Global air pollution is worse than you ever thought it was


Click to enlargeBBC

The World Health Organization — which has previously found that indoor and outdoor air pollution killed a shocking 7 million people globally in 2012 — released a new analysis Tuesday underscoring the extent of the risk, which seems to grow worse and worse the more we learn about how damaging tiny airborne particles can be to our health.

Most strikingly, the new report, which combines local data with a global model to determine the extent of deadly air pollution across the planet even in places where there are no instruments recording it, finds that 92 percent of people suffer under pollution levels that are worse than WHO standards (as of 2014). The vast majority of deaths are in developing countries. The document calls air pollution the “largest environmental risk factor.”

Of greatest concern is a form of pollution called PM2.5, referring to particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers. The global health agency believes that a concentration greater than 10 micrograms per cubic meter of these fine particles in the air qualifies as dangerous. The great risk is that the particles are so small that they can be inhaled, travel into the lungs, and enter the bloodstream…

The new report credits air pollution with “about one in every nine deaths annually…”

In general, developed nations such as the United States have managed to clean their air substantially in recent years, but WHO has found that in developing countries the burden remains quite high. A previous report from earlier this year from the agency found that the Indian capital city of Delhi had annually averaged PM2.5 levels of 122, or more than 12 times the safe level…

In other words, Air pollution is improving in rich countries, but it’s still getting worse in most developing countries.

We’re number 28! We’re number 28!

❝ Every study ranking nations by health or living standards invariably offers Scandinavian social democracies a chance to show their quiet dominance. A new analysis published this week — perhaps the most comprehensive ever — is no different. But what it does reveal are the broad shortcomings of sustainable development efforts, the new shorthand for not killing ourselves or the planet, as well as the specific afflictions of a certain North American country.

❝ Iceland and Sweden share the top slot with Singapore as world leaders when it comes to health goals set by the United Nations…

The massive study emerged from a decade-long collaboration focused on the worldwide distribution of disease. About a year and a half ago, the researchers involved decided their data might help measure progress on what may be the single most ambitious undertaking humans have ever committed themselves to: survival. In doing so, they came up with some disturbing findings, including that the country with the biggest economy…ranks No. 28 overall, between Japan and Estonia…

❝ The U.S. scores its highest marks in water, sanitation, and child development. That’s the upside. Unsurprisingly, interpersonal violence (think gun crime) takes a heavy toll on America’s overall ranking. Response to natural disasters, HIV, suicide, obesity, and alcohol abuse all require attention in the U.S.

Also noteworthy are basic public health metrics that America. doesn’t perform as well on as other developed countries. The U.S. is No. 64 in the rate of mothers dying for every 100,000 births, and No. 40 when it comes to the rate children under age five die…

It may come as a surprise to Americans; but, most of the world considers healthcare a necessity and a right. I had to feel the pain viewing a discussion on economics when a leading Danish economist had to laugh when asked a question about American insurance companies and their control over Congress.

He replied, “the United States is the only industrial nation in the world where healthcare is still considered a privilege.” He was right of course.

In the not-too-distant future, we won’t need sex to reproduce — Get ready!

I’ll give you the beginning of this article – and the end. You really need to read the whole critter to justify pondering the concept.

❝ For 100 million years, all our ancestors reproduced basically the same way. A male reproductive organ deposited sperm into a female reproduction organ, where it could fertilize eggs — leading to baby ancestral tetrapods, mammals, primates, and eventually humans. The past 60 years have seen this begin to change, first with clinically available artificial insemination and then with in vitro fertilization (IVF)…

❝ In the United States today, these two techniques lead to about 100,000 births each year, roughly 2.5 percent of the 4 million children born annually. Within the next few decades, that percentage will skyrocket. Developments in bioscience, galloping forward in most cases for reasons having nothing to with reproduction, will combine to make IVF cheaper and much easier.

These new techniques will allow safe and easy embryo selection – but they will also open doors to genetically edited babies, “their own” genetic babies for same-sex couples, babies with a single genetic parent, and maybe babies from artificial wombs.

❝ Starting in the next few decades, these new methods of reproduction will give people new choices. They will also raise a host of vexing legal and ethical questions, questions we need to start discussing.

Deal with genetic selection of embryos, designer babies, create 100 embryos to choose the best and scrap or recycle the rest, unibabies from a uniparent [not a clone]…you get the idea.

Henry Greely is a professor of law and of genetics. He concludes…

We need to start thinking about these questions. The future is coming. It may not be exactly the future I foresee, but, like it or not, it will certainly feature far more choices, for families and for societies, about making babies.

You now know more about that future than 99.9 percent of humanity. Learn more, pay attention to the relevant news, and talk with your family and friends. The more we consider, debate, and plan for plausible futures, the more likely we are not to create any kind of perfect future, but, at least, to avoid some catastrophes. And that is not a bad goal.

Video: Evolution of E.coli into an antibiotic resistant bacteria

❝ …At the start of the video, bacteria are dropped into the edges of the dish and soon colonise the outer safe zones. Then they hit their first antibiotic wall, which halts their progress. After a few moments, bright spots appear at this frontier and start spreading outwards. These are resistant bacteria that have picked up mutations that allow them to shrug off the drug. They advance until they hit the next antibiotic zone. Another pause, until even more resistant strains evolve and invade further into the dish. By the end of the movie, even the centre-most stripe—the zone with the highest levels of killer chemicals—is colonised.

❝ What you’re seeing in the movie is a vivid depiction of a very real problem. Disease-causing bacteria and other microbes are increasingly evolving to resist our drugs; by 2050, these impervious infections could potentially kill ten million people a year. The problem of drug-resistant infections is terrifying but also abstract; by their nature, microbes are invisible to the naked eye, and the process by which they defy our drugs is even harder to visualise.

But now you can: just watch that video again. You’re seeing evolution in action. You’re watching living things facing down new challenges, dying, competing, thriving, invading, and adapting—all in a two-minute movie…

❝ when Baym showed the videos at an evolutionary biology conference in Washington DC last month, many attendees were awed and slack-jawed. “It’s exciting, creative and, game-changing,” says Shelly Copley from the University of Colorado, one of the organisers. Baym himself, who has seen the movies hundreds of times, is still blown away by them. “You can actually see mutations happening,” he says, before shaking his head and smiling.

Seeing is believing except – I imagine – for the truly science-challenged. There may be True Believers who think some unreal force causes the same sort of result any and every time the experiment is repeated. We are looking, after all, at a demonstration of evolution.

The scarier part for me is that we’re looking at a consistent direction for bacteria. Antibiotic resistance. We have a finite amount of time remaining before pretty much all our antibiotic wonder drugs are useless.

Click the link up near the beginning to access the whole article. Fascinating chronology.

Ever wonder how many asthma attacks are caused by the oil and gas industry?


AP/Carlos Osorio

❝ New analysis from the Clean Air Task Force shows that by 2025 America’s children will experience 750,000 asthma attacks each summer that will be directly attributable to the oil and gas industry.

The report, Gasping for Breath, is the first to quantify the effects of smog caused by oil and gas production and distribution. The authors used industry data submitted to the EPA’s National Emissions Inventory, particularly looking at methane and volatile organic compounds, which can interact to create smog. This chemical reaction is facilitated by ultraviolet rays and heat — which is why smog is a bigger problem in the summer than the winter.

VOCs, which include gasoline, benzene, and formaldehyde, are particularly concerning. Not only are they often heavier than air, allowing them to pool in low-lying areas, where people live and breath — many VOCs are known carcinogens.

❝ While the report looks specifically at the year 2025, when most currently proposed regulation is expected to be fully in effect, the level of impact is roughly the same today, according to Lesley Fleischman, the report’s lead author. That’s because most of the facilities expected to be in production in nine years are already being used.

“There is reason to think that the impact today is on the same scale,” Lesley Fleischman, the report’s lead author said. “The vast majority of emissions are from existing sources.”

Meanwhile, oil and gas production continues to grow

Every major organization associated with the producers of oil and gas – of course – rejects plans to reduce this crap getting into the air we breathe. Profits are more important than people. Especially in one of the oldest and most powerful extractive industries in the United States.

One more reason not only to holler at your Congress-critter to support doing something about the problem; but, make certain they’re not taking money from the industry they should be trying to regulate. For our health and safety.

Air pollution recognized as a risk factor for diabetes


Click to enlarge

“Whether the disease becomes manifest and when this occurs is not only due to lifestyle or genetic factors, but also due to traffic-related air pollution,” said Professor Annette Peters, director of the Institute of Epidemiology II at Helmholtz Zentrum München and head of the research area of epidemiology of the DZD.

For the current study, she and her colleagues…analyzed the data of nearly 3,000 participants of the KORA study who live in the city of Augsburg and two adjacent rural counties. All individuals were interviewed and physically examined. Furthermore, the researchers took fasting blood samples, in which they determined various markers for insulin resistance and inflammation. In addition, leptin was examined as adipokine which has been suggested to be associated with insulin resistance. Non-diabetic individuals underwent an oral glucose tolerance test to detect whether their glucose metabolism was impaired.

The researchers compared these data with the concentrations of air pollutants at the place of residence of the participants, which they estimated using predictive models based on repeated measurements at…up to 40 sites…in the city and in the rural counties.

“The results revealed that people who already have an impaired glucose metabolism, so-called pre-diabetic individuals, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution,” said Dr. Kathrin Wolf, lead author of the study. “In these individuals, the association between increases in their blood marker levels and increases in air pollutant concentrations is particularly significant! Thus, over the long term — especially for people with impaired glucose metabolism — air pollution is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.”

The authors are also concerned that the concentrations of air pollutants, though below EU threshold values, are still above the proposed guidelines of the World Health Organization… As a consequence, they demand changes in government policy: “Lowering the threshold for acceptable air pollution levels would be a prudent step,” said Dr. Alexandra Schneider, who was also involved in the study. “We are all exposed to air pollution. An individual reduction by moving away from highly polluted areas is rarely an option.”

Many folks currently focussed on the political battle over climate change have been at it for a long time. The crap air we’re all faced with as “normal” has been anything but normal for decades. Because we’ve moved slightly back from acid rain and a Love Canal in every backyard doesn’t mean we’ve won anything more than individual battles. Though significant, the full extent of poisoning of the Earth’s air breathers, water-drinkers, continues to demand a critical political movement against the polluters and their acolytes.

Meet the microbes sharing your seat on public transportation


Boston’s Red LineRebecca Siegel

❝ The subway is crowded–and not just with people. Sharing your commute are trillions of invisible microbes. They’re on the seats, poles, ticket kiosks; pretty much on anything people hold, lean against, sneeze on, swipe, or bump into. “We’re constantly shedding bugs into our environment,” says Curtis Huttenhower, an associate professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health.

Huttenhower is the senior author of a study…that reveals the character of the microbial community that shares the Boston transit system…

❝ …Huttenhower and his team weren’t simply out to catalogue nasty microbes and cause a stir. They wanted to get an overall profile of the microbes in the subway environment, and gain a better understanding of the interactions between humans, microbes, and the space we share. “We really set out to understand how a transit environment — where thousands and thousands of people constantly interact — contributes to the harmless transmission of microbes between people. Does that environment serve as a sort of reservoir or exchange for microbial communities?”

❝ The researchers swabbed a variety of locations — seats, hand rails, hanging grips, walls, seats, and touch screens at ticket booths — on three different subway lines and five subway stations in Boston. Using metagenomic sequencing, the team was able to profile the microbes. What they found was a familiar cast of characters…Huttenhower says, These are the bugs we would have on our bodies anyhow.”

They also discovered who was living where. Skin microbes were the most prevalent overall, found on all of the surfaces examined. But oral associated bugs, which are transferred by touching, coughing, or sneezing, were prevalent on face-level surfaces like hand grips and poles. And seats revealed genital-related microbes, which can be transferred through clothing. The team found little variation based on location of the train lines or the demographics they served.

❝ As for those nasty bugs other studies trumpeted, Huttenhower said in a statement, “We were surprised to find that the microbes that we collected on surfaces that people touch — and sometimes sneeze on — had low numbers of worrisome pathogens or antibiotic resistance genes. These environments have drastically lower virulence profiles, in fact, than are observed in a typical human gut.”

It’s been decades since I left the Boston area. Dunno if life has become cleaner or less clean. BITD I found public transport – especially the rail lines – to be comparatively clean. Is that a Boston thing? Are public health standards uniform nationwide?

Another magic bullet is going away — “antibacterial soaps” will disappear

If you’ve been spending your hard-earned money on fancy antibacterial soaps in the hopes that they’ll keep you clean and healthy, you may want to stop.

The US Food and Drug Administration just released a new, exhaustive report and ruling that there’s actually no good evidence they perform any better than plain old soap and water when it comes to preventing illness or the spread of bacteria and viruses.

What’s more, the agency is banning companies from using 19 common “antibacterial” chemicals — such as triclosan and triclocarban — in products going forward…Manufacturers have a year to reformulate products or remove ones with these chemicals from the market.

“Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water,” said Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, in a statement. “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term…”

The FDA noted that the ban won’t apply to consumer hand “sanitizers” or wipes, as well as antibacterial products used in health care settings.

Another cash cow created by the “healthiness” industry bites the big one. But, cheer up. Some other health fad will come along. The same old profiteers and maybe a couple new entrepreneurs will “clean up” from consumers who continue to believe there’s always another magic cure ready to be discovered. For just pennies a day.

Woman sues Catholic hospital that refused to remove her IUD

❝ An Illinois woman is accusing a Catholic hospital of refusing to remove her birth control device because of the hospital system’s religious affiliations, causing her nearly a week of pain and bleeding while she was forced to seek help from a different hospital network.

❝ Melanie Jones, who is being represented by attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said she dislodged her copper intrauterine device (IUD), a form of long-acting birth control, in 2008 when she slipped and fell on a wet bathroom floor. After a night of cramping and bleeding, she went to a hospital controlled by the Chicago-based Mercy Hospital and Medical Center network, where a doctor confirmed that her IUD needed to be removed.

But the doctor refused to remove it, Jones claims in two separate lawsuits, saying the hospital’s “Catholic initiative” barred her from providing any care related to contraception. In fact, the doctor allegedly told her, every single provider in her Blue Cross Blue Shield Insurance network followed the same religious restrictions.

❝ Jones left the hospital with her IUD still dislodged, leaving her “at risk for infection, cervical and uterine lacerations, and scarring, and pregnancy”, she claims in her suits. Because she could not pay out-of-pocket for a visit to the emergency room, she did not get her IUD removed for another five days, when Blue Cross Blue Shield moved her coverage to a secular network of hospitals…

❝ Catholic ethicists argue that their rules are consistent with modern standards of care. But public health advocates have warned that the rules are subject to arbitrary interpretations, and that they pose a special threat to women’s reproductive care

❝ One out of every six beds in the country’s acute care hospitals is in a hospital with Catholic affiliations, according to a May report by the American Civil Liberties Union and MergerWatch, a public health watchdog that monitors healthcare institutions with religious affiliations. Today, Catholic hospitals make up 15%, or 548, of the country’s acute care centers. In dozens of communities, the only hospitals that remain are Catholic.

Mergers and acquisitions have increased the number of Catholic Church-controlled hospitals in the US by 22% in the last decade. In many of these communities, staff have left because of archaic regulations required by the church.

RTFA for other cases brought against the so-called Mercy Health Partners in recent years. It’s an important question for insurers, federal and private. Especially in a nation supposedly governed by secular civil law over religious beliefs.