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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 http://bit.ly/ACSindoorairpollution.

"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.




Nanofur for oil spill cleanup

Some water ferns can absorb large volumes of oil within a short time, because their leaves are strongly water-repellent and, at the same time, highly oil-absorbing. Researchers of KIT, together with colleagues of Bonn University, have found that the oil-binding capacity of the water plant results from the hairy microstructure of its leaves. It is now used as a model to further develop the new Nanofur material for the environmentally friendly cleanup of oil spills. (DOI: 10.1088/1748-3190/11/5/056003)

Damaged pipelines, oil tanker disasters, and accidents on oil drilling and production platforms may result in pollutions of water with crude or mineral oil. Conventional methods to clean up the oil spill are associated with specific drawbacks. 




Investing in Walkable Neighborhoods

According to Redfin, several American cities – some the usual progressive suspects, but others quite surprising – are making moves to build more homes in walkable neighborhoods. Other, however, are stuck in the past, building more of the distant suburbs.

Why do we need more walkable cities? Quite simply because walkable cities are, by definition, sustainable cities. Transportation remains a major source of greenhouse gas pollution, and, unlike electricity or agriculture, the United States remains firmly stuck on a fossil-fuel dependent transport infrastructure. When we live in spread out suburbs, far from work, shopping, schools, and cultural centers, we have to drive. Often, we drive inefficient, single-occupancy vehicles, burning more fossil fuels, and creating more traffic.




Fixing America's Waste Problem

America’s massive, growing landfills are the result of many decades of bad policies and decisions. And it will take a concerted, society-wide effort to solve this problem. Let’s dive deeper into just how big our landfill waste problem is and how we can begin to shift toward a circular economy.




New Study Challenges Assumption of Asbestos' Ability to Move in Soil

A new study led by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego scientist Jane Willenbring challenges the long-held belief that asbestos fibers cannot move through soil. The findings have important implications for current remediation strategies aimed at capping asbestos-laden soils to prevent human exposure of the cancer-causing material.

Willenbring, along with University of Pennsylvania postdoctoral researcher Sanjay Mohanty, and colleagues tested the idea that once capped by soil, asbestos waste piles are locked in place. Instead they found that dissolved organic matter contained within the soil sticks to the asbestos particles, creating a change of the electric charge on the outside of the particle that allows it to easily move through the soil.




Cloth masks offer poor protection against air pollution

Results of a new study by environmental health scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst suggest that inexpensive cloth masks worn by people who hope to reduce their exposure to air pollution vary widely in effectiveness and could be giving users a false sense of security, especially in highly polluted areas.

Researchers Richard Peltier, Kabindra Shakya and colleagues believe theirs is the first study to rigorously test disposable surgical masks and washable cloth masks, which are widely used in Asia and Southeast Asia for personal protection against airborne particulate matter. Their study shows that "wearing cloth masks reduced the exposure to some extent," but "the most commonly used cloth mask products perform poorly when compared to alternative options available on the market."




Blue Cut Fire in California spreads quickly

The Blue Cut Fire, just outside of Los Angeles, is a quickly growing fire that is currently an imminent threat to public safety, rail traffic and structures in the Cajon Pass, Lytle Creek, Wrightwood, Oak Hills, and surrounding areas. An estimated 34,500 homes and 82,640 people are being affected by the evacuation warnings that have been issued. 




Researchers discover a special power in wheat

A new photosynthesis discovery at The University of Queensland may help breed faster-growing wheat crops that are better adapted to hotter, drier climates.

A research team led by Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation researcher Professor Robert Henry has today published a paper in Scientific Reports, showing that photosynthesis occurs in wheat seeds as well as in plant leaves.

"This discovery turns half a century of plant biology on its head," Professor Henry said.

"Wheat covers more of the earth than any other crop, so the ramifications of this discovery could be huge. It may lead to better, faster-growing, better-yielding wheat crops in geographical areas where wheat currently cannot be grown."

 




Can't stand the heat? Study reveals how we work out if we're too hot

With temperatures soaring across the UK, our ability to detect and avoid places that are too warm is vital for regulating our body temperature. However, until now, little was known about the molecular mechanisms responsible for detecting warmth in the sensory neurons of our skin.

A new King's College London study, published today in Nature, reveals that a gene called TRPM2 initiates a 'warm' signal in mice that drives them to seek cooler environments. When this gene is removed, the mice are unable to distinguish between cool and warm temperatures.