Developing Countries Pay Steep Economic and Health Costs Because of High In-car Air Pollution

In an international study published by the journal Environment International, the University of Surrey led an international team of air pollution experts in monitoring pollution hotspots in 10 global cities: Dhaka (Bangladesh); São Paulo (Brazil); Guangzhou (China); Medellín (Colombia); Cairo (Egypt); Addis Ababa (Ethiopia); Chennai (India); Sulaymaniyah (Iraq); Blantyre (Malawi); and Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania). 

Surrey’s Global Centre for Clean Air Research (GCARE) set out to investigate whether the amount of fine air pollution particles (PM2.5) drivers inhaled is connected to the duration drivers spend in pollution hotspots and socio-economic indicators such as gross domestic product (GDP).

Across all the cities in the study, researchers found that drivers only needed to spend a short amount of time in high-pollution hotspots to inhale a significant amount of PM2.5 particles. For example, drivers in Guangzhou and Addis Ababa spent 26 and 28 per cent of their commute in hotspot areas, which contributed to 54 and 56 per cent of the total amount of air pollution inhaled on their trip.

The researchers found that the cities where drivers were exposed to the highest levels of PM2.5 pollution – Dar-es-Salaam, Blantyre and Dhaka – also experienced higher death rates per 100,000 commuting car population per year. The low PM2.5 levels in Medellín, São Paulo and Sulaymaniyah corresponded with very low death rates.

The international study assessed economic losses by measuring a city’s death rate caused by PM2.5 car exposure against its GDP per capita. It found that, for most cities, lower GDP linked directly to more significant economic losses caused by in-car PM2.5 exposure – with Cairo and Dar-es-Salaam being impacted the most (losses of 8.9 and 10.2 million US dollars per year, respectively).

The team also found that, except for Guangzhou, cities with higher GDP per capita have less hotspot areas during an average route trip, thus decreasing the risk to drivers.

Professor Prashant Kumar, Principal Investigator of CArE-Cities Project, Associate Dean (International) and Founding Director of GCARE at the University of Surrey, said: “Our global collaborative project has confirmed that air pollution disproportionately affects developing countries. Many countries are caught in a vicious cycle where their low GDP leads to higher pollution exposure rate for drivers, which leads to poorer health outcomes, which further damages the economy of those cities. This is discouraging news – but it should galvanise the international community to find and deploy measures that mitigate the health risks faced by the world’s most vulnerable drivers.”

Professor Shi-Jie Cao, a collaborative partner from the Southeast University, said: “If we are ever to make a world where clean air is available to all, it will take a truly global collaborative effort – such as CArE-Cities. We hope to continue to work closely with Surrey and other global partners, sharing knowledge and expertise that will make a cleaner future a reality.”

Professor Adamson Muula, a collaborative partner from formerly University of Malawi and now Head of Public Health at the Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHeS), said: “If developing countries are to not be left behind in the struggle against air pollution and climate change, it is important that we build the capacity and knowledge to gather on-the-ground data. This project is a small but a significant step in the right direction for Malawians; a direction which will lead to better decisions and cleaner air for Malawi.”

Source: University of Surrey

UBC Chemist Helps Create New Compostable Coffee Pod

Dr. Zac Hudson believes your morning cup of coffee should be strong and guilt-free.

That’s why the University of British Columbia scientist has spent the past three years creating a new fully compostable coffee pod with Surrey-based NEXE Innovations.

“Every year more than 40 billion single-use coffee pods end up in landfill. If they’re made of plastic, they could be sitting there for hundreds or thousands of years,” said Dr. Hudson, an assistant professor and Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Chemistry. “We wanted to create a compostable pod to tackle this problem – and make sure the coffee still tasted great.”

Enter the NEXE pod, which composts completely in as little as 35 days in industrial compost. The pods are made from two specially engineered components: an outer fibre jacket and a bioplastic inner capsule designed to break down into carbon dioxide, water and organic biomass – leaving no microplastic behind.

Engineering new sustainable materials

In order to create a fully compostable pod, Dr. Hudson – whose research focuses on the development of new materials to address issues of sustainability – had to formulate a new bioplastic.

Traditional plastics are made from chemicals, or monomers, derived from fossil fuels. Bioplastics use monomers derived from biomass such as wood or plants.

“We started out by importing bioplastics from overseas and trying them out for the pods we wanted to create. This helped us learn which materials worked well and which didn’t, so we could create new formulations in-house or with the help of our partners,” said Dr. Hudson, who is also now the Chief Scientific Officer at NEXE Innovations.

There were a number of challenges to consider. Many compostable pods already on the market are soft-bottomed, exposing the coffee grounds to moisture and air and allowing them to go stale quickly. They also hold fewer coffee grounds than plastic pods, which can lead to a relatively weak brew.

They also couldn’t look or feel too much like traditional plastic. “This has been a huge barrier to adoption of compostable pods in the past – consumers can’t tell them and regular plastic apart,” said Darren Footz, CEO of NEXE Innovations.

The team eventually settled on a two-part solution:

  1. a bioplastic inner capsule made from polylactic acid (PLA) compounded with other natural ingredients that addresses moisture, air and heat issues and holds a large volume of coffee grounds.
  2. an outer jacket made from bamboo that still looks and feels like plant fibre.

Tackling plastic waste with industry and government

The new bioplastic was tested in collaboration with Dr. Hudson’s research group at UBC, while the composting of the pods was tested at the Surrey Biofuel Facility, which handles all compost for the city of Surrey.

“We are now making our own bioplastics at our facility in Surrey, and are looking to bring significant bioplastics manufacturing capacity to Canada,” said Dr. Hudson. “We’re also working on home composting solutions for our pods.”

The pods are compatible with all Keurig K-Cup brewing systems and launched commercially this month – selling out of their entire launch inventory in one day. The company recently announced Nespresso-compatible pods set to begin production later in 2021.

Funding for research and production was provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Engage grant; the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies Wall Solutions Grant; and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCAN) Plastics Challenge. In January 2021, NEXE Innovations received a $1-million investment from NRCAN to scale up manufacturing of their Nespresso-compatible pods.

“Coffee drinkers are very discerning: if you make a product that is good for the planet, but the coffee tastes bad, they’re going to lose interest pretty quickly,” said Dr. Hudson. “We want our pods to be the best of both.”

Source: The University of British Columbia

Mold a Big Threat to People With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Denise Mann wrote . . . . . . . . .

Exposure to mold both in and out of the home may worsen breathlessness and other symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), new research suggests.

More than 16 million Americans have COPD, according to the American Lung Association. COPD is an umbrella term for chronic lung diseases such as bronchitis and emphysema, which literally take your breath away. COPD flares can be triggered by exposure to pollution, dust, cigarette smoke, mold and other airway irritants.

“Patients with COPD had significantly more flares of their disease requiring visits to their doctor and/or antibiotics if they reported activities that put them at risk of exposure to mold, including vacuuming their homes frequently,” said study author Dr. Chris Kosmidis. He is a senior lecturer in infectious diseases at the University of Manchester in England.

In the study, 140 people with COPD answered questions about possible exposure to mold, visits to their doctor for COPD flares, and how many times they needed antibiotics to treat such flares during the past year.

Folks who vacuumed their home more than once a week were four times more likely to visit a doctor for COPD symptoms at least four times in the previous year. When you vacuum up mold, the spores may pass through the filter and be released into the air, the researchers said.

Also, those who didn’t ask visitors to their home to take their shoes off were more than three times as likely to see a doctor for COPD symptoms at least four times during the previous year.

These people were also more likely to require more than four doses antibiotics to treat their COPD flares during the past year.

There are steps to take to reduce mold exposure to mold, Kosmidis said.

“Opening windows often to allow room ventilation may help, including during and after vacuuming,” he said. Properly maintaining the vacuum cleaner and emptying it when full may also cut down on mold exposure, and always ask guests to take their shoes off before they enter your home so they don’t track mold in with them, Kosmidis said.

Other potential exposures to mold at home are pets, air humidifiers, carpets or drying clothes indoors, but these were not associated with COPD flares in the new study.

Outdoors, gardening, composting or living close to farms or industrial sites can also lead to mold exposure, Kosmidis said. People who lived within a mile of industrial composting sites were more likely to need antibiotics to treat COPD flares in the previous year, the study found.

Individuals who worked in agriculture were also more likely to see their doctor for COPD flares or need antibiotics, although most study participants were no longer working.

The main culprit appears to be aspergillus, a mold found in air conditioning, damp walls and ceilings, and decaying vegetation or composts. Exposure to aspergillus can also lead to chronic pulmonary aspergillosis (CPA), a serious but rare lung disease. Participants in the study were twice as likely to have CPA if they lived within a mile of a farm or agricultural area. Sixty of the 140 people in the study had CPA and COPD.

The study was published in the journal Pulmonology.

One U.S. expert not part of the study outlined ways to prevent COPD outbreaks.

“Taking your medication as directed, exercising to the limit that you can, keeping up with vaccines and not smoking can help prevent COPD flares,” said Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

There are plenty of COPD triggers besides mold, he added.

“High-efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, filters are a great way to keep your air clean,” Horovitz noted. These filters can remove allergens, dander, chemicals, pollen and dust and other potential triggers that can cause COPD to flare, he said. HEPA filters can also trap mold.

Getting rid of mold in your walls can be a bit trickier. “You may need to call in the pros,” Horovitz said. “You can’t just throw bleach at it. You may have to excavate and rebuild.”

Source: HealthDay

Researchers Created the Vegan Spider Silk, a High-performance Film that Can be Used to Replace Single-used Plastics

Nicole Axworthy wrote . . . . . . . . .

Researchers from the University of Cambridge may have found a viable solution to single-use plastics: vegan spider silk. The new material is a synthetic polymer film that mimics the properties of spider silk, which is one of the strongest materials in nature. Because of its strength, the material could replace plastic in many common household products.

The vegan spider silk was created using a new approach for assembling plant proteins into materials that mimic silk on a molecular level. The energy-efficient method uses sustainable ingredients and results in a plastic-like, free-standing film, which can be made at an industrial scale. The material is also compostable, unlike other types of bioplastics which require industrial composting facilities to degrade.

A surprise finding

The researchers developed the material while studying something entirely different: proteins and Alzheimer’s disease. Tuomas Knowles, a University of Cambridge chemistry professor and lead researcher, was analyzing proteins to understand why, in some instances, proteins become malformed, leading to diseases and health problems in humans.

“We normally investigate how functional protein interactions allow us to stay healthy and how irregular interactions are implicated in Alzheimer’s disease,” Knowles said. “It was a surprise to find our research could also address a big problem in sustainability: that of plastic pollution.”

As part of their research, Knowles and his team became interested in why materials like spider silk are so strong when they have such weak molecular bonds, and they found that one of the key features that gives spider silk its strength is the hydrogen bonds, which are arranged regularly in space and at a very high density. The team also looked at how to replicate this feature in other plant proteins. They successfully replicated the structures found on spider silk by using soy protein isolate, a protein with a completely different composition. VegNews.SpiderWeb2

“Because all proteins are made of polypeptide chains, under the right conditions we can cause plant proteins to self-assemble just like spider silk,” Knowles said. “In a spider, the silk protein is dissolved in an aqueous solution, which then assembles into an immensely strong fibre through a spinning process which requires very little energy.” The researchers used soy protein isolate as their test plant protein, since it is readily available as a byproduct of soybean oil production.

A high-performance material

The new material can perform similar to high-performance engineering plastics such as low-density polyethylene. Its benefit is that it does not require chemical cross-linking, which is frequently used to improve the performance and resistance of biopolymer films. The most commonly used cross-linking agents are non-sustainable and can even be toxic.

“This is the culmination of something we’ve been working on for over 10 years, which is understanding how nature generates materials from proteins,” Knowles said. “We didn’t set out to solve a sustainability challenge—we were motivated by curiosity as to how to create strong materials from weak interactions.”VegNews.SpiderSilk

The new product will be commercialized by Xampla, a University of Cambridge spin-out company developing replacements for single-use plastic and microplastics. Later this year, the company will introduce a range of single-use sachets and capsules, which can replace the plastic used in everyday products like dishwasher tablets and laundry detergent capsules.

Source: Veg News

Call for “Paradigm Shift” to Fight Airborne Spread of COVID-19 Indoors

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) air-quality expert Distinguished Professor Lidia Morawska is leading an international call for a “paradigm shift” in combating airborne pathogens such as COVID-19, demanding universal recognition that infections can be prevented by improving indoor ventilation systems.

Professor Morawska led a group of almost 40 researchers from 14 countries in a call published in Science today for a shift in standards in ventilation requirements equal in scale to the transformation in the 1800s when cities started organising clean water supplies and centralised sewage systems.

The international group of air quality researchers called on the World Health Organisation to extend the indoor air quality guidelines to include airborne pathogens and to recognise the need to control hazards of airborne transmission of respiratory infections.

Professor Morawska, director of QUT’s International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health, said there needed to be a shift in the perception that we could not afford the cost of control, given the globally monthly harm from COVID-19 had been conservatively estimated as $1 trillion and the cost of influenza in the US alone exceeded $11.2 billion annually.

“We need to establish the foundations to ensure that the air in our buildings is clean with a significantly reduced pathogen count, contributing to the building occupants’ health, just as we expect for the water coming out of our taps,” Professor Morawska said.

“Mandated building ventilation standards need to include higher airflow, filtration and disinfection rates, and monitors that allowed the public to observe the quality of air around them.
“We should have virus-free air indoors.”

Professor Morawska said response efforts to combat airborne viruses were too weak because airborne infections were harder to trace than food or waterborne outbreaks.

“We’ve provided strong evidence that airborne transmission spreads infections, so there should be international ventilation standards that control pathogens,” she said.

“Most minimum ventilation standards outside of specialised health care and research facilities only control for odour, CO2 levels, temperature and humidity.

“Ventilation systems with higher airflow rates and which distribute clean, disinfected air so that it reaches the breathing zone of occupants must be demand controlled and thus be flexible.”

Professor Morawska said ventilation systems should also be demand-controlled to adjust for different room occupancies, and differing activities and breathing rates, such as exercising in a gym versus sitting in a movie theatre.

“For decades, the focus of architects and building engineers was on thermal comfort, odour control, perceived air quality, initial investment cost, energy use, and other performance issues, while infection control was neglected,” Professor Morawska said.

“Buildings consume over one third of energy globally, much of it expended on heating/cooling outdoor air as it is brought indoors.

“While building designs should optimize indoor environment quality in terms of health and comfort, they should do that in an energy-efficient way in the context of local climate and outdoor air pollution.”

“Wide use of monitors displaying the state of indoor air quality must be mandated too, because the general public currently have no way of knowing the condition of indoor spaces they occupy and share with others.

“Visible displays will keep building operators accountable for air quality. The public should be aware and demand safe environments.

“None of this means that every indoor space should become a biosafety facility, but a building should be designed and operated according to its purpose and activities conducted there, so that airborne infection risk stays below an acceptable level.”

While detailed economic analysis was yet to be done, Professor Morawska said estimates suggested necessary investments in building systems may be less than one per cent of the construction cost of a typical building.

“The cost of infections come from different pockets—building and operating costs, health care costs—but ultimately, society pays for all the costs so a cross-system reallocation of budgets must also be facilitated to mandate new ventilation standards,” Professor Morawska said.

“The benefits are beyond infectious disease transmission. Improved indoor air quality may reduce workplace absenteeism, ‘sick building syndrome’ and allergic reactions.

“The reduction in productivity losses alone may cover the cost of any ventilation changes.”
Last year, research by Professor Morawska and a group of 239 international experts published an open letter on the need to rethink popular advice on how COVID-19 is spread: It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of COVID-19.

Source: Queensland University of Technology