Air pollution reduces global life expectancy by more than one year

August 23, 2018 in Blog

Air pollution shortens human lives by more than a year, according to a new study from a team of leading environmental engineers and public health researchers. Better air quality could lead to a significant extension of lifespans around the world.

Upper panel a: How air pollution shortens human life expectancy around the world. Lower panel b: Gains in life expectancy that could be reached by meeting World Health Organization guidelines for air quality around the world.

This is the first time that data on air pollution and lifespan has been studied together in order to examine the global variations in how they affect overall life expectancy.

The researchers looked at outdoor air pollution from particulate matter (PM) smaller than 2.5 microns. These fine particles can enter deep into the lungs, and breathing PM2.5 is associated with increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, respiratory diseases and cancer. PM2.5 pollution comes from power plants, cars and trucks, fires, agriculture and industrial emissions.

Led by Joshua Apte in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, the team used data from the Global Burden of Disease Study to measure PM2.5 air pollution exposure and its consequences in 185 countries. They then quantified the national impact on life expectancy for each individual country as well as on a global scale.

The findings were published  in Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

“The fact that fine particle air pollution is a major global killer is already well known,” said Apte, who is an assistant professor in the Cockrell School’s Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering and in the Dell Medical School’s Department of Population Health. “And we all care about how long we live. Here, we were able to systematically identify how air pollution also substantially shortens lives around the world. What we found is that air pollution has a very large effect on survival — on average about a year globally.”

In the context of other significant phenomena negatively affecting human survival rates, Apte said this is a big number.

“For example, it’s considerably larger than the benefit in survival we might see if we found cures for both lung and breast cancer combined,” he said. “In countries like India and China, the benefit for elderly people of improving air quality would be especially large. For much of Asia, if air pollution were removed as a risk for death, 60-year-olds would have a 15 percent to 20 percent higher chance of living to age 85 or older.”

Apte believes this discovery is especially important for the context it provides.

“A body count saying 90,000 Americans or 1.1 million Indians die per year from air pollution is large but faceless,” he said. “Saying that, on average, a population lives a year less than they would have otherwise — that is something relatable.”

Source: University of Texas, Austin



Contact lenses: Its impact on Environment

August 22, 2018 in Blog

Most of the people depend on contact lenses to improve their vision. But these sight-correcting devices don’t last forever – some of these devices are used for a short period of one day and are disposed in various ways.  Researches show that throwing these lenses down the drain after usage will contribute to microplastic pollution in waterways.

  • A team of researchers presented their results at the 256th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.
  • They started looking into the U.S. market and conducted a survey of contact lens wearers. They found that 15 to 20 percent of contact wearers are flushing the lenses down the sink or toilet. This is a pretty large number, considering roughly 45 million people in the U.S. alone wear contact lenses.


  • When the lenses are washed down the drain, they ultimately end up in wastewater treatment plants. The team estimates that anywhere from six to 10 metric tons of plastic lenses end up in wastewater in the U.S. alone each year. Contact lenses tend to be denser than water, which means they sink, and this could eventually pose a danger to aquatic life, especially bottom feeders that may ingest the contact lenses.
  • Analyzing what happens to these lenses is a challenge for several reasons. First, contact lenses are transparent, which makes them difficult to observe in the complicated setting of a wastewater treatment plant. Further, the plastics used in contact lenses are different from other plastic waste, such as polypropylene, which can be found in everything from car batteries to textiles. Contact lenses are instead frequently made with a combination of poly(methylmethacrylate), silicones and fluoropolymers to create a softer material that allows oxygen to pass through the lens to the eye. So, it’s unclear how wastewater treatment affects contacts.
  • These differences make processing contact lenses in wastewater plants a challenge. To help address their fate during treatment, the researchers exposed five polymers found in many manufacturers’ contact lenses to anaerobic and aerobic microorganisms present at wastewater treatment plants for varying times and performed Raman spectroscopy to analyze them. They found that there were noticeable changes in the bonds of the contact lenses after long-term treatment with the plant’s microbes. The team concluded that microbes in the wastewater treatment facility actually altered the surface of the contact lenses, weakening the bonds in the plastic polymers.
  • “When the plastic loses some of its structural strength, it will break down physically. This leads to smaller plastic particles which would ultimately lead to the formation of microplastics”, says Kelkhar one of the researchers.  Aquatic organisms can mistake microplastics for food and since plastics are indigestible, this dramatically affects the marine animals’ digestive system. These animals are part of a long food chain. Some finally find their way to the human food supply, which could lead to surplus human exposures to plastic impurities and pollutants that stick to the surfaces of the plastics.
  • With this research, the team hopes that industry will take note and at minimum, provide a label on the packaging describing how to properly dispose the contact lenses, which is by placing them with other solid waste. The researchers mention that, “Ultimately, we hope that manufacturers will conduct more research on how the lenses impact aquatic life and how fast the lenses degrade in a marine environment.”


Earth at menace of heading towards ‘Hothouse Earth’ condition

August 13, 2018 in Blog

A team of international scientists has published a study in” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” (PNAS)showing that even if the carbon emissions are reduced and “Paris Agreement” are met, there is a risk of Earth entering into “Hothouse Earth” conditions.  A “Hothouse Earth” is a condition in which the global temperature will increase at an average of of 4-5°C  higher than pre-industrial temperatures with sea level 10-60 m higher than today.  

  • “Human emissions of greenhouse gas are not the only factor that determine the temperature on Earth. The study put forward that human-induced global warming of 2°C may trigger other Earth system processes, often called “feedbacks,” that can force further warming — even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases,” “Avoiding this scenario requires a redirection of human actions from exploitation to taking care of the Earth system.”
  • The study considers ten natural feedback processes, some of which are “tipping elements” that lead to rapid change if a critical threshold level is crossed. These feedbacks that stores carbon may emit it uncontrollably in a warmer world. These feedbacks are permafrost thaw, loss of methane hydrates from the ocean floor, weakening land and ocean carbon sinks, increasing bacterial respiration in the oceans, reduction of northern hemisphere snow cover, loss of Arctic summer sea ice, and reduction of Antarctic sea ice and polar ice sheets.
  • These tipping elements can possibly act like a row of dominoes. Once one is pushed over, it pushes Earth towards another. It may be very difficult or impossible to stop the whole row of dominoes from tumbling over. Places on Earth will become uninhabitable if “Hothouse Earth” becomes the reality.
  • The study shows how industrial-age greenhouse gas emissions force our climate, and ultimately the Earth system, out of balance. In particular the tipping elements in the planetary machinery, once a certain stress level has been passed, frequent changes fundamentally, rapidly and are perhaps irreversible. This flow of events may change the entire Earth system into a different mode of operation.

Reduction in greenhouse gases alone is inadequate

  • The study says “to avoid “Hothouse Earth” it requires not only reduction of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions but also improvement and creation of new biological carbon stores, for example, through improved forest, agricultural and soil management; biodiversity conservation; and technologies that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it underground.
  • Significantly, the study emphasizes that these measures must be underpinned by fundamental societal changes that are required to maintain a Balanced Earth where temperatures are approximately 2°C warmer than the pre-industrial temperature.
  • It also says “Climate and other global changes show us that we humans are impacting the Earth system at the global level. This means that we as a global community can also manage our relationship with the system to influence future environmental conditions”.

UNEP collaborates with Google for monitoring impact of human activity on ecosystem.

August 9, 2018 in Blog
  • The main aim of the programme is to develop an environment to enable governments, NGO’s and public to track specific environment-related development  targets with Google . Its target will be on freshwater ecosystems including forests, wetlands, rivers and lakes.
  • Google will occasionally produce maps and data on water-related ecosystems by using Cloud computing technology. It will generate satellite images and data to assess the extent of change occurring to water bodies and make it  accessible to ensure nations have opportunity to track changes, prevent and reverse ecosystem loss.
  • The collaboration under this partnership also includes capacity building activities as well as the development of partnerships with organisations like European Space Agency (ESA), European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)..
  • This partnership builds on a common vision between these organisations. In long term, it will strive to establish platform for open-source data and analysis of UN Sustainable Development Goals. It will enable UNEP to get access to the online tools to track progress, identify areas for action, and needs for making world sustainable. It will enable all countries with equal access to latest technology and information in support of  climatic action and sustainable development on the whole….