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Is your gas stove bad for your health?

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Thursday, September 29, 2022

A professor shares some perspective on how gas stoves can contribute to indoor air pollution

A professor shares some perspective on how gas stoves can contribute to indoor air pollution

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Why indoor air pollution can be just as deadly as wildfire smoke and coal plant smog

Household air pollution is a hidden source of death and illness and climate change seems to be making it worse

Picturing air pollution isn’t hard in a world where 99% of people breathe polluted air. While reading this, you’re probably mentally visualizing an outdoor urban area with factories leaking out dense, dark smoke or intense car traffic releasing dirty fuels in rush hour. But although our immediate association of pollution tends to lean on the outdoors, the issue goes way beyond external environments. Household air pollution is a silent and often neglected threat that causes about 3.2 million deaths in the world every year, according to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates. That corresponds to nearly half of the 6.7 million annual deaths worldwide attributable to air pollution. Among all lethal illnesses associated with household air pollution exposure, the organization points out that ischaemic heart disease accounts for 32% of the 3.2 million annual deaths, followed by stroke, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Home is supposed to be a safe place. But people might not be aware they don’t even need to go outside to be exposed to harmful pollutants. The air inside can be just as dangerous. Indoor air pollution can derive from a wide range of particles and components that people might be exposed to in and around their homes. It can also encompass other indoor environments where many people spend significant time, such as schools and workplaces. Among indoor pollution sources, those with the largest burden of disease globally are the ones associated with household fuel combustion from the use of dirty cooking, heating and lighting systems. Current estimates from the WHO indicate that over 2 billion people — or around a third of the world's population — are exposed to household air pollution. Most of the affected population lives in low and middle-income countries, where many people still rely on polluting fuels and devices, especially for cooking. The most affected countries are in the global south including South Sudan, Burundi, Liberia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Laos and Vanuatu. These are regions in which more than 90% of the population relies on these systems, according to WHO's Global Health Observatory data. The problem lies in cooking with open fires or stoves fueled by kerosene, coal and biomass (such as wood, crop waste, and animal dung). These sources emit large amounts of pollutants including carbon monoxide, fine particulate matter and nitrogen oxide.  Current estimates from the WHO indicate that over 2 billion people are exposed to household air pollution. “These levels of pollutants from fuel combustion are very high, much more than you get necessarily in your ambient, outdoor air. It's typically in concentrations higher than that,” explained Heather Adair-Rohani, head of air quality, energy and health at the World Health Organization. But getting people to transition to alternative, safer ways of cooking isn’t easy. “A behavior change is a very big challenge to try and get households to uptake,” she said. “They've been doing it for so many generations, and this is what they're used to.” Tackling polluting cooking systems, however, should not obliterate people’s caution with other important sources of air pollution like household heating, Heather notes.  “In many cases, people are trying to solve the household air pollution problem by only looking at the cook stove, but if you still have the open fire burning to stay warm at night, this is mitigating much of the impact you may have had from the clean cooking aspects,” she said, adding that inefficient lighting such as kerosene lamps make up another significant source of household air pollution. “People typically are close to the kerosene lamp as well, causing them to really inhale a lot of the particles.” Want more health and science stories in your inbox? Subscribe to Salon's weekly newsletter Lab Notes. Fine particles, tobacco smoke and radon are among the most common pollutants in the U.S. Although the use of polluting fuels for cooking is not as common in higher-income nations like the U.S., people may still be exposed to numerous other sources of air pollution in their homes. “Indoor environmental sources and their impacts on human health and the indoor environment are highly variable due to many factors including difference in construction, location, individual sensitivities and occupant behavior,” a spokesperson for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told Salon in an email. “With that qualification, we can point to some more common sources of concern [in the country]. Estimates of the health burden of fine particles (PM2.5) are consistently high, therefore exposure to sources of fine particles, such as outdoor air (including wildfires), poorly-vented indoor combustion (e.g., from cooking and heating), and tobacco smoking can be of concern for large parts of the population.” After tobacco smoking, radon is the country’s second leading cause of lung cancer, causing 21,000 deaths every year. The EPA also notes many other chemical solvents used indoors can be sources of toxic aldehydes and other volatile organic compounds, which have a wide range of health effects that may vary from eye and airway irritation to the impairment of vital body parts such as the central nervous system, liver and kidney. The agency warned that formaldehyde, and other contaminants, which can be found in building materials  such as composite wood products, can be toxic or react with ozone or other pollutants to form toxic substances. Finally, it highlighted the risk of biological contaminants, including molds and infectious viral and bacterial agents. Another threat that affects indoor environments in the U.S. and around the world is radon gas infiltration, which “continues to be a well-characterized indoor air risk in many regions of the country,” the EPA said, which has developed a map of areas in the country with a potential range for elevated indoor radon levels. It is a radioactive, colorless and odorless gas that can be found in the soil, bedrock and groundwater, getting into homes through cracks and cavities in the building, as well as through groundwater supply. After tobacco smoking, radon is the country’s second leading cause of lung cancer, causing 21,000 deaths every year. For people who smoke and are exposed to radon, the risk of developing lung cancer multiplies to around 10 times greater compared to those who don’t use tobacco.  To improve air quality indoors, the EPA recommends the first priority is controlling polluting sources inside our homes. “Improving ventilation is a general-purpose strategy that can be effective for many indoor air quality problems, provided the quality of outdoor air is good,” the agency informed. “The treatment of indoor air with supplemental filtration-based portable air cleaners or improved HVAC filters (rated MERV 13 or higher, when possible) is a third option that is effective for particle pollution.” The agency recommends that any household test radon levels, which can be done with a relatively inexpensive test that measures indoor concentrations of the gas. The smaller, the more dangerous to our health A grain of sand is generally used for expressing tininess, or insignificance. When we bring the subject to the scope of air pollution, though, tiny particles can grow in significance to human health the smaller they get. While beach sand is around 90 micrometers in diameter, and human hair around 50 to 70 micrometers, the particles that are 10 micrometers or less are those posing the greatest risks to our health. These very small particles suspended in the air make up particulate matter, which, like carbon monoxide, is a major pollutant found in household fuel combustion. The larger, so-called coarse particles, have diameters between 2.5 and 10 micrometers; some examples of this type of particulate matter include wind-blown dust, fly ash and animal or vegetal particles. These are typically stopped in our thoracic cavity as they enter the lungs. Children, women and elderly people are generally more vulnerable to the risks of indoor air pollution. The reason the smaller group of airborne particles, referred to as fine particles and with 2.5 micrometers or less in size, can be so much more dangerous to human health is because they can pass through the lungs and enter the bloodstream, affecting vital body parts such as the heart and the brain. These particles are commonly found in smoke, soot or haze.“It's so small that it can get in and really impact the body systemically,” Adair-Rohani said. Children, women and elderly people are generally more vulnerable to the risks of indoor air pollution. Aside from typically spending more time indoors, the elderly population can also be at increased risk due to the higher prevalence of other diseases that exacerbate air pollution effects, the EPA notes. The WHO points out that children and women around the world tend to spend more time exposed to polluting sources due to their daily routines and consequent exposure to dirty fuels and devices. There are also physical aspects involved in air pollution health risks: “Children are considered a vulnerable population for air pollution (indoor or outdoor) because of developing respiratory systems and metabolic factors,” the EPA explained. According to global WHO estimates, every year over 237,000 deaths of children under the age of five are associated with household air pollution. Health effects might originate even before birth: researchers have pointed out correlations between prenatal exposure to high levels of air pollution and impacts on neurodevelopment in early childhood. There are studies that also suggest that air pollution can impact women’s reproductive health. Climate change might aggravate air pollution levels, including indoors Climate change, which is driven by burning fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gasses, is expected to make both indoor and outdoor air pollution worse. As these emissions continue to rise, extreme events like wildfires are projected to increase in frequency and intensity. Experts point out that global warming effects might impact outdoor and indoor air pollution in several ways primarily due to the inevitable exchange between outdoor and indoor air. “Climate change is known to increase ground-level ozone and particulate matter, and lead to increases in wildfire smoke, an increase in dust in the southwest (as well as dust-borne pathogens like valley fever), and increases in some kinds of aero-allergens,” the EPA said. “These increases in outdoor air pollution will also make indoor air pollution worse.” Carbon monoxide concentrations can also increase indoors due to climate change effects. The impacts can typically go the inverse way as well, as indoor emissions also contribute to increasing outdoor air pollution. “In some states of India, over 50% of ambient air pollution is actually caused by the household air pollution, leaking outdoors,” Adair-Rohani exemplified. “Pollution is being generated in the home, it's going in the chimney, but then it goes into the local communities.” Another important factor is that household air pollution is one of the largest sources of black carbon, which has a high warming potential, she notes. An estimated 25%  to 50% of global black carbon emissions come from residential fuel combustion. It is a short-lived pollutant that only lasts a few days or weeks in the atmosphere, but is one of the largest contributors to climate change since its warming impact is estimated to be up to 1,500 times stronger than CO2. Carbon monoxide concentrations can also increase indoors due to climate change effects, the EPA explained, given an increase in power outages from storms and other extreme events can lead to HVAC system interruptions, encouraging the use of generators. Also, the agency notes that as climate change will increase total precipitation in the east, it can also enhance the impacts of biological contaminants such as mold, fungus and bacteria in indoor spaces. Furthermore, it cites that climate effects may change people’s relative exposure to indoor versus outdoor air. “Increases in temperature will lead to changes in behavior: more time spent indoors with windows closed in the summer, but less time in other seasons.” Improving indoor air quality through realistic energy transition At the community level, reducing indoor air pollution requires that nations transition to cleaner energy sources. Adair-Rohaniobserves, though, that this transition may vary according to the country or region's status regarding the use of clean energy. “One high-income country may have a problem with natural gas in the home because of asthma, so they could lead to electric renewable cooking; that would be the ultimate clean one,” she said. “Whereas households in some African countries, for example, where 99% of their population are relying on traditional fuels and stoves for cooking, that's a whole different problem.” Adair-Rohani adds that tackling household air pollution is also an important way to help mitigate the effects of climate change, but acknowledges that access to cleaner systems continues to be a challenge for many populations. “In some cases, buying cleaner fuels and technology to use requires some upfront investment,” Adair-Rohani said. That is why she believes it’s critical that countries provide people with “an enabling policy framework and situation where they can actually get access to these fuels and technology, that they're available and affordable, and that they meet the needs and preferences of the users.” Read more about pollution

Where is noise pollution the worst? Redlined neighborhoods

Nearly all of them are subject to noise levels linked with hearing loss, a study shows.

At the height of the Great Depression, when home foreclosures in the United States soared to 1,000 per day, the federal government adopted programs to keep people in their homes and make mortgages more affordable — just not for everybody. To determine who would get assistance, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, created as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, mapped out cities across the country in the 1930s. Appraisers ranked neighborhoods all over the country on a scale from Grade A to Grade D, drawing green lines around the neighborhoods deemed most desirable and red lines around the “hazardous” ones — essentially a code word for where ethnic minorities and especially Black people lived. Even though “redlining” was banned in 1968, its legacy is still creating problems today, since urban planners saddled these neighborhoods with polluting industrial plants, airports, and highways. Historically redlined neighborhoods have fewer trees than richer neighborhoods and suffer more from air pollution and extreme heat. And according to a recent study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, they are also subject to more noise pollution, often at volumes that pose risks to human health. Researchers at Colorado State University, along with experts in New Mexico, New Hampshire, and the United Kingdom, analyzed how exposure to transportation noise aligned with maps of historically redlined neighborhoods, looking at the consequences for human health and urban wildlife. They found that the maximum noise levels in neighborhoods coded as Grade D by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation back in the 1930s were 10 times higher than in Grade A neighborhoods, in terms of sound intensity. While you might expect that the more crowded the city, the louder it would be, the research found that redlining grades predicted noise levels from traffic, trains, and planes even better than population size did. “What was striking to me was how clear those patterns were,” said Sara Bombaci, an author of the study and a professor of conservation biology at Colorado State University. Previous studies have found that noise pollution is worse in Black neighborhoods and in segregated cities as a whole, but the new analysis is the first to look at redlining specifically. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that noise levels stay below 70 decibels in order to avoid hearing loss. Nearly all redlined neighborhoods across 83 cities had maximum noise levels above that threshold, according to the study, as did most Grade A through C neighborhoods. Several redlined areas had maximum noise levels above 90 decibels, roughly as loud as a blender or power tools — a threshold that’s associated with hearing damage, higher stress levels, and physical pain. Only a handful of Grade A neighborhoods were exposed to that level of sound. Not all noise is bad for your health — the sound of crickets, for instance, can reach up to 100 decibels, yet people still fall asleep to it. What stresses people out is “unwanted sound,” according to Erica Walker, an epidemiology professor at Brown University. Unexpected noises can disrupt your sleep and your mood and even trigger a fight-or-flight reaction. “This stress response is the same stress response that you would have if you’re walking down a dark alleyway and out jumps a man with a knife,” Walker said. Confronted with an irritating noise, your body releases stress hormones that put you at greater risk for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and mental health problems.  “Noise today is an artifact of poor urban planning policies,” Walker said, pointing to how governments built major highways right through longstanding Black communities. According to data provided to Grist, the cities where redlined neighborhoods had the worst noise levels are Miami; New York; Austin, Texas; Chicago, San Francisco, and Denver, in that order. Some of those cities are just loud in general: In Miami and Chicago, even Grade A neighborhoods were subject to maximum noise levels above 95 decibels, Bombaci said.  Columbus, Georgia, had the quietest redlined neighborhoods, followed by Davenport, Iowa, and Jackson, Mississippi. A freight train roars by homes outside of Los Angeles, March 28, 2002. Don Tormey / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images The researchers used data from the Department of Transportation that only considered noise from traffic, rail, and aviation. If noise from industry and construction were included, Bombaci suspects that the separation between Grade A and Grade D neighborhoods would be even more distinct. Noise is often viewed as a first-world problem, Walker said, or simply a sacrifice of living near where things are happening. But there are plenty of ways that cities can reduce noise pollution, including lowering speed limits on roads and using quieter types of pavement to decrease friction with tires. Some cities, like Washington, D.C, have banned gas-powered leaf blowers, silencing their 80-decibel drone. The New York City Council is considering bills to minimize the blare of sirens on emergency vehicles. But it’s not easy to move a highway or airport. “Once we go back and look at how urban planning and policies contributed to this, then we need to do justice,” Walker said. “And then we need to make sure that going forward, that we aren’t implementing policies and procedures without considering noise.” This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Where is noise pollution the worst? Redlined neighborhoods on Nov 30, 2023.

Air pollution from fossil fuels ‘kills 5 million people a year’

Of more than 8 million deaths worldwide from outdoor air pollution, 61% linked to fossil fuels, finds studyAir pollution from fossil fuel use is killing 5 million people worldwide every year, a death toll much higher than previously estimated, according to the largest study of its kind.The stark figures, published on the eve of the Cop28 climate summit in Dubai, will increase pressure on world leaders to take action. Among the decisions they must make at the UN conference will be whether to agree, for the first time, to gradually “phase out” fossil fuels. Continue reading...

Air pollution from fossil fuel use is killing 5 million people worldwide every year, a death toll much higher than previously estimated, according to the largest study of its kind.The stark figures, published on the eve of the Cop28 climate summit in Dubai, will increase pressure on world leaders to take action. Among the decisions they must make at the UN conference will be whether to agree, for the first time, to gradually “phase out” fossil fuels.Research has shown that switching from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy sources would save many lives from air pollution and help combat global heating. However, until now, mortality estimates have varied widely.A new modelling study suggests air pollution, from the use of fossil fuels in industry, power generation, and transportation, accounts for 5.1 million avoidable deaths a year globally. These findings were published in The BMJ.The contribution of fossil fuels equates to 61% of a total estimated 8.3 million deaths worldwide due to outdoor air pollution from all sources in 2019.The new estimates of fossil fuel-related deaths are larger than most previously reported values, suggesting that phasing out fossil fuels might have a greater impact on attributable mortality than previously thought.deaths from air pollution“Our results suggest that a global phase-out of fossil fuels will have large health benefits, much larger than indicated by most previous studies,” the global team of researchers wrote in the BMJ. “These data support increasing the share of clean, renewable energy, advocated by the UN through the sustainable development goals for 2030 and the ambition of climate neutrality for 2050.”Ambient air pollution is the leading environmental health risk factor for illness and death, but few global studies have attributed deaths to specific air pollution sources and their results widely differ.To address this, an international team of researchers from the UK, US, Germany, Spain and Cyprus, used a new model to estimate deaths due to air pollution related to fossil fuels, and to assess potential health benefits from policies that replace fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy sources.They assessed excess deaths using data from the Global Burden of Disease 2019 study, as well as Nasa satellite-based fine particulate matter and population data, and atmospheric chemistry, aerosol, and relative risk modelling for 2019.skip past newsletter promotionThe planet's most important stories. Get all the week's environment news - the good, the bad and the essentialPrivacy Notice: Newsletters may contain info about charities, online ads, and content funded by outside parties. For more information see our Privacy Policy. We use Google reCaptcha to protect our website and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.after newsletter promotionThe results show that in 2019, 8.3 million deaths worldwide were attributable to fine particles (PM2.5) and ozone (O3) in ambient air, of which 61% (5.1 million) were linked to fossil fuels.“Major reductions in air pollution emissions, notably through a phase-out of fossil fuels, could have large, positive health outcomes. Results show that the mortality burden attributable to air pollution from fossil fuel use is higher than most previous estimates,” the researchers wrote.They said one reason for their model producing larger estimates than most previous studies was its being based solely on studies of outdoor air pollution. Uncertainty remained but given the Paris climate agreement’s goal of climate neutrality by 2050, “the replacement of fossil fuels by clean, renewable energy sources would have tremendous public health and climate co-benefits”.

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