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Evaluating the level of danger to human health from exposure to multiple chemicals in contaminated sites is a complex task. To address this difficulty, researchers have developed a new screening tool that can be incorporated into public health risk assessment, which may include polluted former industrial plants, waste dumps, or even land where pesticides have been used. This ‘hazard index’ approach indicates when risk to health is high, which organs are most affected, and where further evaluation should be conducted in the context of environmental or occupational exposure at such sites.
The growing human population and a shift to more resource-intensive habits and behaviours are increasing the demands on global ecosystems. Natural capital is a way to describe Earth’s natural assets, including soil, air, water, and living things, existing as complex ecosystems, which provide a range of services to humans. Depleting and degrading these reserves may irreversibly reduce the availability of benefits to future generations. This In-Depth Report presents an overview of ideas, debates and progress so far in natural capital accounting, in particular in accounting for ecosystems and their services.
Biological control agents are an environmentally-friendly way of controlling pests and diseases on crops and are advocated in the EU’s Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive1. The authors of a new review of the current state of biological control refer to a recent UN report2 which states that it is possible to produce enough food to feed a world population of nine billion with substantially less chemical pesticides — and even without these pesticides if sufficient effort is made to develop biocontrol-based Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods. The study suggests that policy measures can speed up the development and use of environmentally-friendly crop protection.
Mercury is a heavy metal that is well known for being the only metal that is liquid at room temperature and normal pressure. It is also a potent neurotoxin with severe global human health impacts. It can be converted from one form to another by natural processes, and, once released, actively cycles in the environment for hundreds to thousands of years before being buried in sediment. This In-Depth Report from Science for Environment Policy summarises the latest scientific studies and research results on mercury pollution in the global environment.
The majority of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) identified until now are banned or restricted around the world owing to concerns about their harm to ecosystems and human health. However, this is not the end of the story; even long-banned POPs still linger in the environment; others are still in use and are being directly emitted; and new POPs may be identified for which we have limited information. This Future Brief from Science for Environment Policy presents recent research into POPs’ potential impacts, the levels and future outlook for POPs in the environment and humans, and how we can reduce our use of POPs.
Researchers have analysed the ability of two organic nanomaterials to remove the heavy metal chromium from water. In the laboratory, the nanomaterials successfully took up around 95% of the chromium. Further work is needed to confirm the feasibility of using these nanomaterials to purify water in real-world conditions.
Engineering at the nanoscale brings the promise of radical technological development — clean energy, highly effective medicines and space travel. But technology at this scale also brings safety challenges. Nano-sized particles are not inherently more toxic than larger particles, but the effects are complex and vary based on particle properties as well as chemical toxicity. This Report brings together the latest science on environmental safety considerations specific to manufactured nanoscale materials, and some possible implications for policy and research.
A new study has mapped levels of chemical elements found in European agricultural soils. In most places, unusually high concentrations are linked to geology, such as high levels of arsenic in the Massif Central in France. Human activity is to blame in some small areas, for example high concentrations of mercury were found near London and Paris. Abnormal concentrations, both too low and too high, could pose an environmental risk. This new data can be used in conjunction with the REACH Regulation1 and can help identify areas where action may be needed in relation to toxic elements in the environment.
As the sources and severity of noise pollution continue to grow, there is a need for new approaches to reduce exposure. This Future Brief looks at the complex and pervasive problem of noise pollution: a problem with no single solution, requiring a combination of short-, medium- and long-term approaches and careful consideration of the nature of the noise source.
Up to 90% of consumed drugs enter the environment. This may have negative effects on wildlife, especially when the drugs take long periods to break down. This study assessed the breakdown of sulphonamides — a class of antibacterials — in samples from two rivers in Poland. The results showed that sulphamethoxazole, a common veterinary antibiotic, was the most persistent and that various factors inhibit degradation, including low temperatures, heavy metal pollution and low pH.
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.
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.
Micropollutants — small, persistent and biologically active substances — are found in aquatic environments all over the world and can have negative effects on plants, animals and humans. The EU recently adopted a ‘watch list’ of potential priority substances, including pesticides, pharmaceuticals and personal care products that need to be monitored to determine their environmental risk. A new study reviews data on their worldwide occurrence and options for their removal from wastewater, and from surface and groundwater used to produce drinking water.
Sewage sludge and manure are sometimes added to soil to improve crop production. However, these ‘natural fertilisers’ may contain not only nutrients and organic matter but also antibacterial agents. This study investigated their impact on the microbes in soil, revealing an increase in antibiotic resistance genes. The researchers recommend greater efforts to remove antibiotic residues from wastewater and manure.
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.
Urban gardeners in Barcelona, Spain, identified 20 ecosystem service benefits, from pollination to environmental learning, in a recent study. Cultural ecosystem services — mainly related to the opportunity for residents to interact with nature — were the most common and highly valued of the ecosystem services identified.
People who are annoyed by environmental noise are also more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, a new, large-scale study from Germany suggests. The results do not prove that noise causes mental health issues but suggest a possible link, which the study’s authors are exploring further. Of all the types of noise considered in the study, aircraft noise was reported to be the most annoying.
Physical inactivity raises the risk of ill health, so environmental factors that reduce the level of physical activity in people should be of concern to policymakers as well as to individuals. A new study has associated long-term annoyance with transportation noise with reduced physical activity in Swiss residents, which may indirectly contribute to diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.
Pesticide-related poisonings in EU Member States must be reported to the European Commission under current legislation, but there is no standard information collection and reporting system. A new system has been proposed, which harmonises data collection, categorisation and reporting, enabling exposure data to be compared among Member States. The new system would improve the monitoring of pesticides in Europe and aid the identification of emerging problems.
Algal (cyanobacterial) blooms are a major threat to marine and freshwater ecosystems, as well as to human health. This study investigated a way to reduce numbers of harmful cyanobacteria using freshwater crustaceans. Data from a large Swedish lake show that this approach can be effective but is best used alongside other methods, such as nutrient reduction.
Airports are associated with air and noise pollution and may, therefore, reduce the quality of life of local people. This study assessed the link between aircraft noise and subjective wellbeing, using data from 17 English airports. The authors conclude that living under flight paths has a negative effect on people’s overall wellbeing, equivalent to around half of the effect of being a smoker for some indicators.
People who live in the most ‘activity-friendly’ neighbourhoods do up to 1.5 hours more physical activity a week than those in the least supportive neighbourhoods. This is according to a new international study which measured levels of exercise — mainly walking for recreation or transport — in relation to the urban environment across 14 diverse cities. The results show how urban design — such as parks and local amenities — can promote healthy lifestyles which also bring environmental benefits, such as better air quality, through reduced car use.
The Alang-Sosiya shipbreaking yards in India highlight the inequalities and opportunities of global waste management. The yards, which recycle retired ships from more economically developed countries, have dramatically altered the ecosystems and social structures of the local area. A study looking at stakeholder perceptions analyses different positions on the social and environmental impacts of the yards.
Turkey is a major ship recycling centre and is the largest OECD member country with a significant ship recycling industry. In this study, researchers reviewed the environmental, health and safety issues surrounding the Turkish shipbreaking industry, its compliance with environmental regulations and its ability to claim ‘green recycling’.
A large proportion of ships are recycled on the beaches of developing countries in Asia. This study considered shipbreaking in Bangladesh, using critical scenario analysis to explore different futures for the industry and its workers. The paper suggests that a radical shift in socioeconomic and political structures is needed to enable environmentally sound practices while retaining employment opportunities for local people.
Recycling ships for scrap is a known asbestos exposure hazard, yet this study is one of few to trace asbestos-related cancer rates in shipbreaking workers. The results, obtained from former shipbreakers in Taiwan, show higher rates of cancer overall, especially oesophageal and lung cancers.
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).
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.
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 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.
Fish and shellfish farming are facing a new era of expansion in Europe. What are the environmental implications of this, and how can the sector expand sustainably? Watch the video produced by Science for Environment Policy about how aquaculture could develop in greater harmony with environmental goals.
The non-restricted production and use of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) has led to their presence in effluents from treatment plants, which can pose a threat to aquatic organisms downstream. This study analysed the breakdown of six common chemicals in four Danish treatment plants. The findings shed new light on the factors affecting removal of PPCPs from waste, showing that the composition of waste is more important than the design of the treatment plant.
Land and soil are limited natural resources essential to all human life. One of the major environmental challenges facing Europe is an increasing demand for development, which threatens ecosystem services. This Future Brief focuses on how land and soil could be used efficiently to continue to provide these functions and services for generations to come.
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.
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.
Widespread use of antibiotics has led to pollution of waterways, potentially creating resistance among freshwater bacterial communities. A new study looked for antibiotic resistance genes in a river basin in Spain, revealing that wastewater discharges can promote the spread of antibiotic resistance in streams and small rivers.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical that is widespread in the environment. Researchers reviewed and critically discussed the sources and routes of human exposure to chlorinated derivatives (ClxBPA) and alternatives to BPA (BPF, BPS), as well as their metabolism, toxicity and concentrations in human tissues. The researchers suggest BPA alternatives and derivatives may have similar effects, and provide directions for future research.
Chickens foraging on soils containing environmental pollutants can accumulate these chemicals in their tissues and eggs. This study assessed levels of dioxins in eggs produced in Poland, in some cases finding concentrations several times above the safe EU limit. The researchers identified the source as preservative-treated wood in the chicken coop, which they say is a public health risk.
Research has found evidence for recent contamination of Lake Como, northern Italy, with chemicals banned in the EU since the 1970s. Levels of DDT and PCBs in sediment, aquatic microorganisms and fish were examined. The results suggest glacial meltwater as a source for renewed DDT contamination and show recent contamination of fish above safe levels. The findings demonstrate the need for continued monitoring of persistent organic pollutants in European waters.
Producing and consuming food has a significant environmental impact. In the search for a sustainable diet, researchers in Sweden explored a method of food production that does not exceed the level of globally available arable land per capita, and involves raising livestock on pasture or by-products not suitable for humans (the ‘ecological leftovers’ principle). The researchers developed three diets based on this method and evaluated their environmental impact compared with current diets.
Constructed wetlands can remove disease-causing bacteria from wastewater, but their performance is highly dependent on the systems they use, a new study shows. Researchers reviewed results from a wide range of studies on constructed wetlands and found that combining different approaches increased removal of bacteria. However, further research and improvement of wetland systems is required to produce water that is safe for reuse.
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).
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.
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.
Human activity is transforming natural systems and endangering the ecosystem services they provide, which has consequences for human health. This study quantified the human health impact of losses to pollination, providing the first global analysis of its kind. The researchers say pollinator declines could increase the global disease burden and recommend increased monitoring of pollinators in at-risk regions, including Eastern and Central Europe.
Living near to green spaces may reduce likelihood of death due to any cause, and especially due to cardiovascular disease, according to a new study. The review is the first to systematically evaluate the evidence linking green spaces to risk of death.
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.
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.
Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and its derivatives — linked to health problems in animals — have been found in levels exceeding EU thresholds in some outdoor textiles, leather goods and ski waxes, according to a recent analysis of everyday consumer items. Better quality control in the processing and manufacture of goods coated with the substances is among the recommendations made by researchers to reduce human exposure to these toxic chemicals.
Researchers have recommended that fish from some sections of the River Po and the River Lambro, one of the Italian River Po tributaries, should not be eaten due to high levels of some endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the river sediments and fish. This recommendation is based on an extensive update regarding pollution levels of such substances in the rivers.
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.
A growing body of evidence suggests that endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs) are contributing to declines in fertility. This case-control study found that EDCs were associated with changes to sex hormones and risk of subfertility in men. The researchers say environmental levels of these chemicals should be reduced to protect male fertility.
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.
Aquaculture is the fastest growing sector of worldwide food production and is facing a new era of expansion in Europe. What are the environmental implications of this, and can the sector expand sustainably? This Future Brief presents an overview of research into aquaculture’s impacts, and considers how it could develop in balance with environmental goals.
Active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) — responsible for the biological activity of drugs — have been widely found in the environment, yet the precise sources and relative importance of emissions via wastewater are not quite clear. This study assessed emissions from three health institutions in Germany — a hospital, a psychiatric hospital, and a nursing home — and found their contribution was low compared to that from households. However, more research is needed to understand the environmental effects of neurological drugs, emissions of which were in some cases relatively high.
For people in the UK to eat the recommended 280 grams of fish per week, the country would have to rely on aquaculture and increasingly on imports of both wild and farmed fish from poorer countries, a recent study has revealed. This can have social and environmental implications and the researchers urge governments, particularly in developed countries, to consider nutritional advice in a global context, to minimise the impact of fish exports from poorer countries.
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.
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.
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.
The framework for a Europe-wide biomonitoring programme has been established by a new study. The preliminary investigation of 17 European countries showed that monitored levels of toxic chemicals varied significantly between countries. Although the levels were mostly within recognised health-based guidance values, in a few cases these values were exceeded. The researchers suggest that a fully-fledged European biomonitoring programme would help to develop policies to avert public health risks presented by environmental chemicals.
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.
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.
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.
Urban green spaces provide important ecosystem services in cities, from recreation to the mitigation of noise and air pollution. This study quantified the ecosystem services (ES) provided by green spaces in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, using new methods to evaluate high-resolution land-cover data. The findings show that different types of green space provide different ES, highlighting the importance of careful design during city planning. The authors say their method to map ES supply will aid the design of healthy, climate-resilient cities.
Migrating tundra peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus tundrius) experienced increased levels of harmful hydrocarbons in their blood following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a new study finds. Blood from juvenile females was found to have the highest levels of contamination.
Pharmaceutical pollution of marine environments has important biological consequences for aquatic organisms. This study investigated the effects on mussels of treatment with environmentally relevant levels of an antidepressant, fluoxetine, and a beta-blocker, propranolol, using biomarkers including DNA damage. The results showed that mussels are most vulnerable to these drugs in combination.
The overall ecological impact of 10 engineered nanomaterials has been modelled for the first time using toxicity data from multiple living species. These models will allow researchers to assess the effect nanomaterials may have on both ecosystems and people.
Halogenated nitrogenous disinfection by-products (N-DBPs) in water increase bacterial resistance to antibiotics, new research shows. The study found that a strain of bacteria which can cause disease in humans, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, increased its resistance to a range of different antibiotics by an average of 5.5 times after the bacteria were exposed to chemicals which form as by-products of common water treatment procedures. The results highlight the risks to public health which these currently unregulated by-products may cause.
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are priority pollutants that pose a risk to human health, and can be passed on to children via breast milk. This study investigated how concentrations of POPs in breast milk vary worldwide by reviewing studies published between 1995 and 2011. They found that levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins in breast milk are higher in Europe and North America, whereas pesticides are more prevalent in Africa and Asia. The authors call for harmonisation of methodologies to enable high quality comparisons between studies.
Cyanobacteria — often referred to as blue-green algae — are found in water bodies around the world and can produce toxins with potential health risks. This US-wide study found a significant positive association between cyanobacterial bloom coverage and death by non-alcoholic liver disease. The researchers say their study suggests some evidence of a potential health risk and should be used to generate further investigation into the health impact of cyanobacteria.
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.
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.
Controls on pharmaceutical production in the EU should be changed to guard against the spread of antibiotic resistance, protect wildlife and improve transparency in the industry, a team of scientists from Sweden and the UK recommends. The scientists propose 10 changes to the environmental risk assessment (ERA) of pharmaceuticals.
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.
Contact with nature in urban areas can have numerous health benefits, a new study finds. The researchers found people whose homes had views of different kinds of vegetation had significantly lower levels of stress hormones, indicating that green spaces play an important role in healthy cities.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Weathering and abrasion are reported to cause titanium dioxide nanoparticles to escape from a self-cleaning coating for buildings. These particles may be toxic to humans and wildlife. The researchers have developed three indicators from the test results to help predict levels of nanoparticle release from these coatings.
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.
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.
Doctors prescribe fewer antidepressants in urban areas with more trees on the street, according to recent UK research. The study examined the link between mental health and wellbeing and the presence of trees in London neighbourhoods. Its findings support the idea that maintaining a link to nature, even in an urban area, may help provide a healthy living environment.
People living close to road, rail and aircraft noise are likely to experience negative health effects. Long-term noise exposure may lead to problems with their heart and circulatory (cardiovascular) system and night-time noise is particularly disruptive of sleep patterns, which in turn may lead to cardiovascular health problems, a review of research into the effects of noise on cardiovascular diseases has found.
Exposure to environmental noise levels above recommended levels results in 1169 cases of dementia, 788 strokes and 542 heart attacks every year in the UK alone, new research suggests. Valuing a year of healthy life at £60 000 (€74 002) means that these health impacts together have a ‘cost’ of £1.09 billion (€1.34 billion), the study’s authors conclude.
Recent research into the impact of different levels of noise on 75 volunteers reveals that disturbed sleep caused by night-time aircraft noise can damage blood vessels and increase the levels of stress hormones. As these physical changes are potential pathways to high blood pressure, heart and circulatory disease over the long term, reducing night-time aircraft noise is important for preventing cardiovascular disease in people living near airports.
Vulnerable groups of people, including those with long-term illnesses, those sensitive to noise or tinnitus (ringing of the ears), people with mental health problems and unborn and newly born babies, are often more susceptible to physical and emotional stresses. As a result, vulnerable groups of people may be more at risk from exposure to environmental noise than healthy adults. However, there is comparatively little research focusing on the adverse health effects of noise on vulnerable people, say scientists reviewing these health impacts.
Children living close to busy roads may have an increased risk of hyperactivity. They may also have more emotional problems, especially if they are exposed to higher levels of noise during the night, according to research carried out on children’s health in Germany.
While occupational exposure to noise has declined, ‘social’ exposure in the form of personal music players or rock concerts is estimated to have tripled for young people since the 1980s. A new review examines studies that have investigated noise sources, including environmental (e.g. traffic) and social (e.g. via headphones) sources. The review also explores research into the range of health effects beyond hearing impairments, such as annoyance and cardiovascular problems.
Living in a quiet area has a positive impact on health. A study compared quality of life for people living in quiet and noisy locations and found that those who lived in quiet locations—particularly in rural areas—had a better quality of life.
Sounds affect our state of mind differently depending on whether they are pleasant or annoying. In a theoretical study, researchers developed a model for exploring human responses to sound. Their work may help us to better understand the health impacts of long-term exposure to noise, as well as the potential benefits of spending time in quiet spaces.
Wind turbine noise can be detected at low levels, even when it is heard alongside motorway traffic noise, a study finds. It is possible for louder motorways to drown out turbine noise, however. The participants in this listening experiment could easily detect wind turbine noise, but only once they knew it was present in recordings of environmental noise.
A guide has been published on the known and potential health and safety effects of human exposure to graphene. It is designed to help inform those working with graphene and graphene-based nanomaterials and could be especially useful as a growing number of industries begin to experiment with and use these materials.
Desktop three-dimensional (3D) printers, available for use in offices and homes, can release between 20 and 200 billion ultra-fine particles (UFPs) per minute, finds new research. UFPs may pose a risk to health, and the study’s authors recommend caution when operating 3D printers inside unventilated or unfiltered indoor environments.
A nanoscale 3D printing technique could be useful for nanomanufacturing processes with environmental applications. The authors of a new study have found a way to control their printing process by incorporating a simple pattern into the printing surface. They say their technique could reduce costs for nanoscale printing.
A new review examines the potential uses and scientific, technical and manufacturing problems facing ‘van der Waals heterostructures’ - an emerging science which uses building block-like nanomaterials. Van der Waals heterostructures are nanomaterials built by layering different materials, each one atom thick, on top of each other, to create materials with unique properties and uses.
A new study has found evidence for lung toxicity of different forms of ‘cellulose nanocrystals’ (CNCs) in mice. The study suggests that physical characteristics, such as length, of the CNC relates to the type of effect it has on the lung. These nanosized crystals, made from plant-derived materials, are increasingly being used in novel applications, such as cleaning up oil spills in water and flexible electronic displays, and consumer products, which raises concerns about their potential health impacts.
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.
Dry soils and a lack of cloud cover help explain a major heatwave in France, concludes new research. The study indicates that the two drivers were separate, unlinked events that came together at the same time to worsen the 2006 heatwave. Its findings could allow heatwaves to be predicted more accurately to protect public health.
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.
City children who spend lots of time in green spaces, such as parks, and at the beach are less likely to have emotional and social difficulties, indicates new research from Barcelona. The study of over 2000 children supports theories that green and blue infrastructure have benefits for our health and wellbeing.
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.
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.
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.
The worldwide decline of pollinators could increase cases of vitamin and micronutrient deficiencies in humans, new research suggests. For instance, pollination is needed for the crops that produce half of all plant-derived vitamin A across much of south-east Asia. Furthermore, areas which depend most on pollination for micronutrient supply tend to be poorer and already at higher risk of deficiencies.
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.
Does scientific evidence always help conflicting stakeholders to reach agreement on how to deal with environmental risks? Scientists have now developed a mathematical framework to help answer this question. They show that stakeholder perceptions of the costs and benefits of regulations, as well as their perceptions of the quality of new research, will determine whether they change their standpoint.
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.
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.
Levels of aquaculture pesticides exceed UK environmental quality standards (EQSs) in samples taken from near Norwegian fish farms, a recent study has shown. The researchers examined five pesticides used to kill sea lice (Lepeophtheirus salmonis) and showed that in many cases their concentrations exceeded UK EQSs. They used UK standards, they explain, because there are currently no Norwegian EQSs for these chemicals, and call for international quality standards to be drawn up.
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.
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.
Greening urban areas can reduce the number of people dying from heat-related health problems, according to a recent study. The researchers found that doubling vegetation cover in central Melbourne could reduce heat-related mortality of the elderly by up to 28% during heat waves.
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.
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.
Long, unbroken periods of drought can be damaging to the mental health of people living in rural areas, new research suggests. An Australian study found that rural inhabitants who had experienced extensive drought periods over a seven-year period, combined with an unbroken spell for the year before they completed the survey had substantially higher distress scores than other participants.
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.
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.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) contamination in catfish in Italian rivers has been found to exceed EC limits, a new study has found. Benz[a]pyrene, which can potentially cause cancer, was found in all samples and in 9% exceeded limits set in EU food safety legislation. Heavy road traffic and inadequately treated wastewater are the most likely cause of these high levels of PAH pollution, say the researchers.
Halving meat and dairy consumption in Europe could reduce agricultural greenhouse-gas emissions by up to 42% and nitrogen pollution by 40%, new research suggests. The amount of land needed to grow food for each EU citizen would fall from 0.23 to 0.17 hectares and the reduced intake of saturated fats and red meat could have substantial health benefits, the researchers conclude.
Regular use of green space in a city setting may be linked to reduced risk of heart disease, a new Lithuanian study suggests. The authors found that people who lived closer to green spaces suffered fewer symptoms of heart disease over a four-year period, and that regular park users were at lower risk based on factors such as weight, physical activity and diabetes.
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.
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.
Climate change may increase the amount of pathogens entering bathing waters in some areas, finds a new study. The research, carried out in a lagoon in the Baltic Sea, found that, although higher temperatures can reduce microorganism populations, this is likely to be outweighed by contamination due to runoff caused by increased rainfall. The authors are currently developing a system for alerting local authorities and the public to potentially hazardous bathing water.
A risk-based tool built using multi-criteria decision analysis has been developed to rank environmental contaminants, giving each a level of concern. It can be used by decision makers to prioritise areas for further assessments, based on expected human health impacts.
Carbon nanotubes (CNT) could be released into the environment as the plastic they are embedded in degrades, a new study suggests. The research found that general wear combined with exposure to UV light and moderate humidity would expose CNTs, posing a potential threat to human health.
Eight key features for increasing the climate change resilience of water management and spatial planning projects are presented by new Dutch research. These include: focusing on the long term, integrating the projects with other sustainability measures and encouraging stakeholder participation.
The health impacts of consuming food that has been grown using cadmium-contaminated fertilisers are an increasing concern. New Danish research has estimated that the annual monetary cost of these impacts is 15.53 per km2 of agricultural land treated with mineral fertilisers. This cost rises to 37.04 per km2 if pig manure is used.
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.
A tool to calculate the risk of food and waterborne diseases under current or future climate change conditions has been presented in a recent study. Free to use, the online tool can help guide climate change adaptation, such as improvements to water management, by estimating the likelihood of contracting four diseases under a range of environmental conditions.
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.
Moving to an area with good access to green spaces has a positive, lasting effect on residents' mental health, new research suggests. The study shows that people who move to greener areas report considerably improved mental health three years after leaving their previous neighbourhood.
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.
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.
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.
Exposure to aircraft noise at night for more than 20 years could increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, according to research conducted around six European airports. Risk also increased for those constantly exposed to road traffic, but this may have been caused by air pollution rather than noise.
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.
Certain chemicals that were once used as flame retardants are now banned in the EU, but can remain in the environment. A new study adds to our limited knowledge regarding the presence of the chemicals polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) in humans. The study suggests levels in Polish and Ukrainian men are lower than in those living in the US and Greenland.
Calculating the costs of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions to society as well as business is vital to understand the true economic gains of reducing N2O emissions, new research suggests. Increasing nitrogen use efficiency by 20% by 2020 could bring global annual benefits to the climate, health and environment worth US $160 (€118) billion, the researchers conclude.
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.