Reducing carbon emissions is vital for the health of our planet. But in a session at the Conference of Parties today in Paris, the World Health Organization set out some compelling reasons why effective climate action might make humans a little healthier, too.
While lungs remain the main way by which air pollutants get into the body, and, if in sufficient quantities, cause ill-health effects, a new study shows that certain pollutants (‘semi-volatiles’ like phthalates) can be drawn in by the skin. This effect is known as ‘dermal uptake’ and the levels absorbed can be equivalent to those drawn in through breathing via the lungs.
For the curious, here’s the peer reviewed source. Time to break out the plastic bubble …just make sure it’s BPA free 😉
The study confirms we can (and do) get air pollution via osmosis. There’s been news in the past about inhaling exhaust changes the expression of our DNA. Those face masks some people wear? It’s really only a courtesy as an attempt to minimize spreading what they already have. Between the grade of mask and fit (no beards!), most consumer grade stuff isn’t worth wearing with respect to limiting your exposure.
Consider stocking up on snake plants and peace lily’s, because they remove 14 different volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air in significant amounts. FYI though: they’re toxic to cats. HEPA filters won’t help with VOCs. If you keep your windows shut to maximize the effectiveness of a HEPA filter, you may have higher VOC levels inside. Activated carbon filters may help, but they’re of limited value. Most “consumer grade” AC filters foul with dust very quickly. you’d need an industrial AC filter (one that periodically heats itself to recharge the AC) for it to be really effective. Of course a lot depends on your home environment. Do you have a lot of new plastics around? Did you paint recently? Are there people using a lot of cosmetics, hairspray, deodorant, shampoo, etc? I wish there were an inexpensive tester for common VOCs. So far I have not been able to find one.
We gradually learned that Delhi’s true menace came from its air, water, food and flies. These perils sicken, disable and kill millions in India annually, making for one of the worst public health disasters in the world. Delhi, we discovered, is quietly suffering from a dire pediatric respiratory crisis, with a recent study showing that nearly half of the city’s 4.4 million schoolchildren have irreversible lung damage from the poisonous air.
Did a clam just excrete some brown particles in your hand? The good news is that it might not be poop. The bad news is that it might be worse than poop. The best news is that stuff that’s “worse than poop” can save an ecosystem.
Clams, tube worms, and other mollusks are filter feeders, which means that anything that floats close enough to them gets sucked into their mouths. Given the state of the ocean, there are a lot of horrible things floating by them.
Fortunately for them, this is not a new phenomenon. Clams live in sand. If they didn’t have a way of filtering out the tiny particles they took in, they would essentially sand their insides down to nothing. They have long been dealing with their indiscriminate eating habits by producing something known as “pseudofeces,” or, in laypeople’s terms, fake poop.
The snag with this is that, with ocean acidification, molluscs like clams are having increasing difficulty building shells. Rather than encouraging clams, perhaps it’s time we stopped polluting instead? Then we could let the clams take care of themselves.
The article gives the test example, and conditions someone might get similar exposure. Basically, places with heavy air pollution. Ultrafine particles (UFP) are probably both the least well-studied and least regulated form of air pollution. Likely because they’re somewhat tricky to reliably measure at all in an uncontrolled environment, let alone measured by a means that can be deployed for routine large-scale monitoring. There’s a small pile of studies showing that they do have health effects, though no one seems to know exactly what the mechanisms or dose-response curves are, or how the short-term effects translate into identifiable disease etiologies. For example, there are studies in both rats and humans consistent with the presence of UFP inhibiting the exercise-stimulated production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a neurological growth factor that is believed to play a key role in multiple psychiatric disorders and even some forms of obesity. There are other studies showing other effects – those were just the ones that particularly came to mind.
Although modern diesel engines are far cleaner than the classic models, they are known to produce considerable amounts of UFP pollution. Gasoline engines and various other technologies (laser printers / photocopiers, various forms of precision machining…) aren’t entirely innocent, either.
I’d heard that most of the breathing masks available on the shelf would not provide much if any protection. You need something with a good seal, so no beards. Lumbersexual is not a thing…