News Stories

The Problem That Won't Quite Go Away

The growth in China's carbon dioxide emissions is far outpacing previous estimates, making the goal of stabilizing atmospheric greenhouse gases much more difficult. Beijing is so polluted that top runner Haile Gebrselassie has dropped out of the upcoming Olympics there, for fear that running in such an atmosphere would damage his health. Olympic athletes certainly won't be THINKING clearly, since pollution changes the way the brain works.

Researcher Richard Carson says, "[Beginning in 2000], energy use [in China] started to grow faster than income, and much of the energy that was used wasn't efficient." One of the problems is the way the Chinese government is organized, which is?surprisingly?much like the United States. According to Carson, "Everybody had been treating China as single country, but each of the country's provinces is larger than many European countries, both in geographic size and population. In addition, there is a wide range in economic development and wealth from one province to the next, as well as major differences in population growth, all of which has an effect on energy consumption that cannot be easily addressed in models based upon aggregate national data."

BBC News reports that scientists have long known that the tiny particles contained in air pollution damage the heart and lungs, but now they?ve learned that they also affect how the brain processes information. Researchers asked 10 volunteers to spend an hour in a room filled with either clean air or diesel exhaust, then tested them. As expected, they performed less well after being exposed to pollution. BBC quotes researcher Paul Borm as saying, "We can only speculate what these effects may mean for the chronic exposure to air pollution encountered in busy cities where the levels of such soot particles can be very high. It is conceivable that the long-term effects of exposure to traffic nanoparticles may interfere with normal brain function and information processing. Further studies are necessary to explore this effect."

Another, even more terrifying study has come to light: BBC News reports that "a study of dogs in Mexico found those who lived in highly-polluted Mexico City had brain lesions similar to those seen in Alzheimer's patients, while those who lived in much less-polluted rural areas showed a much lower rate of damage to the brain."

We don't exactly have clean air here in the US, either?but at least we?re doing better than we used to. The EPA is tightening air quality standards for the first time in over 10 years, which could save 4,000 lives a year. The new permitted ozone level has been reduced from 80 parts per billion to 75 parts per billion, despite the fact that the EPA itself recommended setting a standard of 70 parts per billion or less. BBC News quotes Frank O'Donnell of Clean Air Watch as saying, "Unfortunately, real science appears to have been tainted by political science. The Bush Administration is compromising public health to save industry money."

Art credit: gimp-savvy.com

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