Air pollution increases risk of miscarriage, new study suggests

Expectant mothers exposed to higher levels of nitrogen dioxide, a gas created by petrol and diesel vehicles, are 16% more likely to lose their baby.

One researcher at the University of Utah, which led the research, described the findings as “upsetting”.

It comes amid a growing concern over air pollution and its links with diseases and conditions such as strokes, dementia and autism.

The NHS says one in eight women who know they are pregnant will miscarry, while the actual figure may be higher because many women lose their child before they know they are pregnant.

Doctors analysed the records of more than 1,300 women who sought help from the University of Utah’s emergency department following a miscarriage between 2007 and 2015.

The team of researchers worked out the risk of miscarriage during periods of three to seven days after a spike in the level of common air pollutants, including small particle matter and nitrogen dioxide.

Researchers found an increased risk in miscarriage for women exposed to the elevated levels of nitrogen dioxide, which equalled a rise of 16% for a 10 parts per billion increase during a seven-day window.

But the particulate matter did not significantly increase the risk of miscarriage.

Matthew Fuller, associate professor of surgery at the university, said: “The results of this study are upsetting, and we need to work together as a society to find constructive solutions.”

He advised women to raise health concerns with their doctor, and suggested they limit their outdoor activity on days when the air quality is poor.

Research analyst Claire Leiser said the data only related to the most severe cases during a small window of time, and did not account for women who might have gone to their obstetric or primary care providers for support.

She said: “The results are not the whole picture.”

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China could lift life expectancy by nearly three years if it meets WHO smog standards: study

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China could raise average life expectancy by 2.9 years if it improves air quality to levels recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), according a new study from a U.S. research group.

China has vowed to determine the precise impact of air and water pollution on health as part of its efforts to raise average life expectancy to 79 years by 2030 from 76.3 years in 2015.

According to the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), big air quality improvements made in the last five years have already been enough to push up average lifespans.

“China is winning its war against pollution … (The country) is due to see dramatic improvements in the overall health of its people, including longer lifespans, if these improvements are sustained,” EPIC director Michael Greenstone said at an event in Beijing on Thursday.

According to the EPIC’s findings, air quality improvements made in the smog-prone northern city of Tianjin over the last five years are already expected to have raised the average lifespan of its 13 million residents by 1.2 years.

China cut average concentrations of hazardous particles known as PM2.5 to an average of 39 micrograms per cubic meter last year, down 9.3 percent from 2017 after a campaign to curb coal use and improve industry and vehicle standards.

However, average emission levels remain significantly higher than China’s own 35-microgram standard, as well as the 10-microgram limit recommended by the WHO. In northern industrial regions, average concentrations are much higher.

In a study cited by state-owned news agency Xinhua on Friday, a group of top Chinese health experts identified air and water pollution as one of the major health risks in China for the next 20 years, alongside obesity, depression and Alzheimer’s disease.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang declared “war” on pollution in 2014 amid fears that the damage done to the country’s environment as a result of more than 30 years of untrammelled economic growth would lead to social unrest.

However, with much of the low-hanging fruit already taken and the economy facing a slowdown, China has admitted that the campaign is under pressure.

“It would be very difficult for China to meet the WHO standards even with strong efforts to reduce industrial emissions and fossil fuel consumption,” Jiang Kejun, research professor at the Energy Research Institute, a government think tank, told Reuters on the sidelines of the Thursday event.

“Emissions from non-industrial sectors, agriculture for instance, also play a big part in air pollution and are hard to put under control,” he said.

(This version of the story corrects the acronym for the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago to EPIC, not EPI, in paragraphs 3, 4 and 5)

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Black Friday misery for French shops as Macron and protesters lock horns

PARIS (Reuters) – French retailers warned after days of unrest over fuel taxes on Friday that prolonged protests could spoil the Christmas shopping season and threaten jobs, while President Emmanuel Macron showed no sign of backing down.

For a week, protesters clad in fluorescent yellow jackets have blocked highways across France with burning barricades and convoys of slow-moving trucks, obstructing access to fuel depots, shopping centers and some factories.

The unrest is a dilemma for Macron who casts himself as a champion in the fight against climate change and wants the French to switch to greener energies. He has been derided as out of touch with common folk and is fighting a slump in popularity.

Now he faces upsetting businesses with a warning from retailers that the protests are damaging trade and could harm the economy.

Retailers’ daily revenue fell 35 percent last Saturday, the first day of the so-called “yellow vest” protests, when nearly 300,000 people took part.

“We have a real problem as some stores have been closed for a week now because of the blockades,” said Jacques Creyssel, head of the French Retail Federation (FCD). “One week without revenue is dramatic for a company.”

The FCD represents retailers including Carrefour, Casino and Fnac Darty, for whom Black Friday, a now annual event imported from the United States on the day when retailers traditionally begin turning a profit, marks the start of the Christmas shopping season.

“It’s a crucial time for retailers. If retailers cannot work and customers cannot shop, it’s bound to have a major impact on employment,” said Creyssel.

The protests will enter a second week on Saturday with police braced for confrontations with violent fringe elements though the overall number of protesters has fallen sharply.

Tourism is also being affected. The Eiffel Tower in Paris will be closed on Saturday because of the planned protests, its operator said.

And the disruption has spread to carmaker PSA Group, which was forced to temporarily halt two production lines on Wednesday at its Sochaux plant, where it assembles Peugeot and Citroen vehicles, because of problems getting supplies delivered.

“GENTLE TOUCH” NEEDED

The government has sought to calm the uprising by earmarking 500 million euros to double a 2,000 euro bonus granted to motorists on low incomes who change old-model cars for cleaner ones.

But it was enough. The “yellow vests” demand the government reverse fuel tax hikes which, combined with higher global oil prices, have led to a roughly 20 percent rise in the pump price of diesel in the last year. Diesel now retails at about 1.50 euros ($1.70) per liter in the Greater Paris region.

Macron’s decision to dig in his heels is showing signs of upsetting the young, centrist En Marche party. There is simmering dissatisfaction, in particular among left-leaning lawmakers, over policies perceived as favoring the rich.

“It we want France to change its course, it requires a gentle touch and flexibility,” said En Marche legislator Patrick Vignal. “And my government is showing neither.”

Matthieu Orphelin, an En Marche MP who wants Macron to move faster on clean energy, said: “To be heard, you first have to listen. We need to get out there, get shouted out and reply to their anger in concrete terms.”

Diesel tax opponents argue that the government lacks a clear vision on switching to more environmentally-friendly energy sources, citing foot-dragging by Macron on reducing France’s reliance on nuclear power.

The president and his ecology minister will on Tuesday lay out their blueprint for an “energy transition”, including a timeline for reducing France’s reliance on nuclear, which currently delivers about 75 percent of French power.

“We’re working more to a target of 50 percent nuclear by 2035,” Ecology Minister Francois de Rugy said on Thursday.

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Delhi’s air pollution is triggering a health crisis

Last week, a six-year-old boy returned home from school in Delhi, fidgety and complaining of breathlessness.

“I thought he was joking and trying to avoid school as he’s never had a history of respiratory problems,” his father told me. Within hours, however, the boy was coughing violently and gasping for breath. The parents put the family in a taxi and drove through the smog to the nearest hospital.

At the hospital, doctors diagnosed the boy as suffering from an attack of acute bronchitis.

During the next four hours, they gave him steroid injections and nebuliser treatment to clear his inflamed airway, and pumped him with antibiotics and allergy medication to prevent further infection. “It was a bad attack,” Dr Prashant Saxena, chief pulmonologist at the Max Smart Super Speciality Hospital, told me. “So we had to treat him pretty aggressively.”

‘Poison air’

The boy took three days, two of them spent in hospital, to get better. Now he’s confined indoors, getting nebuliser and steam inhalation treatment twice a day, and taking steroids and an anti-allergy syrup. “This has come as a complete shock for us. He has been such a healthy boy,” the father said.

That was possibly before the deadly pea-souper returned with a vengeance. This week, the concentration of the most dangerous particulates in the air – the microscopic PM2.5 particles that can travel deep into your lungs and damage them – has climbed to more than 700 micrograms per cubic metre in parts of Delhi.

Air Quality Index (AQI) recordings have consistently hit the maximum of 999. Exposure to such toxic air is akin to smoking more than two packs of cigarettes a day, say doctors. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal says the city has turned into a “gas chamber”.

Outpatient departments and clinics are clogged with coughing, wheezing and breathless men, women and children. Hospitals like Dr Saxena’s and the massive state-run All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) are reporting a near 20% spike in such patients. Doctors have declared a “public health emergency” – although it is not clear how it will be enforced – and have asked people to stay indoors.

“The chilly weather along with smoke and smog poses one of the biggest threats,” says Dr Saxena, “especially to those individuals who are prone to develop or show flare-ups of respiratory problems like asthma and chronic bronchitis.”

Earlier this year, four major hospitals in the city jointly began an investigation – the first of its kind – to investigate links between changes in air quality and the worsening of respiratory problems in patients.

The hospitals have deployed nurses who are keeping a record of such patients turning up in emergency rooms. Researchers are looking at treatment and admissions and examining whether there’s any marked increase on days when the air quality declines perceptibly.

It is early days yet, and the study is limited to emergency room treatment and admissions. It also doesn’t take into account the vast number of patients being treated for respiratory issues in the outpatient and smaller clinics. Still, doctors reckon that it will offer some clues on whether the city is in the throes of a serious pollution-related health crisis, as many believe.

Researchers involved in the investigation told me that the early data is showing a spike in the number of children being wheeled into emergency rooms on days when the air quality worsens. Much like the six-year-old boy who was hospitalised, they come with a cough, choked airways, prolonged colds, breathlessness, and irritation in the eyes and nose.

This is not, in itself, surprising. Delhi’s poisonous air is hurting children. They and the elderly are, of course, among the worst hit. Children’s lungs are usually weak and can easily suffer damage. A 2015 study suggested that four out of every 10 children in the capital suffered from “severe lung problems”. Doctors say they should mostly stay indoors – schools have already been shut.

Others are not better off. The pollution often exacerbates the condition of a lot of the city’s “stable” asthma patients, says pulmonologist Karan Madan of AIIMS.

It sends them back to outpatient clinics or emergency rooms, and leaves them requiring nebulisation treatment, steroid injections, oxygen and even ventilator support. “The symptoms just get a lot worse, and every such episode can lead to a long-term decline in lung function,” says Dr Madan.

There’s not much Delhi’s residents can do.

“One is to stop breathing. That is not possible. Second is to quit Delhi. That is also not possible. Third is to make the right to breathe fresh air a people’s movement,” a chest surgeon told The New York Times.

For the moment, doctors are recommending that people wear anti-pollution masks outdoors and when travelling on public transport. People with existing respiratory problems should carry inhalers, take flu and pneumonia jabs, and use air purifiers at home. Smokers should stop lighting up at home and outside. People should not burn waste.

A new study on the impact of air pollution on life expectancy by Michael Greenstone, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, has found people in Delhi could live six years longer if India just met its national PM2.5 standards of 40 micrograms per cubic metre. They could live nine years longer if the country met the World Health Organization standard, which is 10 micrograms per cubic metre.

That is a most damning indictment of India’s efforts to tackle air pollution.

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