You know air pollution is dangerous, but what about the air INSIDE your home?

Image: You know air pollution is dangerous, but what about the air INSIDE your home?

You might want to get your homes checked to see if you’re harboring an invisible killer in the air. According to Dr. Aaron Goodarzi of the University of Calgary, houses may have well over the safe exposure limit of radon gas.

In an article in the Daily Mail, Dr. Goodarzi writes that at least one in 15 homes in the U.S. contain the invisible gas.

Radon, a radioactive, invisible, and colorless gas, is a major cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoke. In Canada, at least 4,000 new cases of lung cancer are attributed to radon exposure, while experts estimate 15,000 to 22,000 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. are linked to the gas.

He and his research team have been testing well over 2,300 homes in Canada for radon for years. According to the results of the testing, at least one in eight homes that were tested contained radon levels that are higher than acceptable levels. Interestingly enough, newer houses have the largest problem with radon levels.

However, the problem lies, according to Dr. Goodarzi, with people’s lack of awareness on the effects of radon gas.

Radon is a radioactive gas that’s invisible and contains no odor. While it naturally occurs from the breakdown of radium in the soil, the gas can seep into a building through cracks in the foundation as well as other openings.

It can be mostly found in the basement or cellars of homes, schools, and offices. There is no distinction with radon exposure: It can seep in any building, both old and new, in about all places where there is housing structure.

The correlation between radon gas and lung cancer was made in the 1970s after abnormally high cancer rates were detected in uranium miners in Elliot Lake in Ontario, Canada.

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Currently, studies have already established that long-term exposure to radon gas can cause irreparable harm to the DNA and lead to gene mutations that ultimately will lead to cancer. Next to smoking, radon exposure is the leading cause of cancer in non-smokers. (Related: Radon in Homes is the Second Leading Cause of Lung Cancer.)

Dr. Goodarzi writes that radon exposure is now a major public health concern in Canada. In his location in Alberta alone, he estimates that many patients in Alberta who have never smoked a day in their life, are faced with a high risk for lung cancer.

Still, radon-induced lung cancer can be avoided completely with testing and proper management. Health care costs will be saved by avoiding radon cancer, not to mention a decrease in human suffering.

However, a person who smokes and also lives in a home with radon gas puts him at a much greater hazard, with a one in four chance of developing lung cancer later on. Meanwhile, the percentage of smokers who may have avoided cancer if they were not also exposed to radon gas remains uncertain.

With the advancement of scientific studies regarding the dangers of radon gas, Dr. Goodarzi opines that this will translate to additional legislation to regulate the gas, especially since children have the greatest risk of radon exposure throughout their lives.

As the harmful effects of radon are now gaining ground, the team hopes that this will make radon testing for homes a normal requirement, especially in cases wherein the home was just purchased after a major home repair.

Sources include:


Air Quality and Temperature Effects on Exercise‐Induced Bronchoconstriction


Exercise‐induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) is exaggerated constriction of the airways usually soon after cessation of exercise. This is most often a response to airway dehydration in the presence of airway inflammation in a person with a responsive bronchial smooth muscle. Severity is related to water content of inspired air and level of ventilation achieved and sustained. Repetitive hyperpnea of dry air during training is associated with airway inflammatory changes and remodeling. A response during exercise that is related to pollution or allergen is considered EIB. Ozone and particulate matter are the most widespread pollutants of concern for the exercising population; chronic exposure can lead to new‐onset asthma and EIB. Freshly generated emissions particulate matter less than 100 nm is most harmful. Evidence for acute and long‐term effects from exercise while inhaling high levels of ozone and/or particulate matter exists. Much evidence supports a relationship between development of airway disorders and exercise in the chlorinated pool. Swimmers typically do not respond in the pool; however, a large percentage responds to a dry air exercise challenge. Studies support oxidative stress mediated pathology for pollutants and a more severe acute response occurs in the asthmatic. Winter sport athletes and swimmers have a higher prevalence of EIB, asthma and airway remodeling than other athletes and the general population. Because of fossil fuel powered ice resurfacers in ice rinks, ice rink athletes have shown high rates of EIB and asthma. For the athlete training in the urban environment, training during low traffic hours and in low traffic areas is suggested.

Something in the Air? Ambient Lead Linked to Alzheimer’s

Even exposure to very low levels of ambient lead appears to increase the risk for conversion from amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) to Alzheimer’s disease (AD), new research suggests.

Using data from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), investigators found that patients with aMCI who converted to AD had significantly greater ambient lead exposure than did nonconverters.

Further analysis showed that lead exposure also significantly predicted atrophy of the hippocampus, as well as entorhinal cortex atrophy and thickness reduction.

“We know about studies showing adverse effects from lead in children. So I wasn’t that surprised by our findings,” lead author Linda Mah, MD, assistant professor in the Division of Geriatric Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and a clinician scientist at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest, a hospital in Toronto, told Medscape Medical News.

“However, I was surprised that the average amount of ambient lead exposure did predict size of hippocampal volume at follow-up. Those findings were not robust, but they were significant,” added Dr. Mah.

The results were presented here at the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry (AAGP) 2014 Annual Meeting.


“Lead is a confirmed neurotoxicant that is associated with neurodevelopmental deficits in children following even very low lead exposure,” write the investigators.

Dr. Linda Mah

“Air quality has recently been linked to risk of AD, but whether ambient lead exposure increases risk of AD is unknown,” they add.

The researchers examined data from ADNI, which was originally created as a multisite study of 265 older patients with aMCI between the ages of 55 and 90 years.

Criteria for aMCI included subjective and objective memory loss during activities of daily living.

For the current analysis, the investigators were able to match air quality measures and lead levels to only 61 of the participants (63% men; mean age, 76 years), using city reports from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Although ADNI includes patients from all of North America, Canada does not track lead levels as a measure of air quality. As a result, all 61 participants for the current study lived in US cities.

In addition to assessing conversion from aMCI to AD in these patients, neuroimaging was used to measure hippocampal and entorhinal cortical volume and entorhinal cortical thickness during a 3- to 5-year follow-up period.

Need to Track Lead Levels

Results showed that 23 patients (60% men) converted from aMCI to AD during the study period. And these patients had significantly greater ambient lead exposure, as determined on the basis of EPA measures, than patients who did not convert (P = .045).

Atrophy of the hippocampus (= .04) and of the entorhinal cortex (P = .03) and reduction in entorhinal cortical thickness (P = .02) were all significantly predicted by ambient lead exposure.

The lead levels for all participants did not exceed the safety threshold set by the EPA, which is currently 0.15 μg/m3.

“These findings suggest ambient lead exposure is associated with greater risk of AD and AD-related neuroimaging abnormalities in aMCI, and extend the growing body of literature suggesting neurotoxic effects may occur even with very low levels of lead exposure,” write the investigators.

“At a minimum, these findings support the need to include [this] exposure as a standard measure of air quality in order to further investigate its potential link to AD, and the need to re- evaluate the maximum threshold of lead exposure considered safe for humans.”

The researchers add that lowering the current EPA standard should be considered.

“I thought it was interesting that size of the particle air did not predict conversion, and neither did other things, such as sulphur or carbon monoxide. But with lead, there seemed to be this relationship,” said Dr. Mah.

“And I’m concerned. Air quality is not really something you can get away from. So I would really like to see, at least in Canada, for cities to start tracking their lead levels,” she added.

Worthy of Further Research

Iqbal “Ike” Ahmed, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry and geriatric medicine at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, told Medscape Medical News that although the study used 2 different datasets, “which means you can question some of what they found,” the results were worthy of further research.

“It’s an interesting stimulus to make us look more at the neurotoxic effects of lead. And it replicates some things that have already been reported,” said Dr. Ahmed, who is also a member of the board of directors for the AAGP.

“I did think it was fascinating that with the association with the hippocampal atrophy and the entorhinal atrophy, we can expect a conversion to Alzheimer’s.”

Dr. Ahmed, who was not involved with this research, noted that larger, prospective studies conducted in a systematic fashion are now needed to look into this association.

Still, he added that it might be worthwhile for clinicians to check to see whether a patient is from an area known for high levels of lead or other toxins or other risk factors.

“This may be an association that’s reflective of something else, or a marker, rather than a causal thing. On the other hand, the correlation with the higher lead levels is thought provoking,” said Dr. Ahmed.

“Overall, it’s an interesting approach, but this is really a hypothesis-generating study rather than a hypothesis-confirmatory one.”

Does Air Pollution Increase the Risk for Acute Heart Failure?

Certain types of air pollution have a significant temporal association with heart failure–related hospitalization and mortality.
Air pollution has been associated with increased risk for myocardial infarction To assess its potential association with risk for acute heart failure (HF), researchers systematically reviewed the literature and ultimately identified 35 relevant studies in 12 countries, published from 1995 to 2010. All 35 studies tracked levels of specific air pollutants (both gases and particulate matter) and rates of HF-related hospitalization and mortality. A random-effects model was used to estimate the overall risk from each pollutant.

The risk for HF-related hospitalization or death was temporally and significantly associated with exposure to carbon monoxide (3.5% greater risk per 1 part per million), sulphur dioxide (2.4% greater risk per 10 parts per billion), and nitrogen dioxide (1.7% greater risk per 10 parts per billion) — but not ozone. Increases in concentrations of particulate matter were also significantly associated with the risk for HF-related hospitalization or death (from 1.6% to 2.1% greater risk per 10 μg/m3, depending on the size of the particulate), predominantly on the day of exposure. A mean reduction of 3.9 μg/m3 in particulates that have a diameter <2.5 μm (PM2.5) was estimated to prevent nearly 8000 HF-related hospitalizations and save roughly $US300 million per year.


These data show that air pollution has a strong temporal association with heart failure–related hospitalization and death. Thirty-four of the 35 analyzed studies were conducted in developed countries, where even small improvements in air quality are likely to have major effects on population health and healthcare costs. We still need more studies from developing nations, where (as the authors note) cities often have PM2.5 levels up to 10-fold higher than U.S. National Ambient Air Quality Standards allow. Air quality must remain a key target for global health policy and research.

Source: NEJM




FAQ:A user’s guide to nanotechnology.

All FAQs have been provided by University of Sheffield

1. What is nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology is an area of Science that is concerned with the control and manipulation of matter on the molecular scale. This scale is often measured in nanometres, hence the nano in nanotechnology. 


2. How small is a nanometre?

If you take an average 4 year old child with a height of 1m and then shrink them by a factor of 1000, they would then be the size of an ant (or a millimetre). If you shrink them again by a factor of 1000, they would be the size of a red blood cell (or a micrometre). We need to shrink them once more by a factor of 1000 to reach a scale measured in nanometres.

3. What is the science behind Catalytic Clothing?

Catalytic Clothing harnesses the power of a photocatalyst to break down air borne pollutants. A catalyst is a term used to describe something that makes a reaction proceed at a greater rate but isn’t actually consumed during that reaction. A photocatalyst gains the energy it needs to be active from light.

4. Where do the pollutants come from?

The two biggest sources of air borne pollutants are industry and motor vehicles. Although the majority of the pollutants are prevented from reaching the air, using technology such as catalytic converters, some do escape. It is these pollutants that Catalytic Clothing will break down.

5. How are the pollutants broken down?

When the light shines on the photocatalyst, the electrons in the material are rearranged and they become more reactive. These electrons are then able to react with the water in the air and break it apart into 2 radicals. A radical is an extremely reactive molecule. These radicals then react with the pollutants and cause them to break down into non-harmful chemicals.

6. What happens to the pollutants after they’ve been broken down?

The Catalytic Clothing technology is designed to breakdown the pollutants straight away. However, some pollutants may become attached without being broken down. In this case, the pollutants will be washed off during subsequent laundering. This actually already happens with normal clothing.

7. Is this technology used in any other products?

Photocatalysts have been incorporated into several commercially available products that possess de-polluting properties. These products include paints, cements and paving stones.

8. How is the technology delivered to the surface of the clothing?

The photocatalyst is delivered to the surface of the clothing during the traditional laundry procedure as an additive within a standard product such as a fabric conditioner. The active agent is packaged within a shell that is attracted towards, and subsequently binds to, the surface of the clothing during the washing cycle.

9. Why do we need mass participation to produce a noticeable reduction in the level of pollution?

Although any garment that is treated with the product becomes active, a single garment is only able to remove a small proportion of the air borne pollutants. Therefore, a large number of individuals, all acting together, is required to produce a noticeable reduction in the level of pollution.

10. How many people would need to participate to produce a noticeable reduction in the level of pollution?

An estimate of the required level of uptake for the Catalytic Clothing indicates that a significant reduction in the level of air borne pollutants in a large city such as London could be achieved if, for every metre of pavement width, 30 people wearing Catalytic Clothes walked past each minute.

11. Would someone wearing Catalytic Clothing be at a greater risk of exposure to pollutants?

No. The Catalytic Clothing technology won’t actively attract any pollutants. Instead, it will break down anything that comes within very close proximity of the photocatalyst’s surface.

12. How would society benefit if Catalytic Clothing was widely introduced?

Exposure to air borne pollutants presents a risk to human health and also has a detrimental effect on ecosystems and vegetation. Air pollution is currently estimated to reduce the life expectancy of every person in the UK by an average of 7-8 months. The widespread introduction of Catalytic Clothing would dramatically reduce the level of air borne pollutants, thereby improving the quality of life for all members of society.

13. Can any material be used? 

Each type of material will need to be tested separately for efficacy and adhesion, but it is our aim to make this technology deliver to all fabric types eventually. We have started with one of the most commonly used materials, cotton. 

14. What will be the cost of using this domestically?

It is hard to say at this stage and will depend on whether it ends up as an additive, or a product in its own right. As mass use will have the most impact on air quality, clearly the cost has to be as competitive as possible.

15. Are there any “down sides”? 

We will discover these as the research continues and try to create solutions as we go.

16. How can you reassure people that it will be safe?

The product will go through full life cycle analysis as any other new product being brought to market. All H&S aspects will be independently validated and just like a new medicine, or new skin care product, all the usual legal requirements will be met ahead of the product reaching the supermarket shelves.

17. When might it be available? 

We are aiming for two years if all goes to plan!

18. How can you tell if it’s working?

Most major cities and towns have some from of air quality monitoring stations already in place. Those monitors record the levels of a range of major pollutants, such as NOx and VOC’s. We expect that once the Catalytic Clothing technology is in widespread use, considerable reductions in the levels of the pollutants will be observed using those monitors. Anecdotal evidence also says that people notice that it’s easier breathe when photocatalytic products are used.

19. Is it measurable? 

Yes (see above)

20. How has the technology been applied to the first generation products: Herself, and Field of Jeans?

The TiO2 was sprayed on to the garments.

21. What is the Herself dress made of? What are the blue parts – they look like paint?

The fabric of the dress is coated with titania loaded cement and the blue colour is dye.

22. What pollutants can the chemical absorb? 

Nothing is absorbed but the photocatalyst causes oxidation of substances adsorbed on the surface.  Nitrous oxide is converted to soluble nitrate and volatile organics are converted into fatty acids and soaps.

23. How much air space can they purify? (Or a quantifiable measurement of how much air is purified)

The air (or the dress) have to be moving – if they are moving quickly enough then 1 square meter of coated fabric can take out 0.5 g of NOx per day.

24. Does the Herself dress have catalytic nano particles or is it a photocatalyst? Can we get a clarification on the process, which pollutants break down? Does this mean that the dress only works in daylight?

The nanoparticles on the dress are a photocatalyst. The size of the particles is important.  The coating only works in the presence of light and oxygen.  It doesn’t need to be sunlight – interior lights work too.

25. Will all pollutants become instantly broken down or will some remain? 

Not all pollutants are broken down and some remain.

26. Will there be any build up of Tio2 in the water supply? 

Particles that escape the washing machine will enter the waste water system. TiO2 is an inert, white mineral, and only an effective photocatalyst when it is in the form of nanoparticles that can see light. Any escaping particles are most likely in a mass or group already and will definitely form into groups in the water treatment process, aided by its flocculation process. (The flocculation process forms or causes to form substances into small clumps or masses, – a process, which helps to remove “solids”). Some water treatment systems use UV but these are not widespread. Any titania below a couple of mm of water won’t be particularly active because the UV level will be low as will the Oxygen concentration, in other words because it is too dark there will be little catalytic activity. Any TiO2, which enters the waste water system, will be minimal and harmless and will be extracted by the flocculation process as described above.

Get moving to breathe easy.

In April, 2013, The American Lung Association (ALA) released their latest State of the Air report, which highlighted mixed results in reducing air pollution in the USA. While in the UK, air quality was also a key concern, with the UK Supreme Court reporting that the country is in breach of the European Union’s air quality directive for nitrogen dioxide levels from traffic pollution. This ruling is welcome as it could force the UK Government into action to avoid punitive fines by finally addressing the growing issue of increased traffic on its roads and the consequences for air quality.

So what are the key challenges when considering air pollution, and where should we start? A reduction in life expectancy from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases as a result of air pollution is well established. However, studies at the recent American Thoracic Society’s 2013 conference showed that risks can be greater than previously thought, and can have multiple effects on respiratory diseases; for example, even low levels of traffic pollution has been shown to increase asthma morbidity in pregnant women, and expectant mothers living near major roads have children at increased risk of respiratory infections before the age of 3 years. But even a small reduction in particulate matter (PM) 2·5 can improve life expectancy; a study in Epidemiology earlier this year showed an increase in mean life expectancy of 0·35 years for a 10 μg/m3 decrease in PM 2·5. Unfortunately, as in this paper, most data on pollution and its effects on health are derived from association studies, and considered weak evidence, because quantifying the risk and benefit of any single factor can be difficult, and data are affected by chance, confounding, and interlinking risks. Furthermore, it might not be in governments’ interests to monitor accurately the levels of any pollution, and government and independent measures can differ. Independent studies are therefore vital to improve the evidence base and prompt action.

The ALA report is a good basis on which to build quality evidence and action plans that could be applied globally. Data for the report were compiled by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which measured levels of two major pollutants, ozone and PM 2·5, from 2009 to 2011. Encouragingly, 18 cities had reduced annual average PM 2·5 in this latest 2013 ALA report, and a record number of four cities were on all three of the cleanest cities lists. However, 42% of the US population (more than 131 million people) still live in counties with unhealthy levels of either smog or PM 2·5. Nevertheless, much progress has been made recently in major industrial countries to tackle the enormity of the problem. Legislation in the USA and Europe, such as the Clean Air Act of 1970 and EU Directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air (2008/50/EC), have provided a framework for regulatory agencies and governments to tackle major types of air pollution, with the requirements of EU directives from 2004 and 2008 being transferred into English law in the 2010 Air Quality Standards Regulation.

But despite some progress, there is no room for complacency, and monetary support should be diverted from projects likely to increase pollution to those that encourage greener transport, transport-free areas, improved road infrastructure, and safety for cyclists. The EPA has recently announced funding of around US$9 million for projects that reduce diesel emissions, while President Obama launched a publicly accessible platform in May, 2013, that will search and synthesise metadata to help to analyse links between climate change and health. Projects such as green walls at major traffic intersections are additional admirable efforts, and many countries, often at city level, are embracing efforts to increase and protect cyclists on the road, and to try and encourage motorists out of their cars. Plane travel could be reduced through use of modern telecommunications, lessening the need for physical face-to-face meetings and additional runways. Carbon offsetting has also been at the forefront of individual and industry efforts to protect air quality and the environment. However, the ruling by the UK Supreme Court suggests that the innovation and forward thinking that is required at the government level to address pollution is still some way off fruition, at least in the UK, perhaps because air quality in the UK is a devolved responsibility.

The industrial revolution has changed forever the societies of developed countries and the irony of this progress is that individuals have become increasingly sedentary. This lack of movement has not only polluted the air we breathe, from increased traffic and reduced green spaces, but has also spread insidious tentacles of morbidity, disease, and death that act synergistically in a vicious circle. Practical incentives and action plans must be set to break down this circle at both the government and individual level. Current efforts should be acknowledged, but must be escalated if we are all to breathe easy in the future.

Source: lancet