You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘air pollution’ tag.
This week the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in London released a report by the Imperial College looking at how to make air cleaner to “cut” death rate because air pollution is a contributing factor in whopping 25,000 deaths a year in the UK. http://bit.ly/2g8JL0B
In a separate article, dated 2nd December 2016, about air quality alerts being issued at bus stops, tube stations & roadsides across London, the mortality numbers are different. “Air pollution is now Britain’s most lethal environmental risk, killing about 40,000 people prematurely each year.” http://bit.ly/2gcyuMw
The Imperial College report advocates the following interesting changes to lower air pollution –
- Road speed humps should be removed because they force drivers to accelerate & decelerate thereby causing a rise in of harmful emissions air pollution.
- Cycle lanes should be separated from vehicles by foliage. [I like this one.]
- Cycle routes should not be along high traffic routes.
- Instead of the traditional living room at the front of the house, it should be moved to the back of the house to put more distance from passing traffic. [This poses a problem for those living in apartments built along busy main roads.]
- Idling any vehicle outside schools & retirement homes should be banned, again because of harmful emissions being added to the air.
- New schools, childcare facilities & retirement homes should be built away from high traffic areas.
“…… planners must take into account the effect of air pollution when designing speed reduction schemes and that any ‘physical measures’ must be designed ‘to minimise sharp decelerations and consequences accelerations.’”
The study compared one street that had speed humps & a 20mph speed limit to a similar street with the same speed limit, but with road cushions instead of humps. They found that a petrol driven car driving along the street with the speed humps produced –
- 64% more Nitrogen Dioxide,
- 47% more particulate matter &
- almost 60% more Carbon Monoxide than the street with road cushions.
If this isn’t a great argument to dispense with or to refuse the installation of speed humps, I don’t know what is. Speed humps are also noisy when vehicles travel over them. Kerthump!
One thing I did not know was that using the brakes grinds very fine particulate matter which is released into the atmosphere.
Traffic flow improvement was also recommended because where there is congestion there is also an increase in air pollution.
The report also suggested public awareness initiatives such as ‘car-free days,’ charging to enter traffic congestion areas & creating clean air zones.
With the massive increase in development happening across Sydney the issue of managing & lessening air pollution is serious. I have long been concerned about the stacks that will be popping up all over the inner west when WestConnex is up & running.
If development goes ahead with the attitude of ‘business as usual’ & without doing as much as possible to lessen air pollution, we may find that our city becomes a toxic place to live with weather reports of windy conditions being greeted with joy. Unfortunately, all that air pollution has to go somewhere, even if it is blown away from our sky.
Researchers from the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research at the University of Sydney have released their review into the health impact of tiny air pollution particles, also known as particulate matter. They found that most particulate matter is man-made & “could lead to increase in people reporting to hospitals with respiratory or cardiovascular effects.”
This supports 2010 research done by the US Health Effects Institute who reviewed 700 worldwide health-pollution studies. They found:
- traffic pollution within a 500-metre radius of a major thoroughfare is likely to exacerbate asthma in children.
- trigger new asthma cases across all ages
- impair lung function in adults &
- could cause cardiovascular illness & death. See – http://bit.ly/1MKStR8
The researchers from the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research recommended that immediate steps be taken to reduce particulate matter pollution from the air. Although particulate matter can come from plant & animal matter, the majority comes from motor vehicles, mining, power stations & even coal fire barbeques & wood heaters.
“On high pollution days we may detect extra cases of stroke, other myocardial infarctions, heart attacks, for instance, and also PM (particulate matter) air pollution has been linked to premature mortality….. So it will bring forward those few extra deaths – particularly, we think, in more vulnerable people such as the elderly.” See http://ab.co/1RP6teY
However, this study from the Lancaster Environment Centre has shown that –
- “increasing deposition by the planting of vegetation in street canyons can reduce street-level concentrations in those canyons by as much as 40% for nitrogen dioxide & 60% for particulate matter.
- Deposition rates of nitrogen dioxide & particulate matter to vegetation are much higher than those to hard, built surfaces.
- Substantial street-level air quality improvements can be gained through action at the scale of a single street canyon or across city-sized areas of canyons.
- Vegetation will continue to offer benefits in the reduction of pollution even if the traffic source is removed from city centers.” See – http://bit.ly/1UMfVQV
And, “The efficacy of roadside trees for mitigation of PM [particulate matter] health hazard might be seriously underestimated in some current atmospheric models.”
The ability to lower particulate matter is in the power of human beings. Stop using coal power stations, drive less, ride bicycles & catch public transport more & don’t use coal-fired barbeques or burn wood for heating.
We can plant a tree on our property if there is space & create a verge garden on the street. We can also lobby our local councils to increase the urban forest, as the Lancaster research clearly demonstrated a drop of 60% for particulate matter between the street & the row of terrace houses & these were only small Birch trees in pots. Imagine what a good canopy mature street tree can do for us all in cleaning up the air.
Researchers continue to clearly show us that trees are good for people in a myriad of ways. Our mental health & happiness levels, our ability to learn & our respiratory & cardiac health are just some benefits trees bring.
A month or so ago I watched a segment on the television program ‘Trust me I am a Doctor’ about how an experiment with birch trees placed along a high traffic street impacted on air quality. See –http://bbc.in/1fjuxnm
The results were surprising, particularly because these were only small trees in pots. The experiment, developed by Professor Barbara Mahar from the University of Lancaster England consisted of twenty-four young Silver birch trees in pots lined up along the footpath beside four terrace houses. The trees were left in place for two weeks. The adjoining four other terraces were also included in the experiment.
Prior to installing the trees, the computer & television screens were cleaned in all terraces. They were then left on stand-by as these items produce static electricity & would continue to collect airborne dust & particulate matter.
At the end of the fortnight, all the computer & television screens were cleaned again. The air pollution collected on the screens was found to 50-60% lower in the four terraces that had the birch trees between them & the road, showing how vital street trees are for collecting particulate matter, dust & other pollutants from passing traffic.
Whether this percentage of protection happens with all street trees is not known, but the birch trees were chosen specifically because their leaves have hairs & ridges, which collect small particles. It may be that birch trees are found to be superior trees at collecting air pollution.
Every tree collects particulate matter & other air pollutants on their leaves, though it may be that some are better at collecting than others. According to the article, trees with a denser canopy are not as effective at trapping air pollution as are the sparse canopy Silver birch, which allows for free airflow. Denser canopy trees tend to collect pollution at ground level, where people are.
Rain cleans the leaves allowing the process to start again. Deciduous trees would only provide this benefit while they have leaves.
Vehicle exhaust releases very fine particles of particulate matter (PM), which is breathed into our lungs. From there it enters our cardiovascular system. “A recent government report [English] suggested that as many as 29,000 people a year die because of breathing in too much PM.”
The article lists three ways to limit exposure of particulate matter when outside –
- School drop off zones have high levels of particulate matter because of all the idling cars. “So a quick drop-off, & fewer cars at the school gates is important.”
- To reduce your intake on particulate matter when driving, especially when stuck in heavy traffic, keep the windows & vents closed. Also keep some space between you & the car ahead.
- Cyclists are advised to avoid routes with heavy traffic. Pedestrians are advised to walk as far away from the traffic as possible & also avoid walking along streets with heavy traffic. See – http://bbc.in/1tSRh1m
A 2013 study by the Laboratory of Aviation & the Environment at Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that premature death caused by air pollutants was the highest from road transportation – that is vehicle exhaust. http://bit.ly/1k0tbtH
The humble street tree continues to demonstrate its worth. They provide the community with many benefits, including better respiratory & heart health. It is already known that residents in suburbs with fewer trees have poorer health, so increasing the canopy must be a priority.
This image come through to me on Facebook today & made me sit up straight & take notice. The small spheres on planet Earth depict the global water & air volume. Frankly I found it a scary image in light of the current & ongoing massive air & water pollution affecting the planet. It visually depicts exactly what we need to conserve & take care of to keep us alive. Trees help of course.
It is well worth reading the information from the Science Photo Library, which goes into detail about what the image means. – http://www.sciencephoto.com/media/159214/enlarge
The Smarter Earth Institute has done separate calculations to see if the image is correct & according to them it is. That also makes for interesting reading. http://www.smarterearth.org/MeFTWaterAndAir
Marrickville Council has recently replaced the concrete footpath & created verge gardens along Mansion Street Marrickville South. I think they look terrific & greatly improve the streetscape. The street trees now have an opportunity to collect sufficient water when it rains & the gardens themselves should reduce stormwater runoff. There are no problems for pedestrians as there are wide pathways from the roadside to the footpath placed at regular intervals.
Considering that Marrickville Council spends in excess of $2-million every year just on mowing grass verges, I think verge gardens like this would be a far better use of our rates. Imagine what $2-million could do each year if it were put into planting street trees & landscaping our streets & parks. It wouldn’t take too long to significantly green up our landscape.
Research has shown that the greener the environment is, the happier & healthier people tend to be. Verge gardens are also beneficial for the environment. They help collect stormwater & pollution from passing traffic & if planted with wildlife-friendly plants, could also provide a food source for our urban wildlife.
We know a good-looking street tree increases the property value of those near it, so it’s only logical that verge gardens & a better-looking streetscape would also improve property values. Green really does equal money when it comes to real estate, especially in high-density areas like the Inner West.
Of course there are streets in Marrickville LGA that do not have room for verge gardens or where they would be impractical, but many could have them. If verge gardens are put into the right places, they should not impede pedestrians or people leaving vehicles. The size of the verge gardens I have seen across Marrickville LGA mean that people pushing prams or shopping trolleys can do so without difficulty.
On the newish verge gardens in Livingstone Road Marrickville, Council has put a concrete path from the kerb to footpath opposite the front gate of all the houses facilitating unobstructed movement from car to house. This has been repeated in all the other verge gardens I have seen. Where multiple verge gardens have been created along a street, there is a pedestrian pathway to the footpath every few metres big enough for a wheelchair, pram or trolley. Council also don’t put plants on the kerb-side of the garden so that people don’t have to exit the passenger-side of the car into shrubbery that could cut their legs or cause them to fall.
My experience of Marrickville Council is that they are highly vigilant when it comes to safety so I can’t imagine them putting in a verge garden where it would cause people problems.
If Council were not spending all their time mowing grass verges, they could be managing the verge gardens instead. Apparently, once they are grown, verge gardens look after themselves & only need a bit of occasional weeding. There is always room for other plants so if property owners wanted to add other plants, they could. They just need to be safe plants for passing pedestrians, children & dogs – so no cacti or other plants that could cause injury, nothing that could cause difficulty for passengers leaving cars & no high-growing plants that could reduce visibility for drivers.
I know this is a contentious issue in the community. I’ve heard arguments against verge gardens that residents should not have to look after the verges, therefore grass verges must continue. My personal opinion is that verge gardens have much in the way of benefit & there is no reason why Council cannot continue to look after these areas. Some people say they like grass verges & I appreciate that. I don’t dislike grass, but I much prefer plants & flowers.
The reality is the climate is changing & as a society, we must make changes that will help lower the urban heat island effect or we will be condemning ourselves to be living in an oven. Grass verges are less effective at cooling through evaporation than plants & trees. A dried out grass verge can take on the qualities of hard surfaces, not absorbing rainwater well. Grass requires a lot of water & maintenance to keep looking good & does nothing to help with biodiversity.
We know that the particulate matter in air pollution comes from vehicles & coal power stations causes respiratory disease, including asthma in both children & adults as well as heart attack related death. Now 2 new research studies done by entirely different research groups in Germany & the USA have shown that particulate matter also increases the incidence of Type 2 Diabetes.
… the new data provide important & more rigorous evidence that real-world pollution may be tampering with blood sugar control in a large & growing number of people.
The researchers used proximity to roads — where vehicles would be a major pollution source — as a proxy for exposure to fine particulates. Women who developed diabetes were more likely to have lived nearest to heavily trafficked roads.
Compared to the 25% of women living farthest from busy roads, the relative risk of developing diabetes was 15% higher for the 25% of women living closest to major roadways.
There is a growing body of literature suggesting that people with diabetes may be more susceptible to the harmful effects of air pollution.
All the more reason why we need to start planting more street trees, especially on & around main roads. This issue is fast becoming one that will have serious impacts on our health system. It makes sense to use nature to try to lessen the impact of our 21st Century lifestyle as money spent now may help mitigate the financial cost of disease in the future.
It’s well worth reading the full article – http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/63971/title/Air_pollution_appears_to_foster_diabetes
I wrote about this issue here – https://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2010/06/29/living-close-to-a-main-road-is-bad-for-your-health/ &