Worse Air Pollution Found to Decrease Happiness Levels

Another reason that the world should convert to renewable, clean sources of power in the fight against climate change. Happiness is one of the most important things in life, and therefore it’d be good if the world’s political systems better prioritized the general happiness of people instead of largely prioritizing big business profits.

Now researchers at MIT have discovered that air pollution in China’s cities may be contributing to low levels of happiness amongst the country’s urban population.

In a paper published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, a research team led by Siqi Zheng, the Samuel Tak Lee Associate Professor in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning and Center for Real Estate, and the Faculty Director of MIT China Future City Lab, reveals that higher levels of pollution are associated with a decrease in people’s happiness levels.

The paper also includes co-first author Jianghao Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Matthew Kahn of the University of Southern California, Cong Sun of the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, and Xiaonan Zhang of Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Despite an annual economic growth rate of 8 percent, satisfaction levels amongst China’s urban population have not risen as much as would be expected.

Alongside inadequate public services, soaring house prices, and concerns over food safety, air pollution — caused by the country’s industrialization, coal burning, and increasing use of cars — has had a significant impact on quality of life in urban areas.

Research has previously shown that air pollution is damaging to health, cognitive performance, labor productivity, and educational outcomes. But air pollution also has a broader impact on people’s social lives and behavior, according to Zheng.

To avoid high levels of air pollution, for example, people may move to cleaner cities or green buildings, buy protective equipment such as face masks and air purifiers, and spend less time outdoors.

“Pollution also has an emotional cost,” Zheng says. “People are unhappy, and that means they may make irrational decisions.”

On polluted days, people have been shown to be more likely to engage in impulsive and risky behavior that they may later regret, possibly as a result of short-term depression and anxiety, according to Zheng.

“So we wanted to explore a broader range of effects of air pollution on people’s daily lives in highly polluted Chinese cities,” she says.

To this end, the researchers used real-time data from social media to track how changing daily pollution levels impact people’s happiness in 144 Chinese cities.

In the past, happiness levels have typically been measured using questionnaires. However, such surveys provide only a single snapshot; people’s responses tend to reflect their overall feeling of well-being, rather than their happiness on particular days.

“Social media gives a real-time measure of people’s happiness levels and also provides a huge amount of data, across a lot of different cities,” Zheng says.

The researchers used information on urban levels of ultrafine particulate matter — PM 2.5 concentration — from the daily air quality readings released by China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection. Airborne particulate matter has become the primary air pollutant in Chinese cities in recent years, and PM 2.5 particles, which measure less than 2.5 microns in diameter, are particularly dangerous to people’s lungs.

To measure daily happiness levels for each city, the team applied a machine-learning algorithm to analyze the 210 million geotagged tweets from China’s largest microblogging platform, Sina Weibo.

The tweets cover a period from March to November 2014. For each tweet, the researchers applied the machine-trained sentiment analysis algorithm to measure the sentiment of the post. They then calculated the median value for that city and day, the so-called expressed happiness index, ranging from 0 to 100, with 0 indicating a very negative mood, and 100 a very positive one.

Finally, the researchers merged this index with the daily PM2.5 concentration and weather data.

They found a significantly negative correlation between pollution and happiness levels. What’s more, women were more sensitive to higher pollution levels than men, as were those on higher incomes.

When the researchers looked at the type of cities that the tweets originated from, they found that people from the very cleanest and very dirtiest cities were the most severely affected by pollution levels.

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Scientist Claims to Have Found the Solution Alternative to Plastic Water Bottles

The material needs to be tested by a trustworthy source for safety, but this invention could represent an advance that would drastically reduce the harms (such as the contaminants in the plastic) caused by the water bottles.

A British scientist claims to have invented a plastic-free, single-use water bottle that can decompose within three weeks.

The Choose Water bottle, developed by James Longcroft, aims to replace plastic bottles and help save the world’s oceans from plastic waste.

The outer lining of the bottle is made out of recycled paper donated by businesses, while the waterproof inner lining is made with a composite material Longcroft has developed himself.

All the constituents of the bottle can fully decompose within three weeks when left in water or landfill, and can be eaten by sea creatures, the company told Business Insider in a statement.

The steel cap on the bottle will also rust and fully decompose in about a year, Longcroft told the Evening Standard.

Plastic usually takes hundreds of years to break down.

Longcroft, who lives in Scotland, is still waiting for patents and started crowdfunding for the bottle on Monday. He has set a goal of £25,000 ($US34,000), of which he has raised about £8,000 ($US11,000) so far.

He hopes to see the bottles available in stores by the end of the year, and that they will be sold for about 85p and 90p (about $US1.2) so that they become a viable alternative to plastic, according to The Times.

Study: Personal Care Products Inhaled en Masse Contribute to Harmful Pollution “Rush Hour”

As if the air in much of the world wasn’t already polluted enough, this study reconfirms the importance of changing transportation systems to be far less dependent on fossil fuels and also the apparent importance of designing better personal care products.

When people are out and about, they leave plumes of chemicals behind them — from both car tailpipes and the products they put on their skin and hair. In fact, emissions of siloxane, a common ingredient in shampoos, lotions, and deodorants, are comparable in magnitude to the emissions of major components of vehicle exhaust, such as benzene, from rush-hour traffic in Boulder, Colorado, according to a new CIRES and NOAA study.

This work, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, is in line with other recent findings that chemical emissions from personal care products can contribute significantly to urban air pollution.

“We detected a pattern of emissions that coincides with human activity: people apply these products in the morning, leave their homes, and drive to work or school. So emissions spike during commuting hours,” said lead author Matthew Coggon, a CIRES scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder working in the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory.

D5 Siloxane, short for decamethylcyclopentasiloxane, is added to personal care products like shampoos and lotions to give them a smooth, silky feeling. Siloxane belongs to a class of chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs); once applied, they evaporate quickly. In the air, sunlight can trigger those VOCs to react with nitrogen oxides and other compounds to form ozone and particulate matter — two types of pollution that are regulated because of their effects on air quality and human health.

[…]

This study is part of an emerging body of research that finds emissions from consumer and industrial products are important sources of urban air pollution. A recent study in Science, led by CIRES and NOAA’s Brian McDonald, found that consumer and industrial products, including personal care products, household cleaners, paints, and pesticides, produced around half of the VOC emissions measured in Los Angeles during the study period.

Plants Can Absorb Toxins, Increasing Indoor Air Quality

Air quality is an important aspect of indoor environments, yet there is surprisingly little research on optimizing the role of plants for increasing that air quality, and even how plants can absorb indoor toxins doesn’t seem widely known.

People in industrialized countries spend more than 80% of their lives indoors, increasingly in air-tight buildings. These structures require less energy for heating, ventilating, and air conditioning, but can be hazardous to human health if particulate matter and potentially toxic gases, including carbon monoxide, ozone, and volatile organic compounds, from sources such as furniture, paints, carpets, and office equipment accumulate. Plants absorb toxins and can improve indoor air quality, but surprisingly little is known about what plants are best for the job and how we can make plants perform better indoor.

[…]

Plants improve air quality through several mechanisms: they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen through photosynthesis, they increase humidity by transpiring water vapor through microscopic leaf pores, and they can passively absorb pollutants on the external surfaces of leaves and on the plant root-soil system. But plants are usually selected for indoor use not for their air-purifying abilities but for their appearance and ability to survive while requiring little maintenance.

Study: 95% of World Population Exposed to Harmful Air Pollution

It’d thus be a good idea to redesign the energy systems of the world to use clean energy instead of fossil fuels such as oil and coal. Last year a major study found that pollution caused 9 million deaths and lead $4.6 trillion in damages annually.

More than 95 percent of people worldwide are exposed to dangerous air pollution, which kills millions each year and threatens billions more, according to a new analysis.

State of Global Air 2018: A Special Report on Global Exposure to Air Pollution and Its Disease Burden (pdf), published by the Health Effects Institute (HEI), details how exposure to air pollution—both indoor and outdoor—poses a mounting threat to public health.

Researchers found that air pollution is the top environmental cause of death globally, and ranks fourth overall among risk factors —behind high blood pressure, smoking, and dietary choices.

Household air pollution and ambient particular matter—a component of outdoor pollution—were listed individually among the top ten risk factors, and were tied to a combined 6.7 million deaths in 2016, the last year studied. Ozone, a harmful gas that contributes to outdoor pollution, was listed separately and tied to 234,000 deaths from chronic lung disease.

The study, said HEI president Dan Greenbaum, “leads a growing worldwide consensus—among the WHO, World Bank, International Energy Agency and others—that air pollution poses a major global public health challenge.”

“Nowhere is that risk more evident than in the developing world,” Greenbaum noted, “where a third of the world’s population faces a double burden of indoor and outdoor air pollution.”

The report found that “the elderly in low- and middle-income countries experience the greatest loss of healthy life-years due to the non-communicable diseases” linked to air pollution, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, lung cancer, and COPD.

The new analysis comes as the Trump administration moves to scale back air pollution protections to cater to U.S. manufacturers, part of the administration and Environmental Protection Agency’s broader deregulatory agenda.

Recent studies have shown that similar to the rest of the world, non-White Americans and those living in poverty are more likely to be exposed to polluted air.

Solution to Harmful Algal Blooms

Harmful algal blooms are often caused by nutrient pollution via overused chemicals such as phosphorous. These algal blooms regularly represent threats to water-based freshwater ecosystems, and so it’s useful that a solution to this problem is being introduced more.

A cheap, safe and effective method of dealing with harmful algal blooms is on the verge of being introduced following successful field and lab tests.

Moves to adopt use of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) as an effective treatment against toxic algae are already underway following the results of new research by a team from the John Innes Centre and the University of East Anglia (UEA.)

Successful trials last summer showed that H2O2 was effective against the golden algae, Prymnesium parvum. This is responsible for millions of fish kills worldwide each year and a threat to the £550m economy of the Broads National Park where trials are taking place.

Now follow up lab tests have demonstrated that controlled doses of the versatile chemical compound could be even more effective in dealing with cyanobacteria commonly known as blue green algae — a major public health hazard and potentially fatal to dogs and livestock.

Some of these exciting results are published today in the journal Biochemical Society Transactions along with a series of other scientific developments related to algal communities in the Broads National Park; one of the UK’s most popular and environmentally important network of waterways.

Dr Ben Wagstaff, one of the authors of the study from the John Innes Centre said: “We’ve demonstrated that the use of hydrogen peroxide is a practical, relatively easy way of managing these blooms.

“Work has already started to put together protocols for the use of hydrogen peroxide to control Prymnesium and our research showed that blue green algae are even more susceptible. You can potentially use even lower doses to wipe out blue-green blooms.”

The work in the Broads National Park could have widespread implications for the way harmful algal blooms are managed in waterways worldwide.

Toxins from Air Pollution Damage Child Development and Disproportionately Affect Those in Poverty

Air pollution causes health damage that’s too often overlooked, and the research that’s coming out has been showing this more and more lately.

Schoolchildren across the US are plagued by air pollution that’s linked to multiple brain-related problems, with black, Hispanic and low-income students most likely to be exposed to a fug of harmful toxins at school, scientists and educators have warned.

The warnings come after widespread exposure to toxins was found in new research using EPA and census data to map out the air pollution exposure for nearly 90,000 public schools across the US.

“This could well be impacting an entire generation of our society,” said Dr Sara Grineski, an academic who has authored the first national study, published in the journal Environmental Research, on air pollution and schools.

Grineski and her University of Utah colleague Timothy Collins grouped schools according to their level of exposure to more than a dozen neurotoxins, including lead, mercury and cyanide compounds.

The research found that:

  • Only 728 schools achieved the safest possible score.
  • Five of the 10 worst polluted school counties have non-white populations of over 20%
  • The five worst polluted areas include New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh, as well as Jersey City and Camden in New Jersey. One teacher in Camden told the Guardian that heavy industry was “destroying our children”.

Cash-strapped authorities have routinely placed schools on the cheapest available land, which is often beside busy roads, factories or on previously contaminated sites. Teacher unions worry that the Trump administration’s enthusiasm for charter schools, championed by education secretary Betsy DeVos, will diminish federal intervention to reverse this.

The study found that pre-kindergarten children are attending higher risk schools than older students – a stark finding given the vulnerability of developing brains.

Pollution exposure is also drawn along racial lines. While black children make up 16% of all US public school students, more than a quarter of them attend the schools worst affected by air pollution. By contrast, white children comprise 52% of the public school system but only 28% of those attend the highest risk schools. This disparity remains even when the urban-rural divide is accounted for.

Schools with large numbers of students of colour are routinely located near major roads and other sources of pollution, with many also grappling with other hazards such as lead-laced drinking water and toxins buried beneath school buildings

Grineski said there were a range of consequences. “We’re only now realizing how toxins don’t just affect the lungs but influence things like emotional development, autism, ADHD and mental health,” she said. “Socially marginalized populations are getting the worst exposure. When you look at the pattern, it’s so pervasive that you have to call it an injustice and racism.”

The research is “important and is consistent with other localized information we’ve seen over the years,” according to Stephen Lester, science director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“Children are facing risks that will affect their ability to learn,” he said. “It’s a serious problem that needs a serious government response.”

As scientists have pieced together evidence showing the link between air toxins and neurological harm, American cities are still largely wedded to a legacy that has juxtaposed certain neighborhoods with heavy traffic and hulking industry.

Only a handful of states require that schools are not placed next to environmental hazards. In 2010, the EPA issued national guidelines on picking school locations but backed away from imposing mandatory buffer zones.

The guidelines were deemed voluntary “after a whole lot of pushback from various financial and political interests,” according to Lester, who was part of a group advising the EPA.

[…]

Scientific endeavour is uncovering a jumble of neurological reactions to air pollution, from early onset Alzheimers to schizophrenia. Much of this work is in its infancy, but scientists say there is well established evidence that children are far more susceptible to pollutants than adults, with potentially severe consequences for their development.

[…]

“Before, we might have labelled a kid with bad behaviour as just being a bad kid,” said Keith Benson, who taught history in the Camden school system before becoming the head of the local teacher’s union.

“Now we are thinking about it another way. There’s no telling how much potential has been lost because of environmental issues, how many hopes were stunted because these kids were not close to clear air and water.”