Ride-hailing services such as Lyft and Uber are creating more climate pollution and road congestion per trip than the transportation options they displace, according to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Looking at data from seven major U.S. cities, the authors found that a non-pooled trip from a ride-hailing service creates 47 percent more emissions than the equivalent trip in a private vehicle with average fuel efficiency, partially due to the "deadhead" miles without a passenger that a ride-hailing car travels in between trips.
Around 42 percent of all ride-hailing driving time on average is spent waiting for and driving to pick up passengers, Reuters reported.
Worse still, ride-hailing trips create 69 percent more carbon emissions than if the passengers had opted to travel via public transportation, biking or walking. The authors said the increase stems from ride-hailing services increasing, not replacing, the total number of car trips by pulling passengers away from other, more climate-friendly methods.
"While ride-hailing trips today are higher emitting than other types of trips, we were encouraged by the fact that they can be significantly lower polluting with efforts to electrify and pool rides," Don Anair, report author and research director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Clean Transportation program, told The Hill.
For the report, the authors analyzed publicly available data gathered in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco and Washington. They also looked at previously published studies, including one commissioned last year by Uber and Lyft.
The ride-sharing industry has grown tremendously since Uber's launch in 2010. Citing data from both companies, the report authors note that Uber and Lyft have accumulated a combined 11 billion trips as of 2018. At the same time, the transportation sector is now the U.S.'s largest source of human-generated greenhouse gases, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The report marks the first time researchers have tried to quantify the pollution impact of ride-hailing services, Reuters reported.
"Certainly the evidence to date points to an overall increase in greenhouse gas emissions associated with ride-hailing under current market conditions," Giovanni Circella, director of the 3 Revolutions Future Mobility Program within UC Davis' Institute of Transportation Studies, told Axios. The Institute of Transportation Studies provided some of the data used in the Union of Concerned Scientists report.
The authors found that ride-hailing companies can reduce emissions and congestion by switching more of their fleet to electric vehicles, encouraging customers to take more pooled rides, improving connections to mass transit and collaborating with governments on policy.
For instance, a pooled and electrified trip could reduce emissions by 68 percent compared to a private vehicle trip with average fuel efficiency, or by 79 percent when compared to a non-pooled trip in a ride-hailing vehicle. Currently, however, the authors estimate that only 15 percent of ride-hailing trips in the U.S. are pooled.
"When combined with robust public transit and safe places to bike and walk, electric, pooled ride-hailing has the potential to reduce the need to own a car and reduce overall emissions from transportation," Jeremy Martin, director of Fuels Policy and senior scientist in the Union of Concerned Scientists' Clean Vehicles Program, told EcoWatch. "But we're currently a long way from that future."
A Lyft spokesperson called the report "misleading" and touted the company's efforts to electrify its fleet, encourage shared rides and partner with cities on sustainable transportation, The Verge reported.
In its own statement, Uber did not acknowledge the report, but referenced its existing sustainability goals which include support for reduced car ownership and greater use of green transportation, CityLab reported.
For ride-hailing to become truly green, the authors emphasized the need for more collaboration on these efforts.
"Companies, governments, and individuals all need to take action to make sure ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft are part of a clean transportation system, rather than continuing to contribute to climate change and congestion," Martin said.
Update, March 3: This story has been updated to include a quote by Union of Concerned Scientists along with some minor changes for clarity.
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Yet another reason to avoid the typical western diet: eating high-fat, highly processed junk food filled with added sugars can impair brain function and lead to overeating in just one week.
The western diet has already been connected to a number of health issues, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and even lower sperm counts in men. Now, researchers from Australia, the UK and U.S. may have identified why the diet is so difficult to quit — it disrupts proper function of the hippocampus, a region in the brain important for memory and regulating food intake.
The researchers found that when otherwise healthy young adults followed the western diet for seven days, they tended to perform worse on memory tests and craved more junk food, even after eating a full meal, The Guardian reported.
"After a week on a western-style diet, palatable food such as snacks and chocolate becomes more desirable when you are full," study author Richard Stevenson, a professor of psychology at Macquarie University in Sydney, told The Guardian. "This will make it harder to resist, leading you to eat more, which in turn generates more damage to the hippocampus and a vicious cycle of overeating."
Stevenson explained to The Guardian that a functioning hippocampus could be blocking memories related to food when we are full so that we are not as tempted at the site of a delicious snack. When it is impaired, however, the food becomes more appealing as memories related to it flood in.
For the study, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the researchers split 110 lean and healthy students between the ages of 20-23 into two groups: one group ate their normal diet for a week, while the other were given a Western diet full of fast food, Belgian waffles and sugary foods. This group kept a food diary and provided receipts and photographs of their food intake.
The participants ate breakfast in the lab at the beginning and end of the week, which included a milkshake and toasted sandwich. Before and after breakfast, they took word memory tests and were asked to rate how much they wanted to eat six food samples, including sugary cereals such as Froot Loops, Coco Pops. After eating each sample, they also indicated how much they liked it and if they could eat more of it, ScienceAlert reported.
"Across these pre- and post-meal tests, wanting ratings declined far more than ratings of taste liking," the researchers concluded. "This manifestation of appetitive control — that is the expectation that food is less desirable than it actually tastes — changed in participants following the Western-style dietary intervention."
Essentially, the researchers found that for participants on the western diet, the more appealing they found the food samples when they were already full, the worse they did on the other tests — though three weeks after their diets returned to normal, the group that had been on the western diet showed results that resembled the control group, suggesting a balanced diet can reverse the hippocampal damage, News-Medical reported.
While the researchers believe more investigation must first be done to strengthen the link, Stevenson told The Guardian that the findings "should be a worrying finding for everyone," and he can envision public health officials someday calling for restrictions on processed junk food in the same way they have done for tobacco.
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Making the switch to solar energy can help you lower or even eliminate your monthly electric bills while reducing your carbon footprint. However, before installing a clean energy system in your home, you must first answer an important question: "How many solar panels do I need?"
To accurately calculate the ideal number of solar panels for your home, you'll need a professional assessment. However, you can estimate the size and cost of the system based on your electricity bills, energy needs and available roof space. This article will tell you how.
If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Factors That Influence How Many Solar Panels You Need
To determine how many solar panels are needed to power a house, several factors must be considered. For example, if there are two identical homes powered by solar energy in California and New York, with exactly the same energy usage, the California home will need fewer solar panels because the state gets more sunshine.
The following are some of the most important factors to consider when figuring out many solar panels you need:
Size of Your Home and Available Roof Space
Larger homes tend to consume more electricity, and they generally need more solar panels. However, they also have the extra roof space necessary for larger solar panel installations. There may be exceptions to this rule — for example, a 2,000-square-foot home with new Energy Star appliances may consume less power than a 1,200-square-foot home with older, less-efficient devices.
When it comes to installation, solar panels can be placed on many types of surfaces. However, your roof conditions may limit the number of solar panels your home can handle.
For example, if you have a chimney, rooftop air conditioning unit or skylight, you'll have to place panels around these fixtures. Similarly, roof areas that are covered by shadows are not suitable for panels. Also, most top solar companies will not work on asbestos roofs due to the potential health risks for installers.
Amount of Direct Sunlight in Your Area
Where there is more sunlight available, there is more energy that can be converted into electricity. The yearly output of each solar panel is higher in states like Arizona or New Mexico, which get a larger amount of sunlight than less sunny regions like New England.
The World Bank has created solar radiation maps for over 200 countries and regions, including the U.S. The map below can give you an idea of the sunshine available in your location. Keep in mind that homes in sunnier regions will generally need fewer solar panels.
© 2020 The World Bank, Source: Global Solar Atlas 2.0, Solar resource data: Solargis.
Number of Residents and Amount of Energy You Use
Households with more members normally use a higher amount of electricity, and this also means they need more solar panels to increase energy production.
Electricity usage is a very important factor, as it determines how much power must be generated by your solar panel system. If your home uses 12,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year and you want to go 100% solar, your system must be capable of generating that amount of power.
Type of Solar Panel and Efficiency Rating
High-efficiency panels can deliver more watts per square foot, which means you need to purchase fewer of them to reach your electricity generation target. There are three main types of solar panels: monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film. In general, monocrystalline panels are the most efficient solar panels, followed closely by polycrystalline panels. Thin-film panels are the least efficient.
How to Estimate the Number of Solar Panels You Need
So, based on these factors, how many solar panels power a home? To roughly determine how many solar panels you need without a professional assessment, you'll need to figure out two basic things: how much energy you use and how much energy your panels will produce.
According to the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average American home uses 10,649 kWh of energy per year. However, this varies depending on the state. For example:
- Louisiana homes have the highest average consumption, at 14,787 kWh per year.
- Hawaii homes have the lowest average consumption, at 6,298 kWh per year.
To more closely estimate how much energy you use annually, add up the kWh reported on your last 12 power bills. These numbers will fluctuate based on factors like the size of your home, the number of residents, your electricity consumption habits and the energy efficiency rating of your home devices.
Solar Panel Specific Yield
After you determine how many kWh of electricity your home uses annually, you'll want to figure out how many kWh are produced by each of your solar panels during a year. This will depend on the specific type of solar panel, roof conditions and local peak sunlight hours.
In the solar power industry, a common metric used to estimate system capacity is "specific yield" or "specific production." This can be defined as the annual kWh of energy produced for each kilowatt of solar capacity installed. Specific yield has much to do with the amount of sunlight available in your location.
You can get a better idea of the specific yield that can be achieved in your location by checking reliable sources like the World Bank solar maps or the solar radiation database from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
To estimate how many kW are needed to run a house, you can divide your annual kWh consumption by the specific yield per kilowatt of solar capacity. For example, if your home needs 15,000 kWh of energy per year, and solar panels have a specific yield of 1,500 kW/kW in your location, you will need a system size of around 10 kilowatts.
Paradise Energy Solutions has also come up with a general formula to roughly ballpark the solar panel system size you need. You can simply divide your annual kWh by 1,200 and you will get the kilowatts of solar capacity needed. So, if the energy consumption reported on your last 12 power bills adds up to 24,000 kWh, you'll need a 20 kW system (24,000 / 1,200 = 20).
So, How Many Solar Panels Do I Need?
Once you know the system size you need, you can check your panel wattage to figure how many panels to purchase for your solar array. Multiply your system size by 1,000 to obtain watts, then divide this by the individual wattage of each solar panel.
Most of the best solar panels on the market have an output of around 330W to 360W each. The output of less efficient panels can be as low as 250W.
So, if you need a 10-kW solar installation and you're buying solar panels that have an output of 340W, you'll need 30 panels. Your formula will look like this: 10,000W / 340W = 29.4 panels.
If you use lower-efficiency 250-watt solar panels, you'll need 40 of them (10,000W / 250W = 40) panels.
Keep in mind that, although the cost of solar panels is lower if you choose a lower-efficiency model over a pricier high-efficiency one, the total amount you pay for your solar energy system may come out to be the same or higher because you'll have to buy more panels.
How Much Roof Space Do You Need for a Home Solar System?
After you estimate how many solar panels power a house, the next step is calculating the roof area needed for their installation. The exact dimensions may change slightly depending on the manufacturer, but a typical solar panel for residential use measures 65 inches by 39 inches, or 17.6 square feet. You will need 528 square feet of roof space to install 30 panels, and 704 square feet to install 40.
In addition to having the required space for solar panels, you'll also need a roof structure that supports their weight. A home solar panel weighs around 20 kilograms (44 pounds), which means that 30 of them will add around 600 kilograms (1,323 pounds) to your roof.
You will notice that some solar panels are described as residential, while others are described as commercial. Residential panels have 60 individual solar cells, while commercial panels have 72 cells, but both types will work in any building. Here are a few key differences:
- Commercial solar panels produce around 20% more energy, thanks to their extra cells.
- Commercial panels are also more expensive, as well as 20% larger and heavier.
- Residential 60-cell solar panels are easier to handle in home installations, which saves on labor, and their smaller size helps when roof dimensions are limited.
Some of the latest solar panel designs have half-cells with a higher efficiency, which means they have 120 cells instead of 60 (or 144 instead of 72). However, this doesn't change the dimensions of the panels.
Conclusion: Are Solar Panels Worth it for Your Home?
Solar panels produce no carbon emissions while operating. However, the EIA estimates fossil fuels still produce around 60% of the electricity delivered by U.S. power grids.
Although the initial investment in solar panels is steep, renewable energy systems make sense financially for many homeowners. According to the Department of Energy, they have a typical payback period of about 10 years, while their rated service life is up to 30 years. After recovering your initial investment, you will have a source of clean and free electricity for about two decades.
Plus, even if you have a large home or find you need more solar panels than you initially thought you would, keep in mind that there are both federal and local tax credits, rebates and other incentives to help you save on your solar power system.
To get a free, no-obligation quote and see how much a solar panel system would cost for your home, fill out the 30-second form below.
On average, around half of all early deaths from poor air quality in the U.S. are associated with pollution produced out-of-state, a new study has found.
The findings are especially concerning for New Yorkers: ozone and fine particulate matter from emitters in other states accounted for 60 percent of air pollution-related premature deaths, The New York Times reported, leading researchers to term the Empire State the "biggest importer of air pollution deaths." In 2018, that amounted to 3,800 deaths.
On the other hand, the largest "net exporters" of premature deaths were mostly located in the northern Midwest, such as Wyoming and North Dakota, which have lower populations but higher emissions.
"This situation is a bit like secondhand smoke, but on a national scale," study co-author Steven Barrett, director of the Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told CNN. The researchers said estimates show between 90,000 and 360,000 deaths per year in the U.S. are linked to air pollution.
Experts have long been aware of air pollution's ability to spread far from its source. but this new study, published in Nature, is the first to model its spread and resulting health impacts according to its source, Bloomberg reported.
The researchers developed a computer model of winds and chemical reactions in the atmosphere to track the movement of pollution created by the power generation, aviation, rail, road transportation, commercial and residential sectors, and other sectors to and from all 48 contiguous states. The model included U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports and health data to track air pollution and effects for the years 2005, 2011 and 2018.
They found that after air pollution is created in one state, winds may carry as much as half of it across the border to another state hundreds of miles away, according to MIT News. A separate study in January found that even low levels of air pollution exposure can lead to deadly health effects.
The results did show some progress over the course of the study, however.
For instance, there were 30,000 fewer early deaths caused by air pollution in 2018 than in 2015, driven by significant declines in deaths from power plant and road transportation pollution, the study found. Deaths from air pollution created in a different state also dropped from 53 percent to 41 percent.
Much of that progress was tied to EPA regulations such as the 2011 Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and reduced coal use, Barrett told Science Magazine. But the Cross-State rule only applies to some states and emissions from just a few sectors, The New York Times reported.
Meanwhile, the researchers did find that deaths related to emissions from heating homes and businesses increased by nearly 40 percent since 2005, as the ammonia and nitrogen oxide byproducts are more likely to become toxic particles in the atmosphere.
"They may not have seemed so important 10 or 20 years ago, but these commercial and residential emissions now look really important, in big part because progress has been made in other sectors," Barrett told The New York Times. "Future research and future policy are going to have to bear down on these emissions and start controlling them."
An October report by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that U.S. air pollution has actually become worse since President Donald Trump took office, during which time his administration has since moved to roll back a number of environmental regulations, including those related to air quality and fossil fuel extraction.
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The Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining Complex on June 21, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after a massive fire erupted that triggered explosions. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / Getty Images
Emissions of the cancer-causing chemical benzene exceeded federal limits at 10 oil refineries across the U.S. last year, a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project has found.
The Environmental Integrity Project reviewed data for 114 refineries across the country. Of the 10 that exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) action levels, six were in Texas, while the remaining four were located in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, New Mexico and Mississippi, Reuters reported.
The report analyzed a year's worth of data reported to the EPA following a rule that took effect in 2018 requiring continuous air pollution monitoring at the facilities' perimeters in order to protect nearby communities, which are typically working class and predominantly black or hispanic.
One of the 20 most commonly used chemicals in the U.S., benzene occurs in crude oil, gasoline, vehicle exhaust and cigarette smoke, as well as in glues, paints, furniture waxes and detergents, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Multiple studies have shown that long-term exposure to elevated levels of benzene can cause leukemia, which is a cancer affecting blood-forming tissues, according to the American Cancer Society. Benzene can also cause poor red blood cell production and anemia, and can change blood levels of antibodies, which boosts risk of infection, according to the CDC.
The report found that breathing in benzene concentrations as low as 13 micrograms per cubic meter over a lifetime could cause one additional cancer case for every 10,000 people exposed.
EPA regulations dictate that benzene levels higher than nine micrograms per cubic meter over the course of a year require action on the part of the refineries, though they are not in violation of the law, The Guardian reported.
"The federal action level is intended as a benchmark to flag when emissions are higher than expected, so that facilities can look for the cause and take early action," an EPA spokesperson told The Hill. "The federal action level is not based on an analysis of risk levels to the community — but rather on emissions from the facility."
The top 10 refineries emitting benzene above EPA limits were:
- Philadelphia Energy Solutions - Philadelphia, PA (49 micrograms per cubic meter)
- HollyFrontier Navajo Artesia - Artesia, NM (36 micrograms per cubic meter)
- Total Port Arthur Refinery - Port Arthur, TX (22.3 micrograms per cubic meter)
- Pasadena Refining - Pasadena, TX (18 micrograms per cubic meter)
- Flint Hills Resources Corpus Christi East - Corpus Christi, TX (16.1 micrograms per cubic meter)
- Chevron Pascagoula - Pascagoula, MS (13.8 micrograms per cubic meter)
- Valero Corpus Christi East - Corpus Christi, TX (13 micrograms per cubic meter)
- Chalmette Refining - Chalmette, LA (12.3 micrograms per cubic meter)
- Shell Deer Park - Deer Park, TX (11.1 micrograms per cubic meter)
- Marathon Galveston Bay Texas City - Texas City, TX (10 micrograms per cubic meter)
The leading emitter, Philadelphia Energy Solutions, shut down its South Philadelphia refinery and filed for bankruptcy following a large explosion last June. During the year before, air monitors showed the net concentration of benzene near the facility was five times the EPA action level.
In May 2019, the air monitors detected benzene levels at more than 21 times above the action level, NBC News reported. NBC also cited census data showing 60 percent of the 297,000 people living within three miles of the PES refinery are minorities, and around 45 percent live below the poverty line.
At the HollyFrontier Navajo Artesia refinery in New Mexico, monitors detected a net concentration of 998 micrograms per cubic meter during one two-week period, UPI reported. The net concentration for the year was three times higher than the EPA limits.
"These results highlight refineries that need to do a better job of installing pollution controls and implementing safer workplace practices to reduce the leakage of this cancer-causing pollutant into local communities," Eric Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Environmental Integrity Project, said in a press release. "Now, EPA needs to enforce these rules."
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Quitting smoking now may do more than just prevent further damage to your lungs — it could jumpstart the release of healthy cells that actually repair the linings of your airways.
That's according to a new study published in Nature by the UK's Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and University College London Hospital, which found that these healthy cells resemble those of people who have never smoked, even in the lungs of former long-term smokers.
The lungs of ex-smokers contained up to four times as many genetically healthy cells than those of current smokers. The Sanger Institute / UCL
"People who have smoked heavily for 30, 40 or more years often say to me that it's too late to stop smoking - the damage is already done," joint senior author Dr. Peter Campbell, of the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said in a press statement.
"What is so exciting about our study is that it shows that it's never too late to quit - some of the people in our study had smoked more than 15,000 packs of cigarettes over their life, but within a few years of quitting many of the cells lining their airways showed no evidence of damage from tobacco."
Smoking causes up to 10,000 extra mutations in nine out of every 10 lung cells, the researchers found, including many that cause cancer. But in the former smokers the researchers examined, there were four times as many healthy cells, with up to 40 percent of their lung cells appearing no different than those in someone who has never smoked, BBC News reported.
"There is a population of cells that, kind of, magically replenish the lining of the airways," Campbell said according to BBC News.
For the study, the researchers took lung biopsies from 16 people, including adults and children. Among them were current and former smokers, as well as those who were never smokers. They then sequenced the DNA of 632 non-cancerous cells from the samples and analyzed the patterns of mutations, the Daily Mail reported.
That said, the researchers could not identify how the healthy cells in former smokers avoided damage or what triggers their replacement of the damaged cells, AFP reported, but they believe the body may have a reservoir of these cells stored somewhere.
In a review of the study published by Nature, experts not involved in the study also said the surprising results may be due to the rather small sample size, meaning that more research is needed.
According to the American Lung Association, lung cancer is the leading cancer killer for both men and women in the U.S. An estimated 229,000 new cases will be diagnosed in 2020, even as falling smoking rates and lung cancer treatment progress recently drove the largest single-year drop in cancer deaths the nation has ever seen. Similarly, Cancer Research UK estimates that there are 47,000 cases of lung cancer diagnosed annually in the UK and 35,000 deaths.
"Our study has an important public health message and shows that it really is worth quitting smoking to reduce the risk of lung cancer," joint author Sam Janes, of University College London Hospitals Trust, said in a press release. "Stopping smoking at any age does not just slow the accumulation of further damage, but could reawaken cells unharmed by past lifestyle choices."
"Further research into this process could help to understand how these cells protect against cancer, and could potentially lead to new avenues of research into anti-cancer therapeutics."
The benefits of quitting now may extend beyond the individual in other ways as well, considering that cigarette butts are the most littered item in the world, spreading toxic chemicals into the earth and water sources.
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New York City isn't known for having the cleanest air, but researchers traced recent air pollution spikes there to two surprising sources — fires hundreds of miles away in Canada and the southeastern U.S.
According to a study published this week in the European Geosciences Union's journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, researchers at Yale University monitored air quality at several locations in the New York City metropolitan area and at the Yale Coastal Field Station in Guilford, CT, and found two spikes in air pollutants during August 2018 resulting in ozone advisories in both New York City and Connecticut.
The researchers, from associate professor Drew Gentner's research group, then compared the data from the five observation sites to satellite imagery and backtracking 3D air parcel models developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, New Scientist reported.
They traced the first pollution spike between August 16-17 to historic wildfires on Canada's west coast. By August, British Columbia had declared 2018 its worst wildfire season on record, with 534 fires burning more than 8,000 square miles, according to The CBC.
A second spike from August 27-29 was connected with controlled burns in the southeastern U.S., The Daily Mail reported.
The pollutants they detected included black carbon and particulate matter with a diameter under 2.5 micrometers, called PM2.5, which are common components of smoke from biomass burning and harmful when inhaled.
Previous research has shown that PM2.5 exposure is associated with a number of diseases — including lung and brain cancer, cardiovascular disease and dementia — and even levels allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could be responsible for 200,000 deaths per year in the U.S.
A 2019 study found that short-term spikes in PM2.5 pollution resulted in increased hospital psychiatric unit visits for children with anxiety, suicidal thoughts and schizophrenia.
The reason why the PM2.5 pollution traveled hundreds of miles from its sources to the northeast over the course of up to a week, the researchers explained, is that it lasts longer than more reactive components of the smoke which are chemically transformed nearer to the source.
A report from The American Lung Association last year found that New York City was already the tenth worst U.S. city for ozone pollution, but the Yale researchers believe the effects of smoke from faraway wildfires will increasingly pose a threat to residents there and across the northeast due to climate change.
"When people are making predictions about climate change, they're predicting increases in wildfires, so this sort of pollution is likely going to become more common," lead author Haley Rogers, an undergraduate student when the study was conducted, said in a press release. "So when people are planning for air pollution and health impacts, you can't just address local sources."
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An expanse of uncommonly warm seawater in the Pacific Ocean created by a marine heatwave led to a mass die-off of one million seabirds, scientists have found.
According to a study published in PLOS One by the University of Washington, the marine heatwave began in 2013, and grew stronger between 2015-2016 due to irregular conditions from the weather phenomenon El Niño.
The heatwave created a patch of much warmer seawater in the northeastern Pacific that stretched for 1,000 miles — parts of which reached temperatures 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit higher than usual, CNN reported.
Researchers termed it "the blob."
As the blob reached its peak between mid-2015 and 2016, more than 62,000 common murres — a species of seabird that feeds on small fish and is common up and down the west coast of North America — washed up dead on the shores of California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, The Guardian reported.
The researchers believe that the murres likely died of starvation after the blob increased competition for the small fish they feed on, The BBC reported. And because most birds that die over the ocean never wash ashore, the researchers believe the die-off reached closer to an unprecedented one million common murres.
Larger fish such as salmon, cod and halibut rely on the same prey as the murres. But since fish are cold-blooded and can't self-regulate their body temperature, the warmer waters boosted their metabolic rate and the amount of energy they needed for survival. These conditions required the larger fish to eat more than normal, reducing the availability of prey for the murres, which typically need to eat the equivalent of half their body weight per day.
The resulting die-off was among the largest on record, the researchers said. Most of the birds washed ashore in Alaska, where they were found in densities reaching 4,600 carcasses per kilometer along part of the state's southern coast.
The murre population was so affected that by 2016, 12 breeding colonies had failed to produce any chicks and the population still hasn't replenished, The Guardian reported.
"It remains to be seen when (or whether) murre populations in Alaska will recover from the heatwave in light of predicted global warming trends and the associated likelihood of more frequent heatwaves," the researchers said. According to the United Nations, climate change is projected to make marine heatwaves more frequent.
The University of Washington team has already found another marine heatwave developing off the coast of Washington, while another closer to New Zealand has reached 4,000 square miles and can be detected from space, CNN reported.
The blob caused die-offs in several other animal populations as well, including sea lions, baleen whales and tufted puffins. These die-offs were likely due in part to a drop in the populations of plankton that feed many organisms in the food chain, as the warmer water has less oxygen and essential nutrients to support life, USA Today reported.
The warmer temperatures also spawned the largest harmful algal bloom in recorded history, which contributed to the die-offs and led to significant financial losses for fisheries in the affected area — though none of the losses reached the severity of the murre die-off.
"The magnitude and scale of this failure has no precedent," lead author John Piatt, a research biologist and an affiliate professor at the University of Washington, said in a press release. "It was astonishing and alarming, and a red-flag warning about the tremendous impact sustained ocean warming can have on the marine ecosystem."
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A new report from The American Cancer Society has identified the largest single-year decline in the U.S. cancer death rate to date, likely spurred by new treatments and reductions in smoking.
The rate of Americans dying from cancer fell by 2.2 percent from 2016 to 2017, marking 26 consecutive years of a decreasing cancer death rate since it peaked in 1991 at 215 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the report published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.
Overall, the cancer death rate decreased 29 percent between 1991 and 2017 — amounting to 2.9 million fewer deaths than at the peak rate — The Washington Post reported. But while the death rate usually fell by around 1.5 percent year to year, the 2.2 percent drop in mortality in 2017 was the highest going back to 1930, when the American Cancer Society began keeping records.
"What is really driving that is the acceleration in the decline of mortality for lung cancer, and the reason that is encouraging is because lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, causing more deaths in the U.S. than breast, colorectal cancer and prostate cancers combined," Rebecca Siegel, lead author and scientific director of surveillance research at the American Cancer Society, told CNN. Cancer is second only to heart disease when it comes to all leading causes of death in the U.S. and experts believe lung cancer accounts for more than 25 percent of all cancer deaths.
The report found that the lung cancer death rate for men has fallen 51% since 1990 and 26% for women since 2002. This decline has accelerated in recent years, the authors noted, with annual reductions in the death rate climbing from 2 percent per year to around 4 percent.
In fact, the progress around lung cancer is such that if you removed it from the data, the 2.2 percent drop from 2016 to 2017 would be only 1.4 percent, Siegel told Reuters.
The authors said one explanation for the declining death rate for lung cancer is that smoking rates in the U.S. have also continued to fall, reaching a record low in 2018. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking is the top risk factor for lung cancer and is associated with 80-90% of lung cancer deaths in the U.S.
We're also getting better at finding and treating cancers at any stage, the authors of the report pointed out.
This includes improvements to diagnostic tools, surgery procedures and radiotherapy, as well as the impact of new drugs, USA Today reported. For instance, the decline in the death rate for melanoma accelerated from between 1-3 percent per year to 7 percent for people aged 20-64 after two new therapies hit the market in 2011, The New York Times reported.
Not all the news is positive, however, as the authors found that progress for colorectal, prostate and breast cancers has slowed despite overall decreases since their peaks. Many of these cancers can often be detected early via screening tools, Siegel noted.
The authors suggested that the prevalence of obesity-linked cancers — following the U.S.'s rising obesity rates — as well as racial and state-based disparities in risk factor exposure for preventable cancers and healthcare access may be driving the slow-downs.
"It's a reminder that increasing our investment in the equitable application of existing cancer control interventions, as well as basic and clinical research to further advance treatment, would undoubtedly accelerate progress against cancer," Siegel said in a press release.
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One of America's already widespread health issues is projected to worsen over the next decade, as new research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health suggests that almost half the adult population in the U.S. will be obese by 2030.
Obesity poses a number of issues for public health, as it increases risk for heart disease, diabetes and several cancers, among others, the Associated Press reported, and has driven up healthcare costs 29 percent since 2001, according to a Cornell University study in 2018.
According to a study of more than 6 million Americans published in the New England Journal of Medicine, obesity rates will increase to at least 35 percent in every state and 49 percent of the entire adult population will have a body mass index (BMI) of at least 30 by the end of the decade. That's compared to 2015-2016 estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that 40 percent of American adults were obese.
For the study, the researchers used self-reported BMI data from 6.27 million Americans who participated in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey between 1993 and 2016.
BMI is a widely accepted measure of health because it considers one's weight relative to height, but Ward told NBC News that people often overestimate their height and underestimate how much they weigh. To account for this, the researchers compared the responses with height and weight data from a separate survey that relied on actual measurements taken by professionals, Newsweek reported.
Some parts of the country will be affected more than others, the researchers found. In 29 states, mostly in the South and Midwest, researchers projected that more than 50 percent of the population will be obese, CNN reported.
Worse still, nearly one quarter of adults will be more than 100 pounds overweight with a BMI over 35, which is the threshold for "severe obesity." Women, African Americans and Americans with low income status will be most at risk of becoming severely obese, the study found.
"That used to be pretty rare," lead author Zachary Ward, a doctoral candidate at Harvard University, told NBC News. "But we're finding that it's quickly becoming the most common BMI category in those subgroups."
It may seem counterintuitive that low-income adults who are less able to afford food tend to weigh more. But according to CNN, there has been an influx of sugary drinks and processed foods into the American diet, and the price of these unhealthy foods has decreased over time.
Global data supports these findings, as a new report published in The Lancet by the World Health Organization found that one third of the world's poorest countries have high levels of both obesity and malnourishment. Experts behind the report pointed to easier access to unhealthy processed foods, poor diets that lead to underdevelopment and people exercising less as drivers, BBC News reported.
Ward and the authors of the Harvard study believe their findings should be a wakeup call to health policymakers and drive conversation around limiting how unhealthy foods are advertised, nutrition standards and creating taxes on sugary drink — interventions the researchers have previously found to be effective.
"What is clear is that we will not be able to treat our way out of this epidemic — achieving and maintaining weight loss is difficult — so prevention efforts will be key to making progress in this area," Ward told Newsweek.
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Permanent hair dyes and chemical hair straighteners could be increasing women's risk of breast cancer, according to a new study by the National Institutes of Health.
The study, published in the International Journal of Cancer, found that, overall, women who had used permanent hair dye before participating were 9 percent more likely to get breast cancer than those who did not.
For black women, however, the risk was six times higher, despite being less likely than white women to use the dyes. When accounting for race, black women had a 45 percent higher risk of breast cancer while white women had a 7 percent higher risk, CNN reported.
Black and white women who used chemical hair straighteners had an 18 percent higher risk of breast cancer, but black women were much more likely to use these products, with 74 percent of black participants saying they did compared to only 3 percent of white participants.
How often the women used the products was also a factor, The New York Times reported, as black women who used the hair dye products every five to eight weeks had a 60% higher risk of developing breast cancer. Women who used chemical hair straighteners every five to eight weeks were 31 percent more likely to get breast cancer overall.
"In our study, we see a higher breast cancer risk associated with hair dye use, and the effect is stronger in African American women, particularly those who are frequent users," corresponding author Alexandra White, Ph.D., head of the NIEHS Environment and Cancer Epidemiology Group, said in a statement.
The researchers noted that hair products can contain more than 5,000 chemicals, which aren't always fully listed on the label.
According to the Environmental Working Group, ingredients commonly found in these dyes and straightening products have been associated with cancer and other health risks, including:
- formaldehyde, which is a carcinogen
- resorcinol, which can harm hormones and cause allergic reactions
- p-phenylenediamine, which has been linked to tumor formation in rats
For the study, the researchers examined eight years of data for nearly 47,000 women aged 35 to 74 who were enrolled in the National Institute of Environmental Health's Sister Study, which tracks women whose sisters have been diagnosed with breast cancer, Salon reported. None of the women had breast cancer at the beginning of the study, but 2,794 of them received a diagnosis by the end of the study.
That said, the findings are probably not enough to say that the products cause cancer, according to The New York Times, as fewer than 10 percent of the participants were black, their use of the products was only surveyed once, and the figures did not show that using the products doubled or tripled risk of cancer – a common threshold for concern among scientists.
The researchers themselves stopped short of issuing any firm warnings, but suggested avoiding the products or seeking alternatives wherever possible. Experts not involved in the study stressed that while these results may be alarming, more studies must first be done to replicate the findings – especially since previous studies of chemical straighteners have not shown any link to breast cancer risk.
"I think it's important for women, particularly African American women, not to panic every time a study comes out," Dr. Doris Browne, a medical oncologist and former president of the National Medical Association, told NPR. "But it should raise questions for our primary care providers."
Many people don't begin worrying about their cholesterol levels until later in life, but that may be increasing their odds of heart problems in the long term.
A new study, published this week in The Lancet, found that adults with higher levels of cholesterol at age 45 or younger were at a higher risk of heart disease or stroke by age 75 than older adults with similar cholesterol levels, but healthy lifestyle changes could cut that risk.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in foods and also produced in the liver. According to BBC News, there are two types of cholesterol: "good" HDL cholesterol that our bodies use to make hormones like testosterone or estrogen and bad "non-HDL" cholesterol, which causes plaque build-up that clogs arteries and is a top risk factor for heart disease.
For the study, the researchers examined 38 previous studies involving almost 400,000 adults between 30-85 years old from 19 different countries. None of the participants had heart disease at the start of the study and one third were under 45 years old. Each participant's health was tracked during a median follow-up period of up to 43 years — during which almost 55,000 ended up with either heart disease or had a stroke.
Using this information, the researchers developed a model to determine heart disease risk based on bad cholesterol levels, age, sex and other common risk factors, such as smoking, blood pressure and weight, TIME reported.
Based on the model, the researchers found that a man under 45 with higher bad cholesterol levels and two other risk factors has a 29% chance of heart problems by age 75, while a man at least 60 years old with the same conditions had only a 21 percent chance, CNN reported.
For women with similar characteristics, those under 45 had a 16 percent risk while those 60 and older had a 12 percent risk.
"The increased risk in younger people could be due to the longer exposure to harmful lipids in the blood," study author Barbara Thorand, a researcher with the German Research Center for Environmental Health, said in a press release.
The researchers suggested that "intervening early and intensively" to lower bad cholesterol could significantly reduce the risk of heart problems down the road: men under 45 who cut their bad cholesterol in half would see their risk drop from 29 percent to just 6 percent, while the odds for younger women could be as low as 4 percent.
Monitoring Your Cholesterol
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting regular cholesterol tests shortly after you turn 20.
Other than taking statin medications, the American Heart Association recommends the following lifestyle changes to lower cholesterol:
- Limit intake of trans and saturated fats by eating a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts, instead of red meats, fried foods, dairy and sugary products.
- Exercise for 30 minutes a day or 150 minutes a week
- Quit smoking, as tobacco lowers good cholesterol and increases other heart disease factors like high blood pressure.
- Lose weight. Even a 10 percent loss can improve cholesterol numbers.
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Weight loss aside, there is no shortage of benefits to eating healthier: a lower risk of heart disease and cancer, reduced gut inflammation and preventing memory loss later in life, to name a few. A healthy diet may also reduce hearing loss later in life, according to a new study out of Brigham and Women's Hospital.
The study, published recently in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that risk of mid-frequency hearing loss was nearly 30 percent lower in women over 50 years old whose diets most closely resembled one of three commonly recommended diets:
- the Mediterranean Diet
- the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet
- the Alternate Healthy Index-2010 (AHEI-2010) diet
Each of these diets promotes eating more plant-based foods and healthy fats while avoiding processed foods and refined sugars, Yahoo News reported. The researchers noted that previous studies have linked the diets with positive health outcomes such as lower risk of hypertension, diabetes and death.
"A common perception is that hearing loss is an inevitable part of the aging process," lead author Sharon Curhan, MD, said in a press release. "However, our research focuses on identifying potentially modifiable risk factors — that is, things that we can change in our diet and lifestyle to prevent hearing loss or delay its progression."
For the study, the researchers used 20 years of dietary data collected every four years for more than 3,100 women with an average age of 59 and established 19 testing sites across the U.S. where trained audiologists measured changes in the participants' hearing thresholds at the beginning of the study and three years later, Consumer Affairs reported. The researchers then matched how closely the participants' diets matched the three established diets.
The researchers found that eating healthy was not only associated with reduced chances of mid-frequency hearing loss, but the risk was up to 25 percent lower for higher frequencies as well. They also found that no specific diet was better at reducing hearing loss.
"The association between diet and hearing sensitivity decline encompassed frequencies that are critical for speech understanding," Curhan said in a press release. "We were surprised that so many women demonstrated hearing decline over such a relatively short period of time."
What's driving the association? The researchers suggested the healthy diets could be improving blood circulation, while unhealthy diets tend to include high-fat foods that clog blood vessels. Poor blood flow to the inner ear could put it at risk of becoming damaged and impair maintenance, they said, according to the Daily Mail.
This isn't the first time that the researchers found an association between healthy diets like DASH and the Mediterranean diet and reduced hearing loss.
In 2018, the researchers published a study which found that women who closely followed either diet had a 30 percent lower risk of moderate or worse hearing loss compared to those who did not, U.S. News & World Report reported.
In 2015, Curhan was lead author in an article published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, in which nutrients like carotenoids — found in squash, carrots and other fruits and vegetables — and folate, which is found in beans and leafy greens, were linked with a lower risk of hearing loss. Higher intake of Vitamin C, on the other hand, was associated with higher risk of hearing loss.
Still, the team said more research is needed to confirm their most recent findings across a more diverse population, as the study participants were mostly non-hispanic white women.