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Trees May Save a Life Each Year in Big Cities

By Amy Norton   HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, June 27 (HealthDay News) — Parks and tree-lined streets may give city dwellers more than shade. They may also save some lives, a new study from the U.S. Forest Service suggests.

Researchers estimate that across 10 U.S. cities, “urban forests” prevent an average of one death per year, by helping to clear the air of fine particulate matter — tiny particles released when fossil fuels are burned. Car exhaust, wood burning and industrial sources such as power plants all contribute.

Those fine particles can be inhaled deeply into the lungs, and they are a particular concern when it comes to people’s health, said David Nowak, a Forest Service researcher who led the study.

The particles are thought to cause inflammation in the blood vessels and airways, which can be dangerous for people with existing heart or lung disease.

The new findings, reported in the July issue of the journal Environmental Pollution, suggest that trees play a role in protecting urban dwellers from the health effects of air pollution.

But, Nowak said, it’s not just a simple matter of “let’s plant more trees.”

This study shows a “large-scale” correlation between tree coverage and human health. But researchers still have to figure out the nitty-gritty, Nowak said. “How do we best design to protect people from [fine particle pollution]? What configuration of plants do we need? What species of tree?” he said.

And all of that, Nowak added, has to be figured out at the local and regional levels.

Trees, he noted, do a lot more than clear fine particles from the air. They have many beneficial effects — including reducing other air pollutants such as ozone, and keeping the temperature down during the summer. But certain other effects are not so good for human health: Trees release pollen, for example, which can exacerbate allergies and asthma.


“We need to make smart decisions about what we should plant, where we should plant and when we should plant, in order to improve people’s quality of life,” Nowak said.

The findings are based on daily air-quality data from 10 U.S. cities, along with information on the cities’ tree coverage. To gauge how trees might be affecting city residents’ health, Nowak’s team used a computer program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that estimates the health impact of changes in air quality.

Overall, Atlanta was number one when it came to the amount of fine particle pollution removed by trees, at 64.5 metric tons — owing to the city’s relatively dense urban forest.

But as far as lives saved, New York City came in on top, with an average of eight lives saved per year. That, Nowak said, was partly due to the city’s large population, but also to the “moderately high” removal of fine particles from the air — thanks to trees.

No one is claiming that trees are the answer to air pollution, though.

Trees may be a smaller-scale way to give people extra protection from pollution, said Janice Nolen, assistant vice president of national policy for the American Lung Association.

“But they’re not going to be the solution,” Nolen said.

The “big tools,” she said, are measures to reduce emissions from power plants, cars and other sources of pollutants.

One of those wide-scale measures got extra attention this week. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to review a controversial decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that reversed a major EPA air-quality policy — dubbed the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, the Washington Post reported.

The regulation would have cut emissions from coal-fired power plants across more than half of U.S. states. Last August, the D.C. Circuit Court said the EPA had overstepped its authority in issuing the rule.

“We’re very pleased the Supreme Court will review this,” Nolen said.

As for trees, she said they are a worthy pollution-fighting measure to keep studying — including whether strategic planting along roadways might be beneficial.

source: Health.com


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Ozone Can Harm the Heart in as Little as Two Hours

A new study shows just how quickly exposure to air pollution can trigger dangerous changes in the heart, even in otherwise healthy young people.


Healthy, young volunteers with no history of heart disease showed unfavorable changes in their heart function after just two hours of exercising while being exposed to ozone, report researchers in the journal Circulation. The changes included surges in markers of inflammation, as well as drops in levels of enzymes that break down clots in the blood vessels — alterations that may explain the link between exposure to air pollution and heart risk.

The study is among the first to document the physiological changes caused by exposure to ozone, a major pollutant formed when volatile organic compounds from industrial waste or car exhaust reacts with sunlight. Previous studies have linked exposure to ozone to heart problems, but had not quantified the precise effect of the pollutant on biological markers of heart and lung function.

In the study, 23 young participants participated in two hours of intermittent exercise in a lab while being exposed first to “clean” air, and then to air containing 0.3 parts per million of ozone, which is higher than the amount found in average U.S. cities but about the peak level calculated for heavily polluted cities like Beijing, China and Mexico City. (However, the level is equivalent to the amount of ozone someone in an average American city would be exposed to over the course of seven to eight hours.) Scientists then compared readings on various biological markers of heart and lung function between the two sessions, to get a sense of ozone’s impact. Under the ozone conditions, the participants experienced a nearly 99% jump in levels of interleukin-8, an marker for inflammation in the blood vessels. They also showed a 42% drop in plasminogen levels, which lowers the body’s ability to break up blood clots.


The study recorded the participants’ readings for only 24 hours after the experiment, and the changes were temporary and reversible: once the volunteers stopped breathing the heavy concentration of ozone, their measurements returned to normal levels.

JAREK SZYMANSKI / GETTY IMAGES
But the results show that ozone can have potentially harmful, and even deadly effects on the heart, say the authors. “This study provides a plausible explanation for the link between acute ozone exposure and death,” Robert Devlin, a senior scientist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory and the study’s lead author, said in a statement.

“The results complement what are suspicions are, and help us to apply what we know about pollution risk to populations we think are at especially high risk,” says Dr. Tracy Stevens, a cardiologist at St. Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute and a spokesperson with the American Heart Association. The findings highlight the dangers of pollution to people who might already have unstable plaques in their heart vessels, she says, since ozone can trigger a surge in inflammatory markers that drive these plaques to rupture, causing a heart attack.


While Stevens says the risks of pollution in aggravating inflammation are known, having data that quantifies the risk as the current study does may help more people to appreciate and address ways to reduce inflammation. The American Heart Association recommends that people with heart disease avoid going out on high-ozone days, and lower their risk of exposure to heavily polluted air, including cigarette smoke.

source: Time.com


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Air Fresheners Create Toxic Chemical Soup

October 21, 2007 Jorg Mardian RHN, CPT, MT, CKS @ 7:11 am

Did you know that by using an air freshener in your living room, you are probably breathing in more toxic substances than you would in the middle of a traffic jam in Los Angeles?

Few people understand how bad air fresheners are for their health, and fewer seem to care. North Americans love their scent neutralizers: those air fresheners, plug-in room deodorizers, odour sanitizers, room sprays, and aromatherapy candles. Advertisements are geared to make us feel that we don’t have a clean home unless some type of freshener is hanging on various outlets.

But in spite of what manufacturers would have us believe, air fresheners do not “purify” the surrounding air, nor do they add natural fragrances. In fact, they coat the nasal passages with an oil film (such as methoxychlor – a pesticide that accumulates in fat cells) or by releasing a nerve deadening agent (www.consumerlawpage.com), to drown out whatever smells may be deemed offensive.


Various harmful substances in air fresheners include allergens, potential carcinogens such as acetaldehyde or styrene, dangerous substances such as toluene and chlorbenzene, glycol ethers, phthalates and artificial musk.

Paradichchlorobenzene (a white, solid crystal) has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals, and phenol (carbolic acid) is flammable, corrosive and very toxic. (Alive: Something in the Air, February 2004)

Even more dangerous, formaldehyde, (admitted by the EPA to be a cause of cancer), and benzene (a carcinogen for which the WHO recommends zero exposure), may hang around the air after the use of several types of incense or electric scenter. Not to mention all the other chemicals not mentioned here and about which we know nothing. (WECF, 2005)

Most of these chemicals have never been the subject of an in-depth toxicological study, and the effects on health and the environment have not been subjected to sufficient evaluation before the products were launched onto the market. When used in a confined area, like a homes, at work, or cars, they create an intense amount of toxins in a small area.

The following list of ingredients that may be found in air fresheners is taken from “Clinical Toxicology of Commercial Products“, by Gosselin, Smith and Hodge, 1984.

Spray Type Deodorizers:

  • ethyl or isopropyl alcohol
  • glycol ethers
  • surfactant (quaternary ammonium salts)
  • perfume
  • water
  • propellants
  • metazene (4.0%)
  • petroleum distillates (6.0%)
  • aluminum chlorhydrol
  • bromsalicylanilide 2,3,4,5-BIS(2-butylene) tetrahydrofural
  • cellosolve acetate
  • dichlorodifluoromethanol
  • ethanol
  • fatty esters
  • lauryl methacrylate
  • methoxychlor
  • methylene chloride
  • o-phenylphenol
  • p-dichlorobenzene
  • pine oil (toxicity like turpentine)
  • piperonyl butoxide
  • pyrethrin
  • synthetic surfactants
  • trichloromonofluoromethane
  • wax
  • zinc phenolsulfonate
  • Wick Type Deodorizers:
  • formaldehyde (37%)
  • water-soluble perfume
  • coloring
  • water
  • emulsifiers
  • essential oils
  • aromatic chemicals (xylene)
  • chlorophyll

Several of these components are well-known carcinogens, and others have a wide range of immediate and long-term toxic effects on vital organs. The cumulative effect their mix has on human health is largely unknown. But it is safe to say that these products represent a real risk to health not only of allergy sufferers, asthmatics, pregnant or nursing women and children, but also to anyone using them continuously.

According to a September 2007 report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), these noxious chemicals may even affect hormones and reproductive development.

As part of its “Clearing the Air” study, NRDC researchers tested 14 brands of common household air fresheners and found that 12 contained chemicals known as phthalates, which are “hormone-disrupting” chemicals. Phthalates can affect normal hormonal processes-those that control brain, nervous and immune system development, reproduction, mental processing and metabolism-by blocking them altogether, throwing off the timing or “mimicking” natural hormones and interacting with cells themselves, with very unhealthy consequences. The State of California notes that five types of phthalates-including one commonly used in air freshener products-are “known to cause birth defects or reproductive harm.” (Kansas City Infozine, October 11, 2007)

Scented and aromatherapy candles are no better at clearing the air, and bear little or no relation to true aromatherapy. Such candles, are of questionable benefit regardless of the flowery implications of their names, and have negative effects on air quality and health. Aromatherapy candles:

are usually made of chemical (paraffin) waxes & toxic synthetic fragrance oils.

usually contain metal wicks made of lead or zinc. 100% is inhaled in the black soot which ends up in the bloodstream and can be particularly damaging to children.

create toxic byproducts. Burning scented oils, and even candles with pure essential oils, chemically converts the combustion into unhealthy byproducts.

Source: www.deliciousorganics.com

Electric air fresheners also problematic

One of the most innovative, and popular formats of purifiers is the electric air freshener. These use heat generated by electricity to spread fragrance through the air. It consists of a tiny plastic tray containing a gel-like fragrance concentrate. The consumer simply peels a multilayer barrier film from the top of the tray, leaving a permanent membrane layer that allows the fragrance to diffuse into the air. The tray is inserted into a warmer unit, which then is plugged into an electrical outlet. As the warmer unit heats up, fragrance permeates at a controlled rate through the film membrane, dispersing into the air. (gale-edit.com)

Researchers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) say that potentially harmful smog could accumulate inside homes through the reactions caused by electric air-fresheners and ozone. Experts believed the reactions produced formaldehyde, (at a concentration level of approximately 50 micrograms in each cubic meter of air), which is classified as a probable carcinogen that is believed to cause respiratory problems. This measurement was nearly equivalent to the EPA’s outdoor particle limit, which is considered to be an unhealthy level of particle exposure. (Nature May 10, 2004)

Air fresheners may damage your lungs

Another harmful ingredient is called 1, 4-dichlorobenzene, or 1,4-DCB, which could harm your lungs, according to a study by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The study — published in Environmental Health Perspectives — analyzed the effect of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as 1,4 DCB on the lung function of 953 adult men and women. Of the 11 chemicals studied, only 1,4 DCB was linked to a reduction in pulmonary function; a link found to be significant even when smoking was factored in. This could be serious for those with asthma or other lung problems. Reduced lung function is also a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer. (WebMD July 27, 2006)

This chemical is usually found in space deodorizing products, such as room fresheners, urinal cakes and toilet bowl fresheners, and is used as an insecticide for moth control. It can also be found in things like tobacco smoke, paints, cleaning products and vehicle exhausts, and is detectable in 96 percent of population blood samples. (www.newstarget.com)

The American Lung Association (ALA) website at lungusa.org points out that commercially made room deodorizers are a contributing factor to the 56 percent increase in asthma cases since 1979. And the Canadian Lung Association (CLA) also lists air fresheners as a hazardous product.

What can we do?

We need to realize that “clean” does not have a “scent.” We have been brainwashed to believe that “clean” means some kind of toxic fragrance – whether it’s in our air, clothes, or body. But “clean” actually has a very “neutral” smell: non-offensive and non-toxic.

If you’re trying to eliminate unpleasant scents, try (pure) therapeutic essential oils instead. Most essential oils have antibacterial qualities and have varying physical and emotional effects depending on the oil, such as stimulation, relaxation, pain relief and healing.

You can purchase an atomizing diffuser, an electrical air pump, and a nebulizer. Use a blend of essential oils such as orange, marjoram, lavender, basil and chamomile to help you relax. Most importantly, these don’t produce harmful chemicals like traditional air fresheners that could result in respiratory problems.

The best way to avoid the problem is to simply open a window instead of reaching for one of these harmful products. You can also try:

=> burning 100% pure beeswax candles with 100% cotton wicks

=> using a drop or two of pure essential oils and distilled water, make a spritzer and mist the air.

=> using an “ash tray”– Zeolite, a mineral formed from volcanic ash, works the same way as baking soda.

=> adding drops of orange, lemon or lavender essential oils to organic cotton balls and put them around the house

=> simmering spices like cinnamon and cloves, organic lemons, fresh ginger or herbs such as rosemary or basil in a little water on the stovetop

=> adding a drop or two of pure essential oils to some hot water

=> use organic herbal sachets and potpourris

=> using freshly cut fragrant organic flowers or potted plants as air freshening factories. They clear carbon dioxide from the air and can even remove toxins.

source: Health In Motion