Trees save lives, reduce respiratory problems

In the first broad-scale estimate of air pollution removal by trees nationwide, U.S. Forest Service scientists and collaborators calculated that trees are saving more than 850 human lives a year and preventing 670,000 incidents of acute respiratory symptoms.While trees’ pollution removal equated to an average air quality improvement of less than 1 percent, the impacts of that improvement are substantial. Researchers valued the human health effects of the reduced air pollution at nearly $7 billion every year in a study published recently in the journal Environmental Pollution.The study by Dave Nowak and Eric Greenfield of the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and Satoshi Hirabayashi and Allison Bodine of the Davey Institute is unique in that it directly links the removal of air pollution with improved human health effects and associated health values. The scientists found that pollution removal is substantially higher in rural areas than urban areas, however the effects on human health are substantially greater in urban areas than rural areas.”With more than 80 percent of Americans living in urban area, this research underscores how truly essential urban forests are to people across the nation,” said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory. “Information and tools developed by Forest Service research are contributing to communities valuing and managing the 138 million acres of trees and forests that grace the nation’s cities, towns and communities.”The study considered four pollutants for which the U.S. EPA has established air quality standards: nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter less than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) in aerodynamic diameter. Health effects related to air pollution include impacts on pulmonary, cardiac, vascular, and neurological systems. In the United States, approximately 130,000 PM2.5-related deaths and 4,700 ozone-related deaths in 2005 were attributed to air pollution.Trees’ benefits vary with tree cover across the nation. …

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Uncovering the drivers of honey bee colony declines and losses

Scientists have announced the results of research conducted on honey bee colony declines and the factors attributed to honey bee losses. In a paper published this week in the journal EcoHealth, scientists at EcoHealth Alliance investigated the causes of long-term declines of colony numbers and annual colony losses. The work shows that socioeconomic and political pressures on honey production over the past few decades has caused a long-term reduction in the number of colonies in production in the USA, Europe and many other countries. However, more recently honey bee managers have reported increased losses in their stocks each year (so-called ‘annual colony losses’), and the new research shows that pests, pathogens and management issues likely play a major role in this, and are under researched and poorly understood drivers.Honey bees provide ecosystem services through pollination of crops worth $215 billion annually worldwide. Concern over honey bee declines in recent decades as well as annual losses has sparked debate over their causes and has led to hypotheses that a specific novel syndrome ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ (CCD) is plaguing bee populations. Many scientists have proposed new drivers such as pollution from pesticides as the cause of these declines. EcoHealth Alliance conducted an in-depth, critical review of the science behind these declines and losses and have shown that:1. The long-term multi-decadal downward trend in the number of bee colonies in many countries reflects a reduction in the profitability of bee keeping due to economic and/or political change, with many bee keepers leaving the profession;2. Data on annual losses is sparse and collected in a non-uniform way that makes comparing the extent and potential cause of losses to those in previous years difficult3. That there are significant inconsistencies with the way researchers (and thus potentially bee keepers) define CCD, suggesting that it may be over-reported; and4. …

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Nitrogen management studied in greenhouse pepper production

As consumer demand for year-round fresh produce increases, vegetable and fruit producers are facing significant environmental and sustainability issues, and are being challenged to examine traditional production practices in order to improve product quality while limiting environmental impact. A recent focus on both the positive and negative effects of nitrogen applications has researchers across the globe working to find methods that can increase crops’ “nitrogen use efficiency” (NUE) to contribute to more sustainable, responsible agricultural practices.A study published in HortScience contains strategies for increasing NUE in greenhouse bell peppers, and demonstrates how the environmental impact of intensive agriculture can be minimized without harming fruit yield or quality.Nitrogen, the most important and widely used agricultural nutrient, is also a major environmental contaminant. In many regions increased levels of nitrate found in groundwater have been attributed to the high rates of nitrogen fertilizer applied to surrounding crops. But sufficient nitrogen–an integral part of protein and chloroplast structure and function in plants–is essential for plant growth and development. According to Hagai Yasuor of the Gilat Research Center in Negev, nitrogen deficiency has been studied on the majority of horticultural crops, but the effects of an oversupply of nitrogen are not as widely understood. Yasuor and colleagues designed a study to investigate ways to reduce environmental pollution by increasing nitrogen use efficiency in vegetables without negatively affecting fruit yield or quality.The scientists used bell pepper (Capsicum annum L.) in a case study for intensive vegetable cropping. “Pepper production is becoming commercially important in various regions of the world, including Israel, Spain, southern Europe, and north Africa, where the crop is grown from fall to spring in greenhouses and net houses,” the authors explained. They selected two pepper cultivars with different growth habits for the study, and drip-irrigated the greenhouse plants with solutions containing four different nitrogen concentrations. They then measured fruit yield, quality, and nutritional value of all plants.”We found that maximum yields occurred when peppers were irrigated with N at 56.2 mgL-1,” Yasuor said. “Higher concentrations of nitrogen loaded more nitrogen into the environment, while the 56.2-mgL-1 concentration was almost completely taken up and used by the plants.” The experiments also showed that nitrogen treatments had no significant negative effect on pepper fruit physical or chemical quality, including sugar content and acidity. …

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Drones open way to new world of coral research

Oct. 16, 2013 — Camera-equipped flying robots promise new insights into climate change effects on important ecosystems.Stanford aeronautics graduate student Ved Chirayath photographs coral reefs from below the water using a 360-degree camera.Like undiscovered groves of giant redwoods, centuries-old living corals remain unmapped and unmeasured. Scientists still know relatively little about the world’s biggest corals, where they are and how long they have lived.The secret to unlocking these mysteries may lie with a shoebox-size flying robot.The robot in question is a four-rotor remote-controlled drone developed by Stanford aeronautics graduate student Ved Chirayath. The drone is outfitted with cameras that can film coral reefs from up to 200 feet in the air. Chirayath teamed up with Stanford Woods Institute Senior Fellow Stephen Palumbi to pioneer the use of drone technology to precisely map, measure and study shallow-water reefs off Ofu Island in American Samoa.”Until now the challenges have been too high for flying platforms like planes, balloons and kites,” Palumbi said. “Now send in the drones.”Chirayath, who also works as a scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, analyzes the drone’s footage using software he designed. The software removes distortions caused by surface wave movements and enhances resolution. To link the drone aerial footage to close-up images of corals, Chirayath and his colleagues are photographing reefs from below the water using a 360-degree camera. The result is a centimeter-scale optical aerial map and stunning gigapixel panoramic photographs of coral heads that stitch together thousands of images into one.Surveys and maps of rainforests have resulted in new understanding of the vital role these ecosystems play in sustaining the biosphere. Detailed coral maps could do the same, allowing scientists to conduct precise species population surveys over large areas and assess the impact of climate change.The window of time to study these mysterious ecosystems, which provide sustenance and livelihoods to a billion people, may be closing. …

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Cold weather produces more heart attacks, researchers find

Sep. 1, 2013 — Cold weather leads to more heart attacks, according to research presented at ESC Congress 2013 today by Professor Marc Claeys from Belgium. The multifactorial study of nearly 16,000 patients found no relationship between heart attacks and air pollution.Professor Claeys said: “Air pollution and temperature changes are the most frequently reported environmental triggers for acute myocardial infarction (AMI). Epidemiologic studies have focused mainly on one environmental condition, but most environmental triggers are related to each other and may attenuate or reinforce the triggering effect of a single environmental factor.”He added: “Better knowledge of the impact of environment on AMI will help medical care providers and policy makers to optimise prevention strategies for a target risk population.” The present study evaluated the independent environmental triggers of AMI in a multifactorial nationwide environmental model. Weekly counts of AMI patients that underwent primary percutaneous coronary intervention (pPCI) during 2006-2009 in 32 Belgian PCI centres were extracted from the national PCI database.AMI counts were correlated with average weekly meteorological data obtained from daily measurements in 73 meteorological sites, equally distributed in Belgium. The following meteorological measures were investigated: air pollution expressed as particulate matter both less than 10µM (PM10) and less than 2.5µM (PM2.5), black smoke, temperature and relative humidity.During the study period a total of 15,964 AMI patients (mean age 63 years, 24.8% female) were admitted with a weekly average admission rate of 77 +/- 11 patients. Time series and univariate analysis revealed a significant positive correlation between AMI and air pollution and an inverse correlation between AMI and temperature.Multivariate analysis showed that only temperature was significantly correlated with AMI, which increased by 7% for each 10°C decrease in minimal temperature (odds ratio [OR]=1.07, 95% confidence interval [CI]=1.04-1.11), and that there was no significant effect of air pollution (OR=1.01, 95%CI=1.00-1.02).Professor Claeys said: “Additional analysis showed that the triggering effect of low temperature was also present outside the winter period. Apparently, smaller differences in temperature between indoor and outdoor can also precipitate AMI. In addition, below a minimal temperature of 10°C there is no additional effect of temperature decrease on the occurrence of AMIs.” (see figure 1)He added: “A potential mechanism to explain the increased risk of coronary events associated with decreasing temperature is the stimulation of cold receptors in the skin and therefore the sympathetic nervous system, leading to a rise in catecholamine levels. Moreover, increased platelet aggregation and blood viscosity during cold exposure promotes thrombosis and clot formation.”Professor Claeys concluded: “In a global environmental model, low temperature is by far the most important environmental trigger for AMI, whereas air pollution has a negligible effect. …

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‘Safe’ levels of environmental pollution may have long-term health consequences

Aug. 29, 2013 — If you’re eating better and exercising regularly, but still aren’t seeing improvements in your health, there might be a reason: pollution. According to a new research report published in the September issue of The FASEB Journal, what you are eating and doing may not be the problem, but what’s in what you are eating could be the culprit.Share This:”This study adds evidences for rethinking the way of addressing risk assessment especially when considering that the human population is widely exposed to low levels of thousands of chemicals, and that the health impact of realistic mixtures of pollutants will have to be tested as well,” said Brigitte Le Magueresse-Battistoni, a researcher involved in the work from the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM). “Indeed, one pollutant could have a different effect when in mixture with other pollutants. Thus, our study may have strong implications in terms of recommendations for food security. Our data also bring new light to the understanding of the impact of environmental food contaminants in the development of metabolic diseases.”To make this discovery, scientists used two groups of obese mice. Both were fed a high-fat, high-sucrose enriched diet, with one group receiving a cocktail of pollutants added to its diet at a very low dosage. These pollutants were given to the mice throughout — from pre-conception to adulthood. Although the researchers did not observe toxicity or excess of weight gain in the group having received the cocktail of pollutants, they did see a deterioration of glucose tolerance in females, suggesting a defect in insulin signaling. Study results suggest that the mixture of pollutants reduced estrogen activity in the liver through enhancing an enzyme in charge of estrogen elimination. …

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Traffic pollution and wood smoke increases asthma in adults

Aug. 20, 2013 — Asthma sufferers frequently exposed to heavy traffic pollution or smoke from wood fire heaters, experienced a significant worsening of symptoms, a new University of Melbourne led study has found.The study is the first of its kind to assess the impact of traffic pollution and wood smoke from heaters on middle-aged adults with asthma.The results revealed adults who suffer asthma and were exposed to heavy traffic pollution experienced an 80 per cent increase in symptoms and those exposed to wood smoke from wood fires experienced an 11 per cent increase in symptoms.Asthma affects more than 300 million people worldwide and is one of the most chronic health conditions.Dr John Burgess of the School of Population Health at the University of Melbourne and a co-author on the study said “it is now recommended that adults who suffer asthma should not live on busy roads and that the use of old wood heaters should be upgraded to newer heaters, to ensure their health does not worsen.”In the study, a cohort of 1383 44-year old adults in the Tasmanian Longitudinal Health Study were surveyed for their exposure to smoke from wood fires and traffic pollution. Participants were asked to rate their exposure.The survey asked for exposure to the frequency of heavy traffic vehicles near homes and the levels of ambient wood smoke in winter.Results were based on the self-reporting of symptoms and the number of flare-ups or exacerbations in a 12-month period. Participants reported from between two to three flare-ups (called intermittent asthma) to more than one flare-up per week (severe persistent asthma) over the same time.Traffic exhaust is thought to exacerbate asthma through airway inflammation. Particles from heavy vehicles exhaust have been shown to enhance allergic inflammatory responses in sensitised people who suffer asthma.”Our study also revealed a connection between the inhalation of wood smoke exposure and asthma severity and that the use of wood for heating is detrimental to health in communities such as Tasmania where use of wood burning is common,” Dr Burgess said.”Clean burning practices and the replacement of old polluting wood stoves by new ones are likely to minimise both indoor and outdoor wood smoke pollution and improve people’s health,” he said.”These findings may have particular importance in developing countries where wood smoke exposure is likely to be high in rural communities due to the use of wood for heating and cooking, and the intensity of air pollution from vehicular traffic in larger cities is significant.”The study revealed no association between traffic pollution and wood smoke and the onset of asthma.It was published in the journal Respirology.

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Stop marine pollution to protect kelp forests

July 17, 2013 — University of Adelaide marine biologists have found that reducing nutrient pollution in coastal marine environments should help protect kelp forests from the damaging effects of rising CO2.The researchers have found a combined effect on kelp forests from nutrient pollution and higher CO2, which could have a devastating impact on Australia’s marine ecosystems.”When we manipulated CO2 and nutrient levels in an experimental marine ecosystem we found the effect of both of them together was greater than the sum of their individual impacts,” says Dr Bayden Russell, of the University’s Environment Institute and Senior Lecturer in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences.The project, by PhD student Laura Falkenberg, found that removing the nutrients from the water removed the combined effect, improving the environment for kelp growth.Kelp forests are one of the most productive marine ecosystems in colder waters and form the basis of food webs for many fish and other marine life. “They are the coral reefs of colder waters,” Dr Russell says.”Increased nutrients from agriculture, wastewater discharge and stormwater on urban coasts are already causing damage to kelp populations in our coastal waters but our research shows that, as CO2 rises the impacts will be much worse and we could lose these really important marine habitats,” says Dr Russell.The researchers grew kelp in experimental tanks floating in the North Haven Boat Harbour with different combinations of added nutrients and CO2. They measured the growth of turf algae which is a precursor to kelp forest loss. As the turf algae grows it displaces the kelp.”When we removed the nutrients but kept the CO2 high we found that after six months we’d reduced the turf algae by 75% — we’d removed that synergistic effect,” says Dr Russell.”As we face a future of climate change and higher CO2 levels, there is considerable evidence that our marine ecosystems are going to be severely impacted. We won’t be able to manage those global factors at the local level, but what we can manage is local nutrient pollution into our seas from urban areas,” he says.”This work has shown that by reducing the nutrients we should be able to substantially reduce the impact of rising CO2. The bottom line is that we need to reduce the nutrient pollution now.”The research is continuing with larger tanks, known as mesocosms, set up at West Beach and in natural marine areas where CO2 seeps into the water from seabed volcanic activity in New Zealand.

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Survival of the Galapagos sea lion

June 29, 2013 — Immune systems of endangered Galapagos sea lions are in overdrive because of harmful activity by people, reveal scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).The study shows that Galapagos sea lions (Zalophus wollebaeki) are more prone to starvation because of exposure to human influences like pets and pollution. These can impair the level of their immunity, making them less able to hunt and more likely to go hungry when food is scarce.This research is published June 28 in the journal PLOS ONE.Conservationists spent more than eighteen months on the Islands of San Cristobal, which is inhabited by humans, and Santa Fe, where there are no humans, dogs, cats, mice or rats. They tagged 60 Galapagos sea lions from each island and monitored their behaviour and physiology.ZSL’s Institute of Zoology Director, Professor Tim Blackburn says: “We are increasingly aware of the threats of infectious diseases to wildlife around the world, from amphibians in the tropics to the birds in British gardens. It is worrying that we are now potentially seeing such threats to sea lions in the supposedly pristine wilderness of the Galapagos Islands.”ZSL’s Dr. Paddy Brock, author on the paper, says: “A tell-tale sign of an unhealthy sea lion is a thinner than normal layer of blubber, which is what we saw in the sea lions on San Cristobal. This was all the more notable as we didn’t notice these patterns in sea lions on Santa Fe, where they live without the presence of people or pets.””The immune systems of San Cristobel sea lions were more active, perhaps indicating a threat of infectious disease, which could mean human activity is increasing the chance of potentially dangerous diseases emerging in the Galapagos sea lion,” Dr Brock added.Despite laws designed to protect the unique wildlife found on the Galapagos, pets are regularly imported to the islands, which increases the risk of new diseases arriving and spreading to local species. In addition, dumping of sewage into the bay on San Cristobal where the sea lions live may be increasing their exposure to germs and bacteria associated with humans.ZSL, together with collaborators, will continue to address the threats faced by the Galapagos sea lion by carrying out further research into the methods driving the described patterns, such as the role that genetics plays in shaping them.

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Predicting the future of coral reefs in a changing world

June 6, 2013 — Rutgers scientists have described for the first time the biological process of how corals create their skeletons — destined to become limestones — which form massive and ecologically vital coral reefs in the world’s oceans.In a publication in Current Biology, Tali Mass and her colleagues at the Rutgers Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences show that specific proteins produced by corals can form limestones in test tubes. These proteins, secreted by corals, precipitate carbonate that forms the corals’ characteristic skeleton.”This is a first step toward understanding how coral build their skeleton,” said Mass, a post-doctoral researcher and lead author of the study. The researchers also found that the reaction occurs regardless of water acidity, which suggests that these organisms will survive in coming centuries when the world’s oceans are predicted to become more acidic. That also potentially bodes well for the health of the world’s coral reefs, which support ecosystems essential to marine diversity that in turn support fisheries.”The good news is that the change in acidity will not stop the function of these proteins,” said Mass. But she is quick to warn that her work shouldn’t make people complacent. “Pollution and rising water temperatures also pose major threats to these essential marine organisms.”Limestone rocks are all around us and have been central human history. The Egyptians used them to build pyramids and today they are still used to build monuments. Surprisingly, all limestones are created by living organisms. The rocks are everywhere, it seems, but how they form has not been answered until now.Scientists have long known that corals made their external skeletons from a matrix of secreted proteins, but didn’t understand the mechanism. Mass and her colleagues in Paul Falkowski’s laboratory began by asking which proteins might be responsible for the process. …

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Early-life traffic-related air pollution exposure linked to hyperactivity

May 21, 2013 — Early-life exposure to traffic-related air pollution was significantly associated with higher hyperactivity scores at age 7, according to new research from the University of Cincinnati (UC) and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

The research is detailed in a study being published Tuesday, May 21, in Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed open access journal published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), an institute within the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The research was conducted by faculty members from the UC College of Medicine’s Department of Environmental Health in collaboration with Cincinnati Children’s. Nicholas Newman, DO, director of the Pediatric Environmental Health and Lead Clinic at Cincinnati Children’s, was the study’s first author.

“There is increasing concern about the potential effects of traffic-related air pollution on the developing brain,” Newman says. “This impact is not fully understood due to limited epidemiological studies.

“To our knowledge, this is the largest prospective cohort with the longest follow-up investigating early life exposure to traffic-related air pollution and neurobehavioral outcomes at school age.” Scientists believe that early life exposures to a variety of toxic substances are important in the development of problems later in life.

Newman and his colleagues collected data on traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) from the Cincinnati Childhood Allergy and Air Pollution Study (CCAAPS), a long-term epidemiological study examining the effects of traffic particulates on childhood respiratory health and allergy development. Funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, CCAAPS is led by Grace LeMasters, PhD, of the environmental health department. Study participants — newborns in the Cincinnati metropolitan area from 2001 through 2003 — were chosen based on family history and their residence being either near or far from a major highway or bus route.

Children were followed from infancy to age 7, when parents completed the Behavioral Assessment System for Children, 2nd Edition (BASC-2), assessing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and related symptoms including attention problems, aggression, conduct problems and atypical behavior. Of the 762 children initially enrolled in the study, 576 were included in the final analysis at 7 years of age.

Results showed that children who were exposed to the highest third amount of TRAP during the first year of life were more likely to have hyperactivity scores in the “at risk” range when they were 7 years old. The “at risk” range for hyperactivity in children means that they need to be monitored carefully because they are at risk for developing clinically important symptoms.

“Several biological mechanisms could explain the association between hyperactive behaviors and traffic-related air pollution,” Newman says, including narrowed blood vessels in the body and toxicity in the brain’s frontal cortex.

Newman notes that the higher air pollution exposure was associated with a significant increase in hyperactivity only among those children whose mothers had greater than a high school education. Mothers with higher education may expect higher achievement, he says, affecting the parental report of behavioral concerns.

“The observed association between traffic-related air pollution and hyperactivity may have far-reaching implications for public health,” Newman says, noting that studies have shown that approximately 11 percent of the U.S. population lives within 100 meters of a four-lane highway and that 40 percent of children attend school within 400 meters of a major highway.

“Traffic-related air pollution is one of many factors associated with changes in neurodevelopment, but it is one that is potentially preventable.”

LeMasters, Patrick Ryan, PhD, Linda Levin, PhD, David Bernstein, MD, Gurjit Khurana Hershey, MD, PhD, James Lockey, PhD, Manuel Villareal, MD, Tiina Reponen, PhD, Sergey Grinshpun, PhD, Heidi Sucharew, PhD, and Kim Dietrich, PhD, were co-authors of the study.

Funding was provided by NIEHS and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

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