Environment

“Deadly’ Smog in Delhi, India

Visibility is poor as pollution levels reached 30 times the World Health Organization’s recommended limit in some areas. The Indian Medical Association (IMA) declared “a state of medical emergency” and urged the government to “make every possible effort to curb this menace”.

The levels of tiny particulate matter (known as PM 2.5) that enter deep into the lungs reached as high as 700 micrograms per cubic metre in some areas on Tuesday.

The chief minister of Delhi has asked his education minister to consider shutting down schools for a few days. Delhi sees pollution levels soar in winter due to farmers in neighbouring Punjab and Haryana states burning stubble to clear their fields. Low wind speeds, dust from construction sites, rubbish burning in the capital and firecrackers used in festivals also contribute to increasing pollution levels.

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Storms and Floods

Tropical Storms – Roundup of Tropical Storms:

In the Atlantic Ocean: Invest 95L is an area of disturbed weather in the Atlantic Ocean that has the potential for further tropical development.

In the Western Pacific Ocean: Typhoon 28w (Damrey), located approximately 182 nm northeast of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, is tracking west-southwestward at 13 knots.

Newsbytes:

Vietnam – At least four people have been killed by heavy rain and flooding in Central Vietnam caused by a tropical storm. Storm Damrey is expected to make landfall on Sunday.

Floods and Groundwater

A new study has pointed out that flooding in polluted rivers has the potential to make groundwater unsafe for human use. Researchers collected water samples from 17 locations in December 2015 and April 2016 (i.e. during and after the floods). They tested the samples for salt and heavy-metal concentrations, the microbial load and their susceptibility to available antibiotics. The results showed that the heavy-metal concentration and microbial load in groundwater samples were high.

Additionally, scientists found a high level genetic similarities between bacteria from various locations, implying that they must have originated from a single domestic sewage source containing faecal matter. The findings show that floods have the potential to impact the microbial quality of groundwater in affected areas.

Global Warming

Pollution Fuelling Climate Change

Climate change is already affecting the health of populations around the world, but things are set to get worse if adequate changes aren’t made, according to an international consortium of climate experts.

Fueling the impact is the fact that more than 2,100 cities globally exceed recommended levels of atmospheric particulate matter — particles emitted when fuels, such as coal or diesel, are burned and are small enough to get into the lungs — says a report published Monday in the medical journal The Lancet. In the UK alone, 44 cities exceeded levels recommended by the World Health Organization.

More than 803,000 deaths across 21 Asian countries in 2015 were attributable to pollution from coal power, transport and the use of fossil fuels at home, the report states.

Environment

Pollution Kills

Pollution is responsible for illnesses that kill one in every six people around the world each year, according to a new landmark report.

The Lancet, the world’s leading peer-reviewed journal on health, commissioned a study that found toxic air, water, soil and workplace environments kill at least 9 million people annually.

Study authors warn that the crisis “threatens the continuing survival of human societies.” Philip Landrigan, from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said the scale of deaths from pollution surprised the researchers, as did the rate at which the fatalities were rising.

Environment

Tainted Honey

A new study has found that most of the honey sampled from every continent except Antarctica during a recent five-year period was contaminated with a common class of bee-harming insecticides.

Researchers from the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland found that 75 percent of the samples had “quantifiable amounts” of at least one of the neonicotinoids, which have also been linked to reduced colony growth and queen production in bumblebees.

The scientists say 86 percent of the samples collected in North America were contaminated, followed by 80 percent in Asia, 79 percent in Europe and 57 percent in South America.

Environment

UK Smog Alert

A combination of polluted air blowing in from continental Europe and toxic air around London has created unhealthful levels of air pollution around the British capital. London’s mayor ordered an emergency air quality alert due to the hazardous smog.

“The shocking and illegal state of London’s filthy air means once again I am triggering a high air pollution alert today under my new comprehensive alert system,” said Sadiq Khan.

The government has come under increased pressure to improve the United Kingdom’s air quality.

Environment

Humans Have Produced Whopping 9 Billion Tons of Plastic

A new study, which is the first global analysis of all mass-produced plastics ever made, finds that since large-scale manufacturing of plastics took off in the 1950s and until 2015, humans have produced approximately 9 billion tons (8.3 billion metric tons) of plastic.

To put that in perspective, all that plastic would be equivalent to 85,567 aircraft “supercarriers” like the USS Gerald R. Ford, which weighs 107,000 tons (97,000 metric tons).

Of those 9 billion tons, half was made in the last 13 years, said Roland Geyer, an associate professor of industrial ecology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and lead author of the new study, which was published online today (July 19) in the journal Science Advances.

As of 2015, about 7 billion tons (6.3 billion metric tons) of plastic have been disposed of as waste, with only 9 percent of it recycled, 12 percent incinerated, and a whopping 79 percent finding its way into landfills, the researchers report.

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Environment

The Gulf of Mexico’s ‘Dead Zone’

The oxygen-poor “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico may be the biggest on record this year, nearly doubling in size to cover an area of ocean as large as Vermont, scientists at Louisiana State University estimate.

The dead zone develops when nitrogen-rich runoff from the Midwestern farm belt pours into rivers and out into the Gulf. That runoff is loaded with fertilizer, as well as nutrients from animal and human waste, and it fuels the growth of algae that die, sink, and decompose, depleting oxygen levels offshore. That drives away marine life in the zone — or kills species that can’t escape.

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Wildfires

Wildfires – Siberia

Wildfires in Russia’s Far East and Siberia swelled by 3,600 ha to 16,700 ha over the past 24 hours, the Russian Aerial Forest Protection Service reported on Friday.

“The major increase occurred in the Magadan Region – in one day the wildfire area grew 43-fold from 40 ha to 1,700 ha. In the Amur Region the wildfires grew from 1,700 to almost 2,000 ha, and in the Irkutsk Region – from 4,000 to 5,200 ha,” the service said.

Wildfires – New Mexico, USA

Eleven wildfires are burning in New Mexico as of Thursday. The state Department of Health issued a smoke advisory for northern parts of the state.

Air Pollution From Wildfires Much Worse Than Previous Estimates

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Particle pollution from wildfires, long known for containing soot and other fine particles known to be dangerous to human health, is much worse than previously thought, a new study shows.

Naturally burning timber and brush from wildfires release dangerous particles into the air at a rate three times as high as levels known by the EPA, researchers at Georgia Tech found.

Scientists sampled air quality by flying planes directly into thick plumes from three major wildfires, including the 2013 Rim Fire, the largest wildfire in the Sierra Nevada. Previous EPA data was based on plume samples from controlled burns. Greg Huey is the study’s lead author.

“Under the conditions of the prescribed fires, it seems like you can get a smaller impact on air quality, So I think an extrapolation is that if you had more prescribed burning you might prevent some wildfires and in the process of doing that you would also probably help air quality issues,” Huey says.

The study also found wildfires spew methanol, benzene, ozone and other noxious chemicals.

Wildlife

Medications, pesticides, found in blood of sea turtles on Great Barrier Reef

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Heart and gout medications, pesticides, herbicides and other industrial chemicals have all been found in the blood of green sea turtles in the Great Barrier Reef, according to researchers.

The discovery was made as part of project led by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which compared samples from turtles in urban areas to the more remote locations.

Chemical exposure has been linked to stress and other side effects in wildlife, and the indications of inflammation and liver dysfunction were found in some green turtles.

The scientists said the worrying thing was there are more chemicals they could not identify than chemicals they could identify.

Faceless Fish

An Australian museum expedition has come across a species of fish not seen near the country since 1873. It has no visible eyes, gills or any other facial features except for two nostrils and a mouth at the bottom of its body.

Dubbed the “faceless cusk,” the fish measures roughly 22 inches in length and was captured by trawling a deep ocean trench off Australia’s eastern coast at a depth of around 2 miles.

According to Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, the creature, known as a cusk eel, has been previously observed from the Arabian Sea, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Japan to Hawaii. But living at depths of up to 14,000 feet, it is rarely seen.

EARTHWEEK

Environment

Trash Isn’t Just A Problem For Henderson Island, It’s Everywhere

The uninhabited Henderson Island has gained a lot of attention because of the fact that it has no people, but lots of trash.

A recent study determined that the island has become a dumping ground for plastic refuse. Unfortunately, it’s not alone. Here are just a few examples of seemingly pristine locales that have become polluted by humanity’s waste.

The Mariana Trench: The Mariana Trench is the deepest part of the ocean and, as such, one would expect it to be free from humanity’s touch, but that is not the case. A study has discovered that sea life living in the trench were found to have high levels of cancer-causing pollutants in their bodies.

Ironically, the isolated nature of the Mariana Trench is part of the reason that these pollutants often end up there.

“[These chemicals] don’t like water, and so they will stick to things in the water like plastic, and then that plastic will settle,” said the study’s co-author Stuart Piertney. “Because these deep-sea trenches are the very bottom of the sink for the oceans, there’s a sort of inevitability that they’re going to end up there.”

We know less about the depths of the ocean than we do the surface of the moon, but this serves as a reminder that our actions have consequences regardless of whether we are aware of them.

“The fact that we found such extraordinary levels of these pollutants in one of the most remote and inaccessible habitats on Earth really brings home the long-term, devastating impact that mankind is having on the planet,” said co-author Alan Jamieson.

Hawaii’s Northwestern Islands: Hawaii is a tropical paradise and one of the world’s top vacation spots, but it also has a string of uninhabited islands. Those islands serve as a wildlife refuge for many types of marine life, but, like Henderson Island, they too have became littered with trash.

The problem has gotten so bad that the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has organized cleanup efforts. A recent expedition uncovered more than 57 tons of garbage. In addition to polluting the water and ruining the area’s natural beauty, the trash, which is mostly plastic, is dangerous to the local wildlife.

The debris, which includes lighters, bottle caps, and other hard plastic items, are often mistaken for food by seabirds, which will feed the trash to their offspring.

Smaller debris isn’t the only problem facing these islands. Despite the fact that fishing is prohibited in wildlife sanctuaries, lost nets and lines that often end up in the area can kill larger marine life such as dolphins or sea turtles.

Plastic Is The Problem: In the case of both Henderson and Hawaii, the bulk of the discarded trash is made of plastic. Every year, roughly 8 million tons of plastic waste ends up the in ocean. This waste is then caught up in gyres that carry the garbage to remote locations.

Environment

One of the World’s Most Polluted Islands

A tiny, uninhabited piece of land in the South Pacific Ocean, called Henderson Island, is considered one of the most remote islands in the world. But now, researchers say it has earned a much more worrisome new title: the world’s most polluted island.

Henderson Island is so remote that it’s visited only every five to 10 years, for research purposes, and is listed as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). But this isolation from humanity has not prevented the island’s beaches from becoming filled with trash. In a new study, researchers estimate that 37.7 million pieces of plastic — amounting to 17 tons of plastic debris — litter the beaches of Henderson Island.

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Wildlife

Polluted Killer Whale

An orca that was found dead last year is now considered one of the most polluted whales ever found: The marine animal contained some of the highest levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) — human-made organic chemicals known to cause a variety of adverse health effects — ever recorded.

Lulu, an adult female killer whale, was a member of the last orca pod living near the United Kingdom. When the dead whale was discovered in January 2016 on the Isle of Tiree, Scotland, after becoming entangled in fishing rope, researchers analyzed the orca’s body in hopes of determining the health of the rest of the small pod. They found that Lulu might have been the most contaminated whale ever discovered.

The PCB concentrations in Lulu’s blubber were 100 times higher than the toxicity level scientists have determined is safe for marine mammals, according to researchers from the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).

High concentrations of PCBs can cause a range of health issues for marine mammals, including impaired immune function, increased susceptibility to cancers, and infertility, according to the SRUC researchers.

Though Lulu was at least 20 years old when she died, an analysis of the orca’s ovaries showed that she had never reproduced. In fact, researchers have not verified a single calf in the 23 years that the U.K. orca pod has been monitored.

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Environment

Pollution causes rise in cancer cases

Air pollution contributes to a 10 per cent rise in people being diagnosed with cancer, a study has found.

US researchers believe it causes an extra 44 cases per 100,000 people – equivalent to more than 28,600 cancer diagnoses in Britain.

The study, published in the journal Cancer, is the first to examine the link between environment and cancer, although previous research has found diesel fumes could cause women to give birth prematurely.

Its authors say developing the disease is 50 per cent due to genetics, but environment also damages our DNA, changes the way genes work and can even alter important hormones.

They examined the populations of almost 2,700 counties across America, where cancer affected an average of 451 people in every 100,000 between 2006 and 2010.

The extra 44 cases found in the worst polluted counties compared to the cleanest represents a rise of around 10 per cent, while socio-economic circumstances and roads also increased risk.

Lung cancer had already been linked to diesel exhausts and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, produced by cars and also thought to cause asthma and heart disease. But an extra ten cases of prostate cancer per 100,000 men were also attributed to air pollution, with almost four extra cases of breast cancer per 100,000 women. The reasons behind this increase are still being examined, but the study states: ‘Environmental exposures can alter or interfere with a variety of biological processes, including hormone production and function, inflammation, DNA damage and gene suppression or over-expression.’

Previous research has suggested particles of pollution can mimic oestrogen, which is known to fuel breast cancer.

They can also make women’s breasts denser, which raises their danger of the cancer.

To investigate the effects of overall environmental quality, the researchers looked at air, water and land quality, as well as the built environment and social factors. When adjusting for age, the annual incidence was 451 cancer cases per 100,000 people.

But counties with poor environmental quality had on average 39 more cases per 100,000 people than those of high quality.

Water quality had little or no effect on cancer rates when taken in isolation, with land quality, including the use of pesticides, having a small effect.

Air quality alone was found to cause an extra 44.19 cases per 100,000 over the four years.

Environment

Ancient underground water sources not immune to today’s pollution

New research suggests ancient underground water sources long believed to be shielded from modern-day contaminants may not be as safe as previously thought.

The study, led by University of Calgary hydrogeologist Scott Jasechko, involved delving into data collected from 6,000 groundwater wells around the world.

The research yielded two interesting findings – up to 85 per cent of the fresh, unfrozen water in the upper kilometre of the earth’s crust is more than 12,000 years old and it’s possible for ancient and recent water sources to mingle deep underground.

The implication of that finding is that, unfortunately, even deep wells are vulnerable to modern land uses.

The tests released a specific radioactive hydrogen isotope into the environment called tritium, which has been useful in dating water samples. Trace levels of tritium – too low to pose any danger – were found in deep groundwater wells, demonstrating there is a way for old and new water to mix.

“Its presence alone indicates that some of the water in the well is recent rain and snow,” said Jasechko. “And the fact that we find that at deep depths implies that even deep wells are vulnerable to modern-era contaminants.”