap', especially effective for damp buildings, also prevents emissions from mould and can remove unpleasant odours.

Protest votes: why will some people not tell how much they are willing to pay for clean air?

What is the value of clean air? Answering such a question may be achieved by asking citizens how much they are willing to pay. However, some individuals give 'protest vote' responses to such questions. Recent research in EU countries found that the main reasons for this were because they felt that the polluters themselves or the government should be responsible for such costs.

Greater risk of heart defects for babies born near unconventional gas wells in Colorado

Pregnant women living within 16 km of unconventional gas wells in Colorado, US, are up to 30% more likely to give birth to a baby with a heart defect, new research has found. These findings suggest that more research is needed to understand the potential health impact of natural gas developments, say the researchers.

Air pollution from road traffic can raise blood pressure

High blood pressure is linked to long-term exposure to traffic-related air pollution, new research suggests. After accounting for lifestyle factors, socioeconomic status and pre-existing health conditions, the researchers found that a rise in traffic emissions of nitrogen dioxide corresponded to a rise in blood pressure of exposed individuals.

Loss of cooling effect of aerosols can be offset by greenhouse gas reductions

The net cooling effect that aerosols have on the climate will be lost as emissions drop in the future, new research suggests. However, the consequent warming will ultimately be counter balanced if policies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are put in place.

Particulate matter increases diabetes, heart and lung disease deaths

Airborne particulate matter pollution leads to increases in death rates among people with underlying health conditions such as heart disease, according to a new study. The study suggests the effects are mainly related to the air pollution known as PM2.5 - particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres (μm). The study is the first to assess the health effects of this type of pollution across several European countries at once.

Airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon levels falling faster in cities than rural areas

Levels of airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are falling at urban and rural sites in Europe and North America, according to recent research. These results contribute to growing evidence demonstrating that the legislation to reduce these harmful emissions has been successful. Concentrations of PAHs in urban areas were highest, the researchers found, but they were also declining at the fastest rate.

Further sulphur dioxide reductions would lead to greater health benefits

EU air pollution legislation to reduce sulphur dioxide (SO2) has effectively reduced rates of premature deaths, new research suggests. Moreover, additional reductions would lead to even further public health benefits, the researchers say.

Wood burning in London undermines low traffic emissions' gains

Particulate matter (PM) emissions from domestic wood burning in London are higher than the PM reductions achieved through London’s Low Emission Zone, finds a new study. The research suggests that increases in wood burning could risk undermining policies aimed at meeting EU PM10 targets.

New ozone-depleting chemicals found in the atmosphere

Four ozone-depleting gases, previously undetected in the atmosphere, have been found by new research. The work suggests that more than 74 000 tonnes of these human-made substances have been released since 1978, and that two are continuing to accumulate in the atmosphere. However, it is not yet known where they come from.

PM2.5 air pollution strongly linked to increased risk of heart attacks

Long-term exposure to particulate matter pollution is strongly linked with heart attacks and angina, a new European study of over 100 000 people has shown. The results indicate that this association exists at levels below current European limits, and that the burden of disease due to particulate matter may have been largely underestimated.

Individual non-methane VOCs have large impacts on human health

Emissions of non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) can have damaging effects on human health. New research has now revealed that only three substances out of a large number of NMVOCs are responsible for almost all damaging effects on human health. Air pollution policies should be designed to target these substances specifically, rather than overall NMVOC emissions, the researchers recommend.

Indoor pollution modelled to inform policy on home insulation

Increased insulation in homes could reduce ventilation and lead to greater exposure to indoor air pollution, a new study suggests. This, in turn, could affect health. The researchers modelled exposure to fine particles, which indicated that insulating half the homes in Greece by 2020 could lead to a 6% increase in adverse health effects. Sources of indoor air pollution should be reduced as far as possible and, failing that, sufficient airing is key, they recommend.

Measuring the impacts of the Nitrates Directive on nitrogen emissions

The EU's Nitrates Directive has led to significant decreases in nitrogen pollution in Europe, a new study suggests. Modelled scenarios with and without implementation of the Directive showed that it had resulted in a 16% reduction of nitrate leaching by 2008. These improvements could be further increased as implementation becomes stricter, the researchers conclude.

Health ratings for urban environments provided by new software

New software has been developed to rate the health risks of different activities in the urban environment, for example, cycling or driving in different areas of a city. 'CENSE' is based on a variety of different pollutants and environmental health hazards encountered in urban environments and may provide a useful tool for urban planning and improving residents’ quality of life, its developers say.

Black smoke pollution may have ‘medium-term’ delayed effects on mortality rates

Increased black smoke pollution was associated with increased mortality rates almost a month after exposure in a recent study. The researchers studied death rates in relation to pollution concentrations over a 22-year period in the city of Glasgow, UK, and found significantly higher mortality rates among residents at 13-18 and 19-24 days after increased exposure to black smoke.

Economic hardship in Greece has increased wood burning to keep warm in winter

Air quality in the Greek city of Thessaloniki has worsened during the recent economic crisis, as residents burn more wood and other types of biomass to keep warm. A recent study has found a 30% increase in the concentration of fine particle (PM2.5) emissions associated with wood smoke from residential heating in 2012 and 2013, with implications for the health of local residents.

Black carbon pollution from megacities and effects on global air quality

Air pollution from the world’s megacities not only has local impacts, but can spread to remote regions of the world. Recent research has highlighted, for example, that megacities are a source of black carbon pollution in lowest kilometre of atmosphere in the Arctic, with European megacities contributing more than others.

Mediterranean ozone levels fall in rural areas, but rise in cities

Air pollution legislation has led to reduced ozone pollution in rural areas in western Mediterranean countries; however, levels in urban and suburban areas are still increasing, new research concludes. This suggests that ground-level ozone, linked to human health issues as well as environmental damage, has the potential to become a more significant air quality issue than previously believed, the researchers say.

Industrial pollutant melted European glaciers

Industrial emissions of black carbon were responsible for the retreat of the glaciers in the European Alps that marked the end of the so-called ‘Little Ice Age’, according to a new study. The researchers explain how black carbon deposits could have caused glaciers to melt more rapidly from the mid-19th century and suggest that human activities were already having a visible influence on the climate before the effects of carbon dioxide were evident.

Air quality in Europe: pollution levels have dropped, but health concerns remain

Some progress has been made towards improving air quality in Europe with levels of sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and benzene all falling substantially in recent years, a new report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) concludes. However, threats to human health and ecosystems remain, and urban citizens' exposure to high levels of particulate matter (PM) and ozone are a particular concern.

Should critical levels of plant ozone exposure be lower?

‘Critical levels’ of ozone exposure for plants, above which significant adverse effects may occur, are currently calculated by examining ozone's impacts on only a small number of species. However, researchers have now compared this measure with a new approach which examines all species in a group, and defines the critical levels as the concentration at which 5% of species are affected. These critical levels, which may be more suitable for semi-natural ecosystems, are stricter than current standards.