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ENN: Health



Toxins from freshwater algae found in San Francisco Bay shellfish

Scientists have detected high levels of a toxin produced by freshwater algae in mussels from San Francisco Bay. Although shellfish harvested from California's coastal waters are monitored for toxins produced by marine algae, they are not routinely tested for this freshwater toxin, called microcystin.

The toxin, which causes liver damage, is produced by a type of cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae) that thrives in warm, nutrient-rich water conditions. It has been found in many lakes and rivers in California, including the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, which flow into the San Francisco Bay Delta, and in several Bay Area lakes.

The buzz about edible bugs: Can they replace beef?

The idea of eating bugs has created a buzz lately in both foodie and international development circles as a more sustainable alternative to consuming meat and fish. Now a report appearing in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry examines how the nutrients — particularly iron — provided by grasshoppers, crickets and other insects really measures up to beef. It finds that insects could indeed fill that dietary need.

Air pollution linked to blood vessel damage in healthy young adults

Fine particulate matter air pollution may be associated with blood vessel damage and inflammation among young, healthy adults, according to new research in Circulation Research, an American Heart Association journal.

“These results substantially expand our understanding about how air pollution contributes to cardiovascular disease by showing that exposure is associated with a cascade of adverse effects,” said C. Arden Pope, Ph.D., study lead author and Mary Lou Fulton Professor of Economics at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

Globally Averaged CO2 Levels Reach 400 parts per million in 2015

Globally averaged concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached the symbolic and significant milestone of 400 parts per million for the first time in 2015 and surged again to new records in 2016 on the back of the very powerful El Niño event, according to the World Meteorological Organization's annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.

Protecting people and planet from "invisible killer" is focus of UN health campaign to tackle air pollution

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) in partnership with the Coalition for Climate and Clean Air (CCAC) and the Government of Norway has launched a global awareness campaign on the dangers of air pollution – especially ‘invisible killers’ such as black carbon, ground-level ozone and methane – for the health of individuals and the planet.

Titled BreatheLife: Clean air. A healthy future, the campaign aims to mobilize cities and their inhabitants on issues of health and protecting the planet from the effects of air pollution. Moreover, By WHO and CCAC joining forces, ‘BreatheLife’ brings together expertise and partners that can tackle both the climate and health impacts of air pollution.

To Help Bees, Skip Herbicides and Pesticides, Keep Lawns Naturally Diverse

Declining populations of pollinators is a major concern to ecologists because bees, butterflies and other insects play a critical role in supporting healthy ecosystems. Now a new study from urban ecologists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst suggests that when urban and suburban lawns are left untreated with herbicides, they provide a diversity of “spontaneous” flowers such as dandelions and clover that offer nectar and pollen to bees and other pollinators. 

Hydrogen-powered passenger ferry in San Francisco Bay is possible

Nearly two years ago, Sandia National Laboratories researchers Joe Pratt and Lennie Klebanoff set out to answer one not-so-simple question: Is it feasible to build and operate a high-speed passenger ferry solely powered by hydrogen fuel cells? The answer is yes.

The details behind that answer are in a recent report, “Feasibility of the SF-BREEZE: a Zero Emission, Hydrogen Fuel Cell High Speed Passenger Ferry.” SF-BREEZE stands for San Francisco Bay Renewable Energy Electric Vessel with Zero Emissions.

First evidence of deep-sea animals ingesting microplastics

Following the news that the UK government is to ban plastic microbeads by the end of 2017, a team of scientists led by the University of Oxford has discovered the first evidence of microplastics being ingested by deep-sea animals.

Researchers working on the Royal Research Ship (RRS) James Cook at two sites in the mid-Atlantic and south-west Indian Ocean found plastic microfibres inside creatures including hermit crabs, squat lobsters and sea cucumbers at depths of between 300m and 1800m.

Potentially harmful chemicals widespread in household dust

Household dust exposes people to a wide range of toxic chemicals from everyday products, according to a study led by researchers at Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University. The multi-institutional team conducted a first-of-a-kind meta-analysis, compiling data from dust samples collected throughout the United States to identify the top ten toxic chemicals commonly found in dust. They found that DEHP, a chemical belonging to a hazardous class called phthalates, was number one on that list. In addition, the researchers found that phthalates overall were found at the highest levels in dust followed by phenols and flame retardant chemicals.

92% of the world's population exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution

A new WHO air quality model confirms that 92% of the world's population lives in places where air quality levels exceed WHO limits. Some 3 million deaths a year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution can be just as deadly. In 2012, an estimated 6.5 million deaths (11.6% of all global deaths) were associated with indoor and outdoor air pollution together.

Longest record of continuous carbon flux data is now publicly available

Around the world -- from tundra to tropical forests, and a variety of ecosystems in between -- environmental researchers have set up micrometeorological towers to monitor carbon, water, and energy fluxes, which are measurements of how carbon dioxide (CO2), water vapor and energy (heat) circulate between the soil, plants and atmosphere. Most of these sites have been continuously collecting data, some for nearly 25 years, monitoring ecosystem-level changes through periods of extreme droughts and rising global temperatures. Each of these sites contributes to a regional network -- i.e. the European Network (Euroflux) or the Americas Network (AmeriFlux) -- and the regional networks together comprise a global network called FLUXNET.

Air Pollution: The Billion Dollar Industry

The World Bank has released a new report highlighting the fact that air pollution costs world governments billions upon billions every year and ranks among the leading causes of death worldwide.

The estimates — drawn from a number of sources, including the World Health Organization’s most recently completed data sets compiled in 2013 — can for the first time begin to examine the overall welfare cost of air pollution.

Healthcare costs for infections linked to bacteria in water supply systems are rising

A new analysis of 100 million Medicare records from U.S. adults aged 65 and older reveals rising healthcare costs for infections associated with opportunistic premise plumbing pathogens--disease-causing bacteria, such as Legionella--which can live inside drinking water distribution systems, including household and hospital water pipes.

A team led by researchers from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and Tufts University School of Medicine found that between 1991 and 2006, more than 617,000 hospitalizations related to three common plumbing pathogens resulted in around $9 billion in Medicare payments--an average of $600 million a year. The costs may now exceed $2 billion for 80,000 cases per year, write the study authors. Antibiotic resistance, which can be exacerbated by aging public water infrastructure, was present in between one and two percent of hospitalizations and increased the cost per case by between 10 to 40 percent.

Study Discovers Air Pollution Particles in the Human Brain

A new study from Lancaster University has discovered toxic nanoparticles from air pollution in large quantities in human brains. The researchers examined brain tissue from 37 people aged between 3 and 92 years old in the U.K. and Mexico. Magnetite, a type of iron oxide, was found in massive quantities in the samples – millions of particles per gram of brain tissue.

Tropics told to ban coral-killing sunscreen

Tropical island nations should team up to ban coral-killing sunscreen products, following the example of Hawaii, a conference has heard. Chemical compounds in sunscreen lotions cause irreparable damage to reefs, which are crucial to the livelihoods of 500 million people in the tropics, scientist and policymakers said at the IUCN World Conservation Congress on 3 September. Hawaii is leading a legistlative effort to ban the use of sunscreen that contains oxybenzone or similar harmful agents at its beaches.

Toxic air pollution nanoparticles discovered in the human brain

A team involving Oxford University scientists has, for the first time, discovered tiny magnetic particles from air pollution lodged in human brains – and researchers think they could be a possible cause of Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers led by Lancaster University found abundant magnetite nanoparticles in the brain tissue of 37 individuals aged three to 92 who lived in Mexico City and Manchester. This strongly magnetic mineral is toxic and has been implicated in the production of reactive oxygen species (free radicals) in the human brain, which are associated with neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer's disease.

The results have been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Selenium status influence cancer risk

As a nutritional trace element, selenium forms an essential part of our diet. In collaboration with the International Agency for Research on Cancer, researchers from Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin have been able to show that high blood selenium levels are associated with a decreased risk of developing liver cancer. In addition to other risk factors, the study also examines in how far selenium levels may influence the development of other types of cancer. Results from this study have been published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. *

Study assesses climate change vulnerability in urban America

Flooding due to rising ocean levels. Debilitating heat waves that last longer and occur more frequently. Rising rates of diseases caused by ticks, fleas, and mosquitoes, such as Lyme disease, Chikungunya, and Zika. Increasing numbers of Emergency Room visits for asthma attacks due to higher levels of ground-level ozone. Impacts of climate change such as these will affect cities across the country.

One of the first efforts to systematically assess how cities are preparing for climate change shows that city planners have yet to fully assess their vulnerability to climate change, leaving serious risks unaddressed. In their evaluations to-date, they see infrastructure and risks to specific human populations as the primary areas of concern. Despite these concerns, expert assessments of urban climate vulnerability often do not address the real risks that local planners face.

Study finds shark fins & meat contain high levels of neurotoxins linked to Alzheimer's disease

In a new study, University of Miami (UM) scientists found high concentrations of toxins linked to neurodegenerative diseases in the fins and muscles of 10 species of sharks. The research team suggests that restricting consumption of sharks can have positive health benefits for consumers and for shark conservation, since several of the sharks analyzed in the study are threatened with extinction due to overfishing.

Fins and muscle tissue samples were collected from 10 shark species found in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans for concentrations of two toxins--mercury and β-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA). "Recent studies have linked BMAA to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)," said Deborah Mash, Professor of Neurology and senior author of the study.

UTA study finds air contamination near fracking sites result of operational inefficiencies

Chemists at the University of Texas at Arlington have published a new study that indicates that highly variable contamination events registered in and around unconventional oil and gas developments are the result of operational inefficiencies and not inherent to the extraction process itself.

The study, published today as "Point source attribution of ambient contamination events near unconventional oil and gas development" in Science of the Total Environment, found highly variable levels of ambient BTEX, or benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, and xylene compounds, in and around fracking gas drilling sites in the Eagle Ford shale region in South Texas. BTEX compounds in high concentrations can be carcinogenic and have harmful effects on the nervous system.

Blending wastewater may help California cope with drought

Recycled wastewater is increasingly touted as part of the solution to California's water woes, particularly for agricultural use, as the state's historic drought continues. The cost of treating wastewater to meet state health standards for reuse and to reduce salt levels that damage crops presents a new set of challenges, however.

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside have developed an economic model that demonstrates how flexible wastewater treatment processes which blend varying levels of treated effluent can be optimized to produce a water supply that is affordable, and meets and surpasses a variety of water quality requirements.

Study Suggests First Soda Tax in U.S. Is Working

As politicians seek ways to combat the obesity epidemic here in the U.S., taxes and even bans on sodas have been floated in cities across the U.S. When former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg first tried to tax and then limit the size of sodas in the Big Apple, howls of “the nanny state is here” roared across the country. Beverage industry trade groups screamed bloody murder over the cap on soda sizes that could be sold in NYC, and eventually New York State’s Court of Appeals ruled against the ban, saying the city’s health board lacked any such authority. Now an ex-mayor, Bloomberg has not given up. And a recent study on the effects of a similar policy in Berkeley, CA may give him even more ammunition as a campaign he bankrolled in Philadelphia was approved by its city council earlier this year.

Ecological consequences of amphetamine pollution in urban streams

Pharmaceutical and illicit drugs are present in streams in Baltimore, Maryland. At some sites, amphetamine concentrations are high enough to alter the base of the aquatic food web. So reports a new study released today in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, which is one of the first to explore the ecological consequences of stimulant pollution in urban streams.

Lead author Sylvia S. Lee conducted the work as a postdoctoral researcher at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. Lee, now with the Environmental Protection Agency, comments, "Around the world, treated and untreated wastewater entering surface waters contains pharmaceuticals and illicit drugs that originate from human consumption and excretion, manufacturing processes, or improper disposal. We were interested in revealing how amphetamine exposure influences the small plants and animals that play a large role in regulating the health of streams."

Selecting the right house plant could improve indoor air

Indoor air pollution is an important environmental threat to human health, leading to symptoms of "sick building syndrome." But researchers report that surrounding oneself with certain house plants could combat the potentially harmful effects of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a main category of these pollutants. Interestingly, they found that certain plants are better at removing particular harmful compounds from the air, suggesting that, with the right plant, indoor air could become cleaner and safer. 

The researchers are presenting their work today at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS, the world's largest scientific society, is holding the meeting here through Thursday. It features more than 9,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics. A brand-new animation on the research is available at

"Buildings, whether new or old, can have high levels of VOCs in them, sometimes so high that you can smell them," says Vadoud Niri, Ph.D., leader of the study. 

Smoke Waves Are the Next Climate Change Problem

In the hills near Los Angeles, the Blue Cut Fire just ripped through 36,000 acres, taking dozens of homes along with it, spurring a major evacuation, and even requiring temporary highway closures. But the merciless flames of the Blue Cut Fire almost pale in comparison with the flood of wildfires across the Golden State, and the West at large, in an era when the wildfire season is growing longer and more aggressive every year. Climate change is the reason why, and researchers are discovering that the cost of wildfires may be bigger than we imagined: They’re tracking deadly “smoke waves” that sweep the landscape, causing serious respiratory health problems.