Navigation path

Science for
Environment Policy

News Archive » Environment and health

Here you will find all articles that have been published in the weekly Science for Environment Policy News Alert.

Browse archives by year and theme below.

Risk assessment of endocrine disruptors must take their combined effect into account

Analysis of a Swedish study of pregnant mothers and their children has shown that more than half were exposed to unsafe levels of a mixture of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) associated with language delay. Researchers behind the analysis argue that risk assessments should consider the cumulative effects of such combinations to reflect real-life exposure. Integrating experimental and epidemiological evidence, they propose a methodology that could inform chemical regulations.

Twenty years of ecotoxicology studies - review finds focus is on a narrow range of potentially hazardous substances

Understanding the effects of chemical pollutants is critical for developing effective policy and regulation. This study examines 20 years of scientific literature to assess how well it covers the range of potentially harmful substances and what changes can be seen over the period. The researchers report that relatively few chemicals dominate the published literature, and that changes in representation can be observed – such as increasing interest in pharmaceuticals.

Micronutrients in agricultural products - EU trade in iron, zinc and vitamin A in food and livestock feed

Worldwide trade in food products affects international resource use, distribution of ecological impacts, environmental footprints and food security. This study focuses on the role of EU trade in vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) within food and livestock feed. The researchers report that EU trade with regions facing dietary micronutrient deficiencies includes large imports of iron in animal feed and significant exports of vitamin A in food products.

Air pollution exposure may increase severity and fatality of COVID-19 infections

Researchers evaluate the increased risk of severe and fatal COVID-19 in those patients exposed to air pollutants. This study uses data from hospitals in Catalonia, Spain, to assess whether patients from more polluted areas were more likely to have a severe or fatal COVID-19 response. It finds that exposure to high levels of particulates (microscopic airborne particles) increases the risk of severe disease and death.

Large-scale modelling of rapid flows to groundwater highlights risk of aquifer contamination

For human and ecosystem health, it is essential that groundwater used for water supply is clean. New research highlights how some aquifers might be at greater risk of contamination than previously thought. Modelling fast flow infiltration — where surface water sinks through cracks — the study shows that significant quantities of water-borne pollutants (such as pesticides, veterinary medicines or human pathogens) may reach groundwater in carbonate rock before they degrade, demanding further investigation.

Novel nitrogen hazard tool better identifies agricultural groundwater pollution potential

Researchers evaluate a ‘nitrogen-input hazard index tool’ in a Spanish groundwater basin declared a nitrate-vulnerable zone. The tool aids risk analyses of agricultural activities in vulnerable areas — where groundwater is susceptible to nitrate pollution — an environmental concern as it can endanger human water supply, and negatively impact aquatic ecosystems.

Toxic chemical pollutants long-range air transport to remote European mountain ranges

Semi-volatile organic chemical pollutants (SOCs) accumulate and persist in the environment, particularly in cold environments such as polar and alpine regions. These pollutants (SOCs) include previously banned or restricted organochlorine compounds (OCs) such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are manmade chemicals that have been used widely in electrical equipment such as capacitors, as well as in paint, sealants and flame retardants. The semi-volatile nature of these pollutants mean that they can travel long distances by air. This study examines the processes of transport, deposition and degradation of SOCs in four alpine European sites.

The 'Dark Ecological Network' - strategically tackling light pollution for biodiversity and people

Night-time light pollution from artificial sources can disrupt biological processes and fragment habitats. This study presents a new concept for addressing the problem - a 'dark ecological network'. Its development involves mapping a new system of connected functional zones and corridors where dark can be preserved to help birds, bats and other taxa, and gives people the chance to experience starry skies.

Regulate lead-based hunting ammunition to reduce risk to large raptors, urges study

Eagles and vultures in southern European mountain ranges are heavily exposed to lead, finds a new study. Analysing tissues from four large species, researchers revealed that nearly half those sampled contained above background levels, with golden eagles and griffon vultures particularly affected. Lead-based hunting ammunition, the main source of contamination, should be banned to protect these birds from its toxic effects, they say.

New dual screening method for emerging pollutant chemicals in urban wastewater, Lyon, France

Urban wastewaters contain a number of chemical contaminants — including plasticisers, flame retardants, pharmaceuticals and pesticides. These chemicals are often ecotoxic — for example, those which disrupt hormones in organisms — and are a potential threat to aquatic life. This study aimed to establish a large-scale, environmental risk assessment (ERA) on emerging chemical pollutants continually released in effluent into local watercourses from 10 urban waste-water treatment plants (WWTP) in France.

Progress made on European air quality since 2000 - most pollutants falling, but further action needed

In a new overview of air quality in the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK), researchers have revealed downward trends in key pollutant emissions from 2000 to 2017. Despite significant progress, they found that urban exposure to fine particulate matter and ozone — which have some of the greatest health impacts — still exceeded the World Health Organization (WHO) limit values in 2017, suggesting that intensified actions are urgently needed.

Ranking the potential health risks of engineered nanoparticles in Europe

Developments in nanotechnology mean that engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) are found in increasingly large quantities on the European market. To manage any potential human health hazards, comprehensive risk-assessment tools and protocols are required. A novel model for the human health assessment of ENPs has been developed that ranks ENPs by risk, enabling the prioritisation of the most potentially hazardous ENPs in Europe.

Measuring biodiversity loss in threatened Mediterranean coastal sand-dune habitats, Italy

Threatened Mediterranean coastal sand-dune habitats have outstanding conservation value — home to rare flora, rich in fauna and offering protection against storms. Yet there is a lack of recent comprehensive studies that survey long-term changes in these habitats. This re-surveying study quantifies functional and taxonomic changes over the last 10–15 years in a 75-kilometre (km) stretch of Italian coastal dunes. The researchers find that approximately 23% of threatened sand-dune habitats have disappeared from the surveyed area.

COVID-19 transmission risk via wastewater - a comprehensive review

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronaviruses (SARS-CoVs) appear to survive in wastewater for several days. Conventional waste- water treatment only partially removes these viruses during a pandemic outburst, highlighting the need for a risk-assessment and management framework tailored to SARS-CoV transmission — SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) in particular. A review assesses the sources, detection, infectivity, survival and dispersal of SARS-CoVs in wastewater. The study also identifies promising technologies for finding and analysing the virus in wastewater and highlights knowledge gaps for the future.

Towards sustainable agriculture - study identifies biodiversity-friendly alternatives to conventional wheat crop management, Germany

As intensive agriculture is associated with large-scale impacts on biodiversity, ecosystem services, food security and human health, it is important to shift to more sustainable, yet highly productive, farming practices. A study now assesses such practices in wheat, evaluating agricultural-management strategies at the field and landscape scales. The findings suggest that biodiversity-enhancing practices can support natural pest predation without use of agrochemicals — and that controlling pests and weeds by agrochemical means is less relevant than expected for final crop productivity.

Microplastic pollution has soared in Spanish seagrass habitats over the last 40 years

Seagrass meadows are an important coastal habitat in the Mediterranean. However, these sites are accumulating tiny particles of plastic pollution (known as microplastic particles, or MPPs). A study explores soil-core samples to establish the amount of microplastic pollution present from 1930 to the present day in several seagrass meadows along the Spanish coast, some of which are close to suspected sources of agriculture-related plastic pollution.

Waste-water monitoring could help predict and prevent COVID-19 transmission

People suffering from COVID-19 — whether symptomatic or not — shed the SARS-CoV-2 virus into their faeces. Consequently, techniques to monitor untreated wastewater for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material are being trialled worldwide to note occurrence across communities. To find out more, Australian scientists implemented a waste-water-based COVID-19 detection technique in the city of Brisbane, Australia, in 2020, to help predict and prevent the spread of the disease.

Microplastic pollution from tyre-wear - a review of source, emissions and risk

Tyre-wear particles, which may account for a large proportion of microplastic pollution, are the focus of a recent review of studies on the environmental concentrations and impacts of non-exhaust vehicle emissions. The review finds that there is no data on the potential risk from ingestion via the food chain, and little information from either long- term monitoring, or on the particles’ ecotoxicological effects.

Bioaccumulative and mobile substances - equivalent concerns in water resources

When emitted into the environment, chemicals pose a threat to water resources depending on their bioaccumulation potential, persistence and mobility in aquatic environments. A study now compares the ‘level of concern’ for substances that are persistent, mobile and toxic (PMT or, if very persistent and very mobile, vPvM) to those that are bioaccumulative rather than mobile (PBT or vPvB); currently the latter are under particular scrutiny from EU chemicals regulation. While previously PMT/vPvM chemicals were not regulated in the EU, a recent strategy document has now focused on establishing substance criteria for PMT which may pose an equivalent risk.

Are long-term climate emissions scenarios plausible today? Scientists review using historical emissions data

Long-term emissions scenarios are a vital tool in evaluating future climate-change and response strategies. This study seeks to assess whether Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) emission projections, based on these scenarios, are relevant today — by examining historical trends and projections for key variables during 1990–2017.

COVID-19 cases may rise in cool, dry, wind-free areas with high air pollution, suggests Italian study

Weather variables and air pollution may favour COVID-19 pandemic transmission, leading to a higher number of deaths, finds a new study conducted in Northern Italian cities during the first lockdown of 2020, when all non-essential activities ceased. The researchers paired data on COVID-19 patients in intensive care units (ICUs), in Milan, Trento and Florence, alongside weather variables and air pollution data for the first wave of the pandemic to establish if the water content of the air (humidity), temperature or air pollution, were positively or negatively correlated to the high numbers of COVID-19 patients in ICU admissions.

Monitoring soil functions and their interactions - a new pan-European framework

Sustainable soil is a foundation of environmental health, with soil offering a multitude of ecosystem services including climate mitigation and adaption, biodiversity, agriculture (food security) and nutrient cycling. This study offers a new framework for monitoring synergies and trade-offs of soil functions across Europe.

Which sources of particle pollution may trigger inflammation in humans?

Particulate matter (PM) air pollution is linked to millions of global premature deaths every year. It is therefore vital to identify the major sources of PM pollution and understand which sources produce the types of PM thought to be most damaging to human health. In a new study, scientists analyse data from nine sites in Europe to identify which sources emit PM with the highest ‘oxidative potential’ - which may be a relevant metric for PM’s ability to cause inflammation.

Nanopesticides may have the potential to increase food production - but are they environmentally safe?

As the world's population increases, so does the need for environmentally sustainable ways to increase food production. Nanopesticides are growing in popularity, as they appear able to achieve the same results as traditional agrochemicals when applied at lower amounts. However, regulatory and ecotoxicological research gaps remain. A literature review now identifies these gaps, and suggests the steps needed to enable sustainable nanopesticide use on a global scale.

High levels of microplastic pollution found in the Antarctic and Southern Ocean deep sea

Marine plastic pollution has been found in the remote Antarctic peninsula and Southern Ocean since the 1980s, but microplastic pollution in this region is less well understood. To find out more about this emerging environmental hazard, scientists have analysed the deep-sea sediments of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean regions for the presence of microplastics.

Antibiotics - even low levels found in the environment might drive resistance

Researchers behind a new literature survey of antibiotic levels in the environment call for regulators to recognise antimicrobials as pollutants and to regulate them similarly to other hazardous substances — for which environmental limits, reference standards and treatment protocols have been set. Recognising that low-level contamination from antibiotics in waste and waste-water streams, agricultural run-off, and pharmaceutical effluent may be important risk factors linked to antibiotic resistance, they suggest setting maximum acceptable levels that are below those selecting for antimicrobial resistance. They suggest that it is vital to view antibiotics as a contaminant and to monitor levels in soil and water.

Innovative soundscape technology could enable automated, rapid, global monitoring of ecosystems

Human activity is causing global ecosystems to deteriorate at a rapid rate. Monitoring these changes often requires labour-intensive surveys, which may not identify rapid or unexpected environmental change. This study introduces a novel, faster technique - using automated soundscape (acoustic environment) monitoring - to predict habitat quality and provide real-time detection of noises such as chainsaws.

Urban and agricultural ecosystems may increase risk and emergence of animal-to-human disease transmission

Land-use change, environmental degradation and related human interaction with animals in the food systems are widely recognised to influence the risk and emergence of zoonotic diseases (those that can be transmitted from animals to people) in humans1. Using a large global dataset, this study examines whether this influence is underpinned by predictable ecological changes. The analysis reveals that, as ecosystems become increasingly dominated by humans, zoonotic host diversity also increases - creating hazardous interfaces between people, livestock and wildlife reservoirs of zoonotic disease.

Cool pavements can intensify pedestrian heat exposure

Solar reflective pavement - coated with a pale grey asphalt emulsion paint - can lower the surface temperature of urban roads and walkways by reflecting, rather than absorbing, incident heat (from sunlight). This has led cities to pilot this solution to mitigate the urban heat island (UHI) effect. However, a study investigating the impact that reflected heat has in urban neighbourhoods finds that this type of pavement can intensify heat stress for pedestrians during the hottest times of the day by increasing radiant temperatures (heat load on the body).

Green infrastructure offers many ecosystem-service benefits in densely populated areas, finds Amsterdam study

A new study models ecosystem services at a local level to support urban planning in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The researchers assess how ecosystem services might change in the city as green infrastructure (GI) — natural and semi-natural features such as parks and green roofs — is developed. By identifying the key factors that generate value for residents, the approach could help planners optimise green infrastructure and communicate its importance to decision-makers, investors and residents.

Short-term reduction in daily global carbon dioxide emissions during Covid-19 lockdown

Government lockdown policies during the Covid-19 pandemic have drastically altered patterns of energy demand. Researchers have estimated the resulting decrease in global daily carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from January to April 2020, indicating that levels dropped by up to 17% in early April, compared to 2019 averages. This indicates the effect of the extreme policies, while highlighting that most changes may be temporary as they do not reflect fundamental changes in global economic, transport or energy systems.

Not in my back yard: exploring general and local acceptance of three emerging renewable technologies, Germany

Germany plans to phase out fossil fuels and nuclear energy by 2022 and further deploy renewable energy technologies. To ensure success, it is important that the German population accepts these alternative technologies both generally and locally. A new study has surveyed the German public and used a model to identify the factors affecting general and local acceptance for three of the proposed cleaner technologies: hydrogen fuel stations, biofuel production plants and stationary battery storage facilities.

Reducing agricultural ammonia emissions benefits and costs

Ammonia (NH3) emissions associated with the agriculture sector contribute to the production of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution and may be associated with premature mortality. This study assesses the economic costs and benefits associated with reducing emissions in the agricultural sector. To do this, it uses emissions data from 2016 to assess the costs and benefits of achieving the 2020 ammonia emission reduction commitments, as set out in the National Emission reduction Commitments Directive (NECD) 2016/2284/ EU1, in relation to four abatement options. The results suggest that compliance with the directive may be associated with significant reductions in premature mortality, and that the economic benefits of avoiding premature mortality might outweigh the costs of abatement.

The route to sustainable, cost-effective soil remediation: protecting soil quality at a contaminated site in Sweden

Human activity is increasingly impacting soil on a global scale, introducing contaminants into soil ecosystems and degrading their quality and ability to provide valuable ecosystem services. A study now compares two different approaches to ecological risk assessment (ERA) of soil contamination — one based on laboratory-derived soil quality standards, and another that accounts for a wider range of soil qualities essential for soil biota (beyond those purely related to contamination). The researchers assess the environmental and socio-economic impacts of the differing remediation actions supported by each ERA approach.

Researchers use advanced techniques to characterise chemicals found in everyday plastics

Researchers used advanced techniques to analyse 34 widely used consumer products made from eight different plastics — including packaging such as refillable water bottles and products such as table mats and floor covering. They extracted samples of the plastics and evaluated their toxicity with cell culture tests in the laboratory. They found that up to 74% of everyday plastic items contained chemicals which induced toxicity in the tests. The extraction method used by the researchers reflects the content of those chemicals in the plastic and does not represent the migration of chemicals from plastics into the food.

Sustainability starts small: towards green chemistry for a cleaner, more sustainable global future

A sustainable society requires green chemistry and engineering, with compounds and processes that are renewable, benign and readily degradable. This review considers how to maintain and improve the performance of the chemical industry, whilst limiting or eliminating any negative impacts that may threaten the sustainability of both human and planetary wellbeing.

Protected areas provide mental health benefits worth US$6 (€5.55) trillion globally

Exposure to nature is known to improve mental health and wellbeing. As poor psychological health has an economic cost and positive mental health contributes to a stronger economy, nature reserves, therefore, have additional economic value — alongside the value arising from ecosystem services and tourism — through their beneficial impact on visitors’ wellbeing. This Australian study considers how to calculate the economic value of protected areas in terms of mental health, focusing on the costs saved as a result of reduced uptake of mental health services, using data on one-off, yearly and lifetime visitors to the country’s national parks.

A new tool to identify the most sustainable and cost-effective disaster waste management strategy after a flood

Extreme weather events, such as floods and landslides, are becoming more common in European countries due to climate change. After a flood or landslide, five to 15 times the annual waste generated by a community can be disposed of in an affected urban area. This can lead to environmental and health vulnerability in these areas, with high socio- economic costs. This study aimed to find sustainable and cost-effective disaster waste management (DWM) solutions. The scenarios selected, and associated data used, reflect realistic events in Italy.

Promoting health with people-centred city design: the ‘Barcelona Superblock’ model

Car-centred urban planning has resulted in high levels of pollution, sedentary lifestyles and increased vulnerability to the effects of climate change. The superblock model is an urban and transport planning strategy that reclaims public space for people, reduces motorised transport, promotes active lifestyles, provides urban greening and mitigates the effects of climate change. A study now estimates the health impacts of applying this model across Barcelona.

Mismanaged waste and tyre abrasion: scientists map key types and sources of marine plastic pollution

There is mounting global concern about marine plastic pollution and a growing focus on ways to address this environmental problem. In 2015, 9.2 megatonnes (Mt) of plastic was lost to the environment globally; in order to remedy this issue, it is essential to quantify the amounts, types and sources of plastic waste in the global environment (both geographically and within industry). This study estimates the loss of plastics to the environment across the plastic value chain, finding that mismanagement of municipal solid waste and tyre abrasion are key contributors of macro- and microplastic waste, respectively.

Sixteen-year reduction in levels of toxic PAHs in the Elbe River, Saxony

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a large group of toxic molecules produced by forest fires, industrial processes and the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. The airborne particles containing these molecules are often washed into watercourses, where they can persist. This study uses long-term monitoring data from the Elbe river, Saxony, Germany, to show how changes in PAH sources affect both the concentrations of these chemicals and the corresponding environmental risks. The researchers suggest that controlling PAHs is the best prevention of harm to aquatic and human health.

How the occurrence and concentration of micropollutants vary across Austria

The presence and accumulation of micropollutants1 (anthropogenic trace contaminants) in aquatic environments is an area of policy concern for the EU. In order to better understand how these chemicals enter and are transported within water systems, this study investigated the occurrence and concentration of a broad spectrum of micropollutants across Austria’s water system. Municipal waste-water effluents were found to be the emission pathway with the highest concentrations of some micropollutants. The study also demonstrated that levels of other micropollutants are higher in rivers, atmospheric deposition and groundwater than in waste-water effluents and that these sometimes exceeded environmental quality standards for surface waters.

Wild pollinators in decline, finds 33-year Great Britain study of bees and hoverflies

To estimate the losses of wild pollinators across Great Britain, a study mapped records of 353 wild bee and hoverfly species, collected across the country from 1980 to 2013. It found that a third of species decreased, while a tenth increased. On average, the geographic range of bee and hoverfly species declined by a quarter, which equates to a net loss of 11 species from each 1km grid square (with uncommon species more harshly affected), highlighting a significant risk to biodiversity, pollinators, and their ecosystems.

Microplastics: new methods needed to filter tiny particles from drinking water

The presence of plastics in aquatic environments is a growing concern across the EU. This study explored the amount of microplastic particles present in raw and treated water at three water-treatment plants in the Czech Republic. While treated water contained fewer particles than raw1 fresh water, the amount found in treated water was not negligible, and largely comprised tiny particles of <10 micrometres (μm) in diameter. Ways to filter microplastics from potable water must be identified and their risk to humans, sources and routes into drinking water determined, say the researchers.

Air quality co-benefits for health and agriculture outweigh costs of meeting Paris Agreement pledges

Ahead of the 2016 Paris Agreement on climate change, various climate and energy policy actions were proposed to target pledged 'nationally determined contributions' (NDCs). Now, researchers have quantified the global impact of implementing these actions on air quality, and determined that they have the potential to substantially reduce air pollution worldwide, with significant co-benefits for human health and agriculture — including the prevention of up to 99 000 premature deaths annually by 2030. These co-benefits could offset the global costs of climate policy; this study thus calls for an integrated policy perspective that aims to maximise the benefits of NDCs for climate and health.

Salicylic acid poses no current threat to marine ragworms, finds acute Portuguese study

Contamination of the aquatic environment by pharmaceutical drugs used in human and veterinary medicine is an emerging issue, as it can cause toxic effects in biological systems. This study explored how the marine organism Hediste diversicolor, a polychaete worm, responded to exposure to salicylic acid, a key component of aspirin. They found the species to adapt and respond in a way that minimised the effects of metabolising the contaminating compound, suggesting that the acid does not currently pose a threat to marine polychaetes.

Swiss environmental impact exceeds its share of planetary boundaries

In order to manage its environmental footprint, Switzerland should act on a number of key issues identified by the ‘planetary boundaries’ framework, says a Swiss study, with priority given to the areas of climate change, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss and nitrogen loss. This quantitative framework identifies nine bio-physical limits of the Earth system that, if exceeded, may lead to societal and ecological changes unfavourable to human development and stability. These are upper thresholds rather than targets. The researchers suggest that the concept and their methodology could be used together to think differently about environmental issues, and change the way related assessments and policies are implemented at both global and national levels.

Exploring the exposome: study measures multitude of environmental influences on health

Scientists have measured how children and pregnant women are exposed to over 120 environmental factors influencing our health — from air and noise pollution to green space and access to public transport. The study gathered and analysed data from six European countries to build a picture of the ‘exposome’ — the array of environmental factors that humans are exposed to from the moment they are conceived. A better understanding of the exposome could help us understand the role of the environment in the onset of various diseases, including cancer and other chronic disorders such as cardiovascular disease.

AI-enabled model rapidly assesses plans to cut air pollution

Researchers have developed a new computer model to help decision-makers quickly assess proposed strategies to cut air pollution, by generating an array of useful data and maps in under half a minute. The model uses artificial intelligence (AI) technology to quickly make sense of the complex problem of urban air quality, and innovatively considers the influence of public opinion in its assessment of emission reduction strategies — given that some are deemed more socially acceptable than others.

Agricultural management practices influence copper concentrations in European topsoils

Copper (Cu) is frequently used in agricultural practices, particularly in fungicides, used extensively in the management of permanent crops, such as vineyards, olive groves, and fruit orchards — all crops of significant economic importance to the EU. An investigation into the factors influencing Cu distribution in the topsoils of 25 EU Member States has identified that, in conjunction with other factors such as topsoil properties, land cover, and climate, such agricultural management practices play a role in influencing Cu concentration. The analysis used 21 682 soil samples from the EU-funded Land Use and Coverage Area frame Survey (LUCAS)1 and found that vineyards, olive groves, and orchards had the highest mean soil Cu concentrations of all land use categories. The findings highlight the major impact of land use and agricultural practices on soil Cu concentrations and emphasise a need for more sustainable land management practices.

Portugal’s air pollution levels to worsen, exceeding WHO guidelines by 2050

Air quality standards worldwide are facing increasing scrutiny as countries struggle to meet World Health Organisation (WHO) air-quality guidelines (AQGs), particularly regarding ozone (O3) and particulate matter (pollutant particles with diameters of less than 10 or 2.5 micrometres — PM10 and PM2.5 respectively). A new study aimed to evaluate whether WHO guidelines are being met in Europe; the researchers focused on Portugal, using recent data alongside climate change and background air pollution predictions. At present, Portugal frequently exceeds legislated values for ozone and PM10.

Innovative seaweed-based gel coating for urban homes able to capture harmful air particles

Air pollution via small particulate matter (PM) from diesel fumes and other sources is of growing concern in urban areas, and contributes to poor air quality. In European urban areas, PM pollution often exceeds World Health Organization (WHO) safe levels for human wellbeing. In response to this, the European Commission has encouraged researchers to develop a low-cost, sustainable material that captures these particles in order to clean the air1. This study created a new PM capture material using sustainable chemical processes where the carbon footprint and energy use of the production process of the remediation material is taken into account. The newly developed porous material is called ‘SUNSPACE’ (an acronym derived from ‘(SUstaiNable materials Synthesized from By-products and Alginates for Clean air and better Environment’).

Concern over health effects of air pollution linked to personal and environmental factors in seven European cities

Subjective perception of air pollution can have important implications in terms of health-protective behaviours and citizen and stakeholder engagement in cleaner-air policies. A recent study, conducted under the EU-funded PASTA1 project, has analysed the link between level of concern over health effects of air pollution and personal and environmental factors in seven European cities. Overall, 58% of participants were worried over health effects of air pollution, with large differences between cities. On a city scale, average levels of concern over health effects of air pollution had a good correlation with average NO2 levels and a lower correlation with average PM2.5 levels. Individual level of concern was found to be linked to gender, having children in the household, levels of physical activity, and NO2 levels at the home address. These findings can be used to inform future policymaking.

How can risks from nanotechnology be managed? Researchers recommend global framework

Currently laws and regulations governing nanotechnology are fragmented and do not take account of the unique properties of nanomaterials, the effect of which on humans and the environment are not yet fully understood, argue researchers in a new study. In the study, a network of European researchers propose a new universal regulatory framework that deals specifically with nanomaterials. The framework should help policymakers, organisations and researchers evaluate the risks of any existing materials and new nanomaterials entering the market. It should also help SMEs and large companies use safer products and processes, limit the potential adverse effects of nanomaterials on workers and consumers, reduce the cost of insurance and reduce the risk of governments having to pay out money in the future due to unforeseen accidents or diseases.

Disinfection by-products in drinking water: new detector may meet need for monitoring and detection of broader range of DBP classes, Sweden

The presence of disinfection by-products (DBPs) in drinking water is an emerging health concern. DBPs come in many classes and are chemically diverse, making them challenging to monitor. Swedish researchers have evaluated a new method for the simultaneous determination of a broader range of DBPs than typically possible using other available techniques. The method uses gas chromatography (a laboratory technique that separates and analyses vaporisable compounds in a mixture), together with a halogen-specific detector (XSD). Having been tested in real water samples from two municipal waterworks in Sweden, the method has been optimised for the simultaneous determination of a wide range of neutral DBPs.

How to control and mitigate the effects of pollution on public health: Six Lancet Commission recommendations

Pollution is the world’s largest environmental cause of disease and premature death. The Lancet Commission on pollution and health brought together leaders, researchers and practitioners from the fields of pollution management, environmental health and sustainable development to elucidate the full health and economic costs of air, water, chemical and soil pollution worldwide. By analysing existing and emerging data, the Commission reveals that pollution makes a significant and underreported contribution to the global burden of disease, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. The Commission also provides six recommendations to policymakers and other stakeholders looking for efficient, cost-effective and actionable approaches to pollution mitigation and prevention.

Changes that occur to nanoparticles in the environment are key to understanding their impact

Available evidence from the last decade, describing the nature, behaviour and effect of engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) in the environment, has been reviewed. It identified factors that influence ENP distribution and fate and highlighted the existence of significant research gaps which, if filled, would help in understanding the impacts of long-term accumulation of nanomaterials and the changes that occur to them when they are released into the environment.

Seven UV filters with potential endocrine-disrupting properties found at low levels in eggs of seven wild bird species, national park, Spain

Personal Care Products (PCPs) are of increasing global concern, as thousands of tonnes enter the environment every year. Similar to persistent organic pollutants (POPs), some substances used in PCPs are toxic, persist in the environment and accumulate in the bodies of organisms that take them in. This study focused on the presence of ultraviolet filters (UV-Fs) (used in PCPs such as sunscreens and cosmetics) in the unhatched eggs of wild birds.

A circular economy for earth metals in industrial waste: the politics of vanadium

A successful circular economy for valuable metals needs more than just effective recycling technologies, as a new study shows. The research, which explored the governance of recovering vanadium from steel-industry waste, revealed that industry stakeholders feel the prospect of financial gain, or reduced costs, through recovery is too distant at present. This perception could hinder a circular economy for critical materials from industrial residue, the study warns.

New magnetised carbon nanotubes more effectively remove mercury from water

Water pollution by toxic elements is a major economic and environmental concern, and mercury is one of the most poisonous of the elements to be released into the environment by industry. Mercury exposure can cause severe ill health. Efficient, simple and convenient methods to remove mercury from industrial and other waste streams and drinking water are essential. This study successfully trialled a new technique, using magnetised multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs), to remove mercury from waste water.

Environmentally persistent free radicals: what do we know about this newly recognised class of pollutants?

The most important findings from over a decade of research into environmentally persistent free radicals (EPFRs), a new class of environmental pollutants, are presented in a recent review. These toxic particles could be partly responsible for some of the health problems, such as asthma, associated with particulate matter (PM) exposure. The researchers issue a warning that some engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) could increase levels of EPFRs in the environment.

Fibres from polyester clothes could be more damaging to marine life than microbeads

Tiny polyester fibres, which are washed into rivers, lakes and seas every time we do our laundry could cause more harm to animals than plastic microbeads, finds a new study. The researchers looked at the effect of microbeads and fibres on a small crustacean called Ceriodaphnia dubia, which lives in freshwater lakes. They found that although both types of plastic were toxic, microfibres caused more harm. Both microplastics stunted the growth of the animals, and reduced their ability to have offspring; microfibres, however, did this to a greater degree, and also caused noticeable deformities in the crustacean’s body and antennae.

Putting risk analysis and technology assessment (RATA) into practice to support technology development

Risk analysis and technology assessment (RATA) involves assessing the possible human, environmental and societal risks of a novel technology at various stages of the development process. However, best practices for RATA’s successful incorporation into large-scale research programmes are still in development. In a recent study, researchers present a case study of their efforts to bring RATA into practice within a large Dutch nanotechnology consortium. By outlining the procedures and products they developed and reflecting on their experiences, the researchers provide valuable insights for the future integration of RATA in technology development projects. The findings are relevant to stakeholders with an interest in supporting the design of key enabling technologies, including governmental agencies and industrial partners.

Incinerating nano-enabled thermoplastics linked to increased PAH emissions and toxicity

Advances in nanotechnology mean that a rapidly increasing number of products are being produced using engineered nanomaterials, for example, nano-enabled thermoplastics. Many of these nano-enabled products are destined to reach their end-of-life through waste incineration or accidental fire. Now, an original study has revealed that the presence of nanofiller in thermoplastics significantly enhances both the concentration and toxicity of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) produced during thermal decomposition at the product’s end- of-life, resulting in concentrations of total PAHs and more toxic PAHs that are up to eight times higher than those found in pure (non nano-enabled) thermoplastics. This finding has significant environmental health implications.

Link between total cost of ownership and market share of hybrid and electric vehicles

Hybrid and electric vehicles emit lower levels of carbon dioxide and air pollutants than conventional petrol and diesel vehicles, yet their market uptake in the EU remains limited. New research provides an assessment of the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) — which combines purchase and operating expenses — of different vehicle types. By comparing historical data on hybrid, petrol and diesel vehicles in three countries (Japan, the UK and the USA), researchers found a strong link between TCO and market share of those vehicles. They also identified a number of ways in which policymakers may promote the adoption of cleaner vehicles through the provision of financial incentives.

Radiation processing may be faster, cleaner and more efficient at removing pollutants from drinking and waste water than conventional techniques

The presence of organic pollutants in waste water and drinking water can have alarming environmental and public health implications. Current water treatment methods have limitations: they can only remove certain contaminants, to certain extents, and also produce harmful by-products. New and improved methods are required. A recent review paper presents radiation processing as a promising approach, providing strong evidence of its efficacy, efficiency, safety, and feasibility. Focusing particularly on the use of electron-beam processing for the removal of organic pollutants from waste water and drinking water, the researchers present a compelling picture, relevant to stakeholders involved in water treatment and management.

Antibiotic resistance in struvite fertiliser from waste water could enter the food chain

The application to crops of struvite (magnesium ammonium phosphate) recovered from waste water may cause antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) present in this fertiliser to enter the food chain. Chinese researchers who conducted this study on Brassica plants suggest that ARGs in struvite pass from the soil into the roots of the plant, and from the roots to the leaves, via the bacterial community already present. The results of this research highlight the need for struvite production methods and agricultural practices that minimise the risk of antibiotic-resistance transmission from struvite to humans or animals via the environment.

Vegetative Vigour Terrestrial Plant Test adapted for assessment of atmospheric pollution

It is important to understand the extent to which atmospheric (air) pollution damages plants (i.e. its phytotoxicity) as well as the wider ecosystem (i.e. its ecotoxicity). For this reason, researchers have adapted the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Vegetative Vigour Test1 for the assessment of the ecotoxicity of samples of aerosol (suspensions of fine solid particles or liquid droplets in air). Typically, the test involves spraying the trial liquid on above-ground portions of the plant, such as the leaves. The adapted protocol involves extracting water-soluble aerosol compounds from aerosol samples to spray on the plant. The new protocol is sensitive enough to determine phytotoxicity and establish a clear cause–effect relationship, and as such has the potential to serve as a useful tool for the assessment of the effects of air pollution on environmental and human health.

Potential contamination of copper oxide nanoparticles and possible consequences on urban agriculture

Researchers have assessed the phyto-toxic effects of copper nanoparticles on vegetables grown within urban gardens, comparing increasing doses of these nanoparticles to simulate potential aerial deposition to extreme pollution of CuO-NP in a range of increasing exposure periods. Lettuce and cabbage absorbed high amounts of copper nanoparticles, after 15 days of exposure, which interfered with photosynthesis, respiration and also reduced growth. Under the specific exposure conditions of the study the researchers indicate that metal nanoparticles could lead to potential health risks to humans from the contamination of crops from pollution.

Mapping the vulnerability of European cities to climate change

A new study has assessed the vulnerability of 571 European cities to heatwaves, droughts and flooding caused by climate change. The causes of vulnerability differ across Europe and the researchers say the results could be used to design policies to mitigate the impacts.

Reducing synthetic pesticide use on grapevines — a review of methods

Disease-fighting microbes, insect-eating predators and mating-disrupting pheromones are among the tools listed in a new review of methods that can be used to reduce synthetic pesticide use on grapevines in Europe. Using these alternative methods can reduce the environmental and health risks associated with chemical pesticides, but further development is required to make them attractive to growers.

Antibiotic resistance genes traced from manure to soil and water on Finnish farms

A new study has investigated the movement of antibiotic resistance genes between farm animals, soil and water in Finland. The results show that many of these genes are spread from animals to the soil through manure application; however, these genes do not appear to persist in soil. The study suggests that practices that minimise the use of antibiotics, as used in Finland, may lead to lower levels of clinically relevant resistance genes in agricultural soils.

Italian cities make progress towards smart mobility

The move towards smart mobility systems in cities across Italy, specifically in relation to public transport systems (including cycle infrastructure, and cycle and car-sharing schemes) has been assessed in a new study. The researchers say significant progress has been made in light of new guidelines imposed by the European Union, which is often linked to financial investment, as well as the capacity of city planners to implement changes.

Floods due to rising sea levels may mobilise arsenic from contaminated soils

New research has shown that flooding of soils contaminated with arsenic, which may occur as sea levels rise due to climate change, could lead to the mobilisation of this toxic element in the environment. The study shows that arsenic is more stable in soil flooded with saltwater, compared to river water, as salt stabilises mineral oxides and could inhibit microbial activity. However, microbes that transform arsenic into water-soluble forms may adapt to saline conditions, and the risk of arsenic entering waters due to rising sea levels should receive further attention.

Study investigates attitudes of soil-remediation experts to phytoremediation

An investigation into the attitudes of Canadian soil-remediation experts has shown that they tend to prefer conventional remediation methods over phytoremediation — which relies on plants to clean soils — despite evidence that the latter can have advantages. The researchers behind the study highlight that this ‘status-quo bias’ poses a barrier to the uptake of novel technologies such as phytoremediation, and that scientists may need to find different ways of disseminating evidence to increase the use of new techniques among practitioners.

OFFICAIR project finds seasonal variation in indoor air quality in modern office buildings

A new study aimed at increasing knowledge of indoor air quality (IAQ) in recently built or refurbished office buildings has found that levels of pollutants are mostly within World Health Organization (WHO) air-quality guidelines, however they vary between seasons. In addition, some levels of particulate matter were found to exceed WHO guideline values. The OFFICAIR project was funded by the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme.

Waste-water analysis highlights exposure to endocrine-disrupting phthalate plasticisers

Researchers in Spain have analysed waste water to calculate levels of exposure to phthalates in individuals. The calculations showed that levels of four types of phthalate exceeded safe daily limits in some of the sites studied, with levels of exposure in children being of particular concern. Using the results of waste-water analysis in this way can identify areas where action may need to be taken to lower exposure.

Three-quarters of all human releases of mercury have occurred since 1850

A new study has, for the first time, estimated total anthropogenic releases of mercury over the last 4 000 years, up to 2010. Overall, the study estimates that a total of 1 540 000 tonnes of mercury have been released; three-quarters of this since 1850, and 78 times more than was released through natural causes over this period. Therefore, human activity has been responsible for a significant level of contamination, and this inventory can be used to inform and assess mitigation measures. The publication coincides with the ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, and the new EU Mercury Regulation1, which prohibits the export, import and manufacturing of mercury-added products, among other measures.

Urban vegetation can react with car emissions to decrease air quality in summer (Berlin)

Researchers have shown that emissions from vehicles can react with emissions from urban trees and other plants, resulting in a decrease in air quality in cities in summer; this reduces the otherwise positive impacts of urban vegetation. The study, conducted in Berlin, showed that during a July heatwave, 20% of ozone concentrations were due to emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from vegetation interacting with other pollutants. To reduce this effect, lowering emissions of these other pollutants is crucial.

New hazard index tool to aid risk assessment of exposure to multiple chemicals

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.

Taking stock: progress in natural capital accounting – November 2017

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.

Natural enemies of crop pests will feature in the future of environmentally friendly farming

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.

Tackling mercury pollution in the EU and worldwide – November 2017

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.

Persistent organic pollutants: towards a POPs-free future – October 2017

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.

New nanomaterials could purify water contaminated with heavy metals

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.

Assessing the environmental safety of manufactured nanomaterials – August 2017

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.

Potentially toxic elements in European soils mapped by researchers

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.

Noise abatement approaches

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.

Which factors make drugs persistent? A look at sulphonamides in Polish rivers

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.

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.

Pollutants from the EU Watch List: a review of their occurrence and water-treatment options

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.

Applying sewage sludge to soil may spread antibiotic resistance

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.

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.

Urban gardens provide many ecosystem services to Barcelona residents

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.

Does environmental noise lead to depression and anxiety?

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.

Noise pollution may make people less likely to exercise

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.

EU pesticide-poisoning data could be harmonised between Member States

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.

Could freshwater crustaceans curb algal blooms?

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.

How does living with aircraft noise affect wellbeing? A study of UK airports

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.

Urban design can promote walking: people physically active for up to 1.5 hours more per week in activity-friendly neighbourhoods

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.

Perspectives on shipbreaking: economic, social and environmental impacts at Alang-Sosiya

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.

The Turkish shipbreaking industry: review of environmental, health and safety issues

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’.

The future for Bangladeshi ship recycling: a critical scenario analysis

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.

Asbestos exposure increases risk of cancer in ship recycling workers

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.

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.

Is sustainable aquaculture possible?

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.

Biodegradation of PPCPs in wastewater treatment plants — a Danish case study

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.

No Net Land Take by 2050? – April 2016

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.

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.

Wastewater treatment plant discharges can promote the development of antibiotic resistance in streams

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.

Exposure to BPA derivatives: newer analogues may also have endocrine-disrupting effects

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.

Egg consumers may be exposed to dioxins above EU limit due to farmyard PCP

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.

Lake Como contaminated with chemicals banned in the 1970s

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.

‘Ecological leftovers’: a route to a sustainable diet?

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 for removing human pathogens: factors affecting water safety

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.

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.

What do pollinator declines mean for human health?

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.

How does living near to green space affect death risk?

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.

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.

Common consumer products contain high levels of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances

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.

High levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in sediments and fish from the Italian River Po and its Lambro tributary

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.

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.

Are endocrine disrupting chemicals responsible for downward trends in male fertility?

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.

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.

Sustainable Aquaculture - May 2015

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 in wastewater: who are the major contributors?

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.

Can sustainable supplies of fish meet healthy eating recommendations?

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.

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.

Biomonitoring study suggests exposure to environmental chemicals varies greatly across the EU

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.

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.

Quantifying the ecosystem services provided by urban green spaces

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.

Gulf of Mexico oil spill exposed Peregrine falcon species to harmful hydrocarbons

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.

Mussels: Biomonitoring tools for pharmaceutical pollution in the marine environment?

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.

Collecting data to explore the ecological threat of nanomaterials

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.

Disease-causing bacteria made more resilient by standard water disinfection practices

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.

Global variation in persistent organic pollutants in breast milk

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.

Link found between ‘algal blooms’ and liver disease

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.

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.

New controls recommended to reduce environmental risks of human pharmaceuticals

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.

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.

Nature in urban environments reduces stress

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.

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.

Nanocoating on buildings releases potentially toxic particles to the air

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.

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.

Trees in urban areas may improve mental health

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.

Transport noise mitigation must consider the medical impacts

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.

Loss of healthy life due to UK noise exposure valued at €1.34 billion

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.

Aircraft noise at night can result in dysfunction of blood vessels and cause long-term cardiovascular disease

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.

Health of vulnerable people exposed to noise is under-researched

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 are more hyperactive if they live near busy roads

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.

Reviewing the multiple impacts of noise pollution

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.

Preserving quiet areas improves health

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.

How sounds affect our state of mind

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.

Are motorways the best spot for wind turbines?

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.

Graphene’s health effects summarised in new guide

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.

Ultra-fine particles emitted by commercial desktop 3D printers

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.

New 3D printing technique for environmental nanodevices

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.

The potential of new building block-like nanomaterials: van der Waals heterostructures

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.

Potential health risks from different forms of nanosized cellulose crystals

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.

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.

Dry soils exacerbated 2006 heatwave in Northern France

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.

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.

Parks and beaches may improve children’s behavioural development

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.

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.

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.

Global pollinator decline may lead to human malnutrition

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 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.

When can science help conflicting stakeholders reach agreement?

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.

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.

Sea lice pesticides from Norwegian fish farms can exceed UK environmental health standards

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.

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.

Greening urban areas can reduce mortality rates in the elderly during heat waves

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.

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.

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.

Rural inhabitants suffer mental distress under extended droughts

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.

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.

Catfish reveal polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon contamination in northern Italy

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 EU meat and dairy consumption yields lower pollution and land use, and better health

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.

How green spaces could reduce risk of heart disease

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.

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.

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.

Bathing water disease risk may increase under climate change

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.

Spatial assessment and ranking of relevant environmental contaminants

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 could be released by plastic as it degrades

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.

Water management and spatial planning's resilience to climate change: key proposals

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.

What are the health costs of cadmium contamination in fertilisers?

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.

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.

Disease risk predicted by new climate change adaptation tool

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.

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.

Green spaces can have positive, long-term effects on mental health

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.

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.

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.

Aircraft noise at night may lead to long-term health impacts

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.

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.

Case studies from Greenland, Poland and the Ukraine on levels of banned flame retardants

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.

The value of acknowledging societal costs of N2O emissions

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.

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.