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With news on: air pollution autism link; UK car dependency; Liverpool air quality project; noise in Europe

Autism linked to air pollution

Higher exposure to particulate matter PM2.5 air pollution during pregnancy was found to be associated with greater odds of children having autism in a study by a team of Harvard scientists published online last week (December 18).

The study found a link between PM2.5 exposure during pregancy and autism

The study found a link between PM2.5 exposure during pregancy and autism

And, the association between autism and PM2.5 was stronger for exposure to the pollutant during the final three months of a mother’s pregnancy, the study claimed.

Published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, the study looked at 1,767 children in the US born between 1990 and 2002, of which 245 had autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and 1,522 did not.

Based on the home addresses of the children’s mothers, the study found that children with ASD were more likely to have been exposed to high levels of pollution, although Harvard team stop short of claiming that PM2.5 exposure causes outright autism, as a range of factors are at play.

However, there was little association between PM10 and ASD, according to the ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder and Particulate Matter Air Pollution before, during, and after Pregnancy’ report.

It is not the first time research has linked air pollution exposure with autism. A study of mice published in June 2014 found that air pollution may contribute to autism and schizophrenia (see story).

London is UK’s least car-dependent city, report claims

UK cities have been ranked according to their car dependency by the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT), with London coming in at top of the list compared to the lowest performers Milton Keynes, Colchester and Peterborough.

London is the UK's least car-dependent city, according to the Campaign for Better Transport

London is the UK’s least car-dependent city, according to the Campaign for Better Transport

CBT notes that air and noise pollution in UK cities is “made much worse by our high levels of car dependence” and it says that increases in road capacity and road widening encourage greater car use.

It also backs the findings of the Environmental Audit Committee’s air quality report published earlier this month (see story), calling for more action to improve air quality in urban areas.

The CBT report finds London to be the UK’s least car-dependent city due to its “historic advantage of a well-developed public transport infrastructure delivered in a densely populated area” making it “easy for residents and commuters to get about without a car”.

The Congestion Charge and investment in buses are singled out for praise by the report, but it also notes concern at sharply-rising bus fares and housing costs in recent years, which could push more people to commute for longer distances in cars.

Manchester is ranked as the second least car dependent city, giving London a “run for its money”, while Liverpool is third — although the latter is criticised for a recent decision to axe most of the city’s bus lanes.

At the other end of the rankings, Milton Keynes is described as having a high reliance on cars and “some of the highest levels of transport emissions of any of the cities”, while Colchester is ranked the lowest for accessibility and planning.

However, at the very bottom, Peterborough “scores poorly right across the board” with a lack of use of public transport and a heavy reliance on cars, the report argues.

125m Europeans exposed to harmful traffic noise

A quarter of Europeans — more than 125 million people — could be exposed to levels of road traffic noise above EU legal guidelines, causing a range of health problems, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA).

More than a quarter of European citizens are exposed to high levels of traffic noise

More than a quarter of European citizens are exposed to high levels of traffic noise

Published on Friday (December 19), the EEA’s ‘Noise in Europe 2014’ report analyses exposure to noise levels and resulting environmental health problems, finding that traffic noise ‘annoys’ almost 20 million Europeans and disturbs the sleep of around eight million.

Road traffic was found to be the main source of noise in Europe, followed by railways, airports and industry.

Meanwhile, environmental noise is linked to approximately 43,000 hospital admissions, 900,000 cases of hypertension and up to 10,000 premature deaths per year, the EEA estimates. There is also “mounting evidence” that wildlife may be seriously affected by noise.

The report found that larger cities are noisier, with cities housing more than 250,000 people generally having a larger share of the population exposed to levels above the legal guidelines.

As a result, the EEA is calling for noise considerations to be incorporated into planning and building new infrastructure, while quiet areas should be protected.

Liverpool air quality project wins grant

A project aimed at increasing public awareness of poor air quality in Liverpool city centre has been awarded a £10,000 grant by the European Cultural Foundation (ECF).

To be run throughout 2015 by not-for-profit social enterprise Engage Liverpool, the project will bring together both artists and scientists to think creatively about engaging with the people on the issue and to ‘change the way we think about public space’.

The project is being spearheaded by filmmaker and Engage Liverpool researcher Matthew Fox, with a view to publishing a more detailed overview of selected air quality proposals early in the New Year.

Netherlands-based ECF, set up in 1954, awarded 25 proposed projects across Europe grants of up to £10,000 each, following an ‘ideas camp’ for project leaders in Marseilles in October 2014.

Engage Liverpool said: “Engage is delighted to announce that Matthew Fox will be the project leader in delivering this project which emerged from the Idea Camp that we attended in Marseilles in October with a clearer idea of what we want to achieve and a broader group of partners from across Europe to help us deliver it.”


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