Toxic truths: A new study has found a positive association between PM10 and the risk of autoimmune diseases such as lupus. Photo: Vox

Long exposure to air pollution increases risks of autoimmune diseases

A new study at the University of Verona stated that long-term exposure to high levels of air pollution was associated with an approximately 40% higher risk of rheumatoid arthritis, a 20% higher risk of inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, and a 15% higher risk of connective tissue diseases, such as lupus.

Scientists studied about 81,363 men and women on an Italian database assessing risk of fractures between June 2016 and November 2020. About 12% were diagnosed with an autoimmune disease during this period. Each patient was linked to the nearest air quality monitoring station via their residential postcode. The study analysed average long-term exposure to PM10 and PM2.5 at levels more than 30µg/m3 for PM10 and 20µg/m3 for PM2.5  was associated with, respectively, a 12% and 13% higher risk of autoimmune disease.

Toxic air shortening lives of children by 1 year 8 months: State of Global Air report

Air pollution can shorten the lives of children by an average of a year and eight months, according to two new reports from the State of Global Air initiative. In some of the worst-affected countries, babies born today will, on average, lose more than three years of life unless air pollution improves. The scientists conclude that a child born in 2019 would die 12 months sooner, on average, than would be expected in the absence of exposure to PM2.5.

The report points out that in low and low-middle SDI countries, the impact on human longevity of all air pollution (2.5–2.7 yr) is much higher than that of all cancers (1.4–1.7 yr) and tobacco smoking (1.2–1.9 yr).

According to the report in India, the life expectancy reduction from exposure to ambient PM2.5 (1.51 yr) is greater than years of life expectancy loss from all cancers (1.39 yr). The report warns that ambient and household PM2.5 air pollution have a combined impact on life expectancy that is of a magnitude comparable to the very largest threats to human health and longevity. In China, eliminating household and outdoor air pollution as risk factors for mortality would have a similar benefit to life expectancy (1.85 yr) as averting all deaths from ischemic heart disease (1.89 yr).

No country in the world meets WHO’s new annual guideline of 5µg/m3 for ambient PM2.5. Further, fewer than half of the world’s countries meet the least stringent interim target of 35µg/m3, the report states.

UN report: Businesses creating pollution ‘sacrifice zones’ across the globe

A UN report has blamed businesses for creating pollution “sacrifice zones” across the world, where tens of millions of people are suffering strokes, cancers, respiratory problems and heart disease as a result of toxic contamination of the environment. Scientists said the rise of toxic pollution hotspots is hitting poor communities hardest. The report said 95% of children in Kabwe, Zambia, have elevated levels of lead in their blood, putting them at risk of lifelong intellectual impairment.  The Pata Rât landfill in Romania, exposes thousands of Roma people to arsenic, lead, mercury and other pollutants.

 The French overseas territories of Guadeloupe and Martinique, in the Caribbean, where 90% of people were found to have the carcinogenic pesticide chlordecone in their blood. And in Louisiana, US, a place called ‘cancer alley’ has more than a hundred oil refineries, petrochemical plants, in poor, predominantly black communities.

Aerosol pollution is warming the planet as well: Study 

Scientists found that climate change is not just caused by CO2 and methane emissions, but also by aerosol pollution. Human-caused aerosols have increased rapidly over India, China and Southeast Asia, fed by particles of ash, soot and organic carbon compounds, researchers said. 

The man-made aerosols are emitted from vehicle exhausts, factories, ships and coal-burning power plants, by farmers burning field stubble, by land grabbers clearing Amazon forest with fire and by gas flares on oil rigs and discarded plastic shopping bags. Even tumble driers release microplastic fibres that float skyward. These sources have increased dramatically over the industrial period, roughly in step with greenhouse gases.

Scientists said the aerosols tend to hang in the atmosphere near their source, or move as localised or regional masses via air currents, and they can affect the climate in a host of contradictory ways, both cooling or warming, triggering drought or intense rainfall.