Thursday, January 28, 2021

Living in an area with high levels of air pollution can increase your risk of developing macular degeneration and going BLIND, study warns

This is a typical rubbishy study of PM2.5 air pollution. It relies on the area a person lives in to describe anything about him/her. That quite different people might be living in the same area is not acounted for. We might, for instance, ask whrether or not it is mostly poor people who get AMD. No answer to that is available. All we are told is whether the sufferer lived in a poor area, which could mean many things. Their measure of pollution exposure was similarly inexact. They examined only whether a person lived in a polluted area. They had no estimate of how much pollution each person actually experienced.

There is however one thing unusual about this study. They found that many things -- such as living in a poor area -- DID affect the incidence of AMD but I can find no mention of the authors controlling for all such extraneous influences on the correlation between a polluted area and AMD incidence. We are thus left with the possible conclusion that it was other factors -- not pollution -- that increased levels of AMD. Poverty is one of the most common predictors of disease so we are quite at liberty to conclude from their report that it was poverty that caused poor eye function, not pollution. What a useless study!

Your risk of developing macular degeneration and going blind is increased by living in an area with a high level of air pollution, a study has warned.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a progressive form of vision loss that is the leading cause of blindness among UK adults aged 50 and over.

Known risk factors for AMD — alongside increasing age — include certain genetic factors and being a smoker.

Researchers from the UK studied data on 15,954 people — each of whom was aged 40–69 at the start of the study and initially reported no vision issues.

They monitored them for the development of AMD — and compared outcomes with the average level of air pollution where they lived.

They found that greater concentrations of air pollution were associated with up to an 8 per cent increase in the likelihood of developing macular degeneration.

Data for the study was collected by the UK Biobank, a large-scale database containing detailed genetic and health information on half-a-million participants.

Of the participants, 52,602 had their eyes examined and assessed for the structural changes in the thickness and numbers of receptors in the retina which are indicative of age-related macular degeneration.

The study used estimates of the average annual levels of air pollution at each subject's home address, considering pollutants such as fine particles (or PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide and nitrogen oxides which mainly come from vehicle exhausts.

The researchers found that just over 1 per cent of the study cohort — 1,286 people — ended up being diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration.

Once factors such as lifestyle and underlying health conditions were taken into account, the team found that participants exposed to higher concentrations of PM2.5 were 8 per cent more likely to develop AMD.

Exposure to PM2.5 and other pollutants was also found to be associated with changes in the structure of the subjects' retinas.

However, the team noted, the study was an observational one which did not intervene with people's lives and could not prove that pollution caused sight loss.

But it echoes previous findings, they said, which have suggested that higher exposure to air pollution may make retinal cells more vulnerable and thereby increase one's risk of AMD.

'Overall, our findings suggest that ambient air pollution, especially fine (particulate matter) or those of combustion-related particles, may affect AMD risk,' the researchers said.

'Our findings add to the growing evidence of the damaging effects of ambient air pollution, even in the setting of relative low exposure.'

Molecular ophthalmologist Chris Inglehearn of the University of Leeds, who was not involved in the present study, said that the paper — and another from Taiwan — have both shown a link between air pollution and age-related macular degeneration.

While the studies have not proven that pollution is causing AMD, he said, 'the fact that these two independent studies reach similar conclusions gives greater confidence that the link they make is real.'

'These studies provide further evidence that links air pollution with detrimental impacts on human health,' he concluded.

'Age-related macular degeneration is the most common cause of sight loss in the developed world and so this finding is significant,' added Robert MacLaren, an ophthalmology expert from the University of Oxford.

'Participants in the study had an average age of around 60 and this small increase risk of 8 per cent is likely to be compounded further over ensuing decades.'

The full findings of the study were published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

The journal Abstract:

Association of ambient air pollution with age-related macular degeneration and retinal thickness in UK Biobank

By Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all


Aim: To examine the associations of air pollution with both self-reported age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and in vivo measures of retinal sublayer thicknesses.

Methods: We included 115 954 UK Biobank participants aged 40–69 years old in this cross-sectional study. Ambient air pollution measures included particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Participants with self-reported ocular conditions, high refractive error (< −6 or > +6 diopters) and poor spectral-domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT) image were excluded. Self-reported AMD was used to identify overt disease. SD-OCT imaging derived photoreceptor sublayer thickness and retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) layer thickness were used as structural biomarkers of AMD for 52 602 participants. We examined the associations of ambient air pollution with self-reported AMD and both photoreceptor sublayers and RPE layer thicknesses.

Results: After adjusting for covariates, people who were exposed to higher fine ambient particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter <2.5 µm (PM2.5, per IQR increase) had higher odds of self-reported AMD (OR=1.08, p=0.036), thinner photoreceptor synaptic region (β=−0.16 µm, p=2.0 × 10−5), thicker photoreceptor inner segment layer (β=0.04 µm, p=0.001) and thinner RPE (β=−0.13 µm, p=0.002). Higher levels of PM2.5 absorbance and NO2 were associated with thicker photoreceptor inner and outer segment layers, and a thinner RPE layer. Higher levels of PM10 (PM with an aerodynamic diameter <10 µm) was associated with thicker photoreceptor outer segment and thinner RPE, while higher exposure to NOx was associated with thinner photoreceptor synaptic region.

Conclusion: Greater exposure to PM2.5 was associated with self-reported AMD, while PM2.5, PM2.5 absorbance, PM10, NO2 and NOx were all associated with differences in retinal layer thickness.

President Biden commits to converting government fleet to electric vehicles

US President Joe Biden has signalled he’s serious about climate change by vowing to replace petrol vehicles with electric ones across the US government’s roughly 650,000-strong fleet, according to reports.

No timeline was given on when the swap would be completed, but the President said all the vehicles must be American made.

The project could cost about $US20b according to Reuters, but it would be a huge boost for the country’s struggling auto industry as currently only a handful of companies make electric cars in America including Tesla, Nissan and GM.

Biden vowed to create 1 million new jobs in the auto industry — including parts, supplies, electric vehicle charging and infrastructure.

The government’s vehicle fleet includes civilian, military and post office vehicles according to US publication, The Verge.

The move would have a massive impact on the emissions. In 2019 the US government used more than 1.4 billion litres of fuel as its fleet drove more than 7.2 billion km, according to the US General Service Administration.

Biden has vowed to build 550,000 electric vehicle charging stations to support the move to electric vehicles, according to Reuters.

The move by the US government to move its fleet to electric vehicles could have a world wide impact as it helps drive the production and take up of electric vehicles globally.

One of the biggest issues facing electric cars is the price, but production on such a large scale would help reduce the costs, making it easier for the average motorist to afford one.

Currently in Australia the cheapest electric car is the Chinese built MG ZS EV, which is priced at $43,990 drive-away and is at least $8000 cheaper than any EV on the market.

President Biden’s decision to move electric is coming at a critical time for the industry as many makers bring their first EVs to market.

Ford could be a big winner with electric versions of its Transit van and F-Series truck due in the coming years.

Japanese giant Toyota — which has a big manufacturing presence in the US — is also gearing up to release its first electric vehicle this year.

Hyundai Motor Group, which also includes Kia and luxury brand Genesis, is committing about $30b over the next decade to making electric cars in all shapes and sizes.

European manufacturers such as VW and Mercedes-Benz already have several vehicles in production thanks to Europe’s ever tightening emissions regulations.

There is also the US electric car start-up Rivian, which is expected to launch a zero-emission ute later this year. One of Rivian’s biggest investors is Amazon, which has a standing order for 100,000 electric delivery vans due to start production this year.

Oil Industry Reels as Biden Targets Fossil Fuels in First Days

Hours after taking office, President Joe Biden made good on a campaign promise to cancel the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Later that day his Interior Department mandated that only top agency leaders could approve new drilling permits over the next two months.

Next week, according to people familiar with the plans, Biden will go even further: suspending the sale of oil and gas leases on federal land, where the U.S. gets 10% of its supplies.

The actions sent oil producers’ stocks tumbling and raised blood pressure across the industry.

“In the first couple of days of the new administration, they are taking actions that will harm the economy and cost Americans their jobs,” said Frank Macchiarola, a senior vice president of policy for the American Petroleum Institute. “We’re concerned, and everyone in the country should be concerned.”

The Interior Department’s order, signed late Wednesday, changes procedures for 60 days while the agency’s new leadership gets into place. It requires top brass to sign off on oil leases and permits as well as decisions about hiring, mining operations and environmental reviews.

The industry took it as a bad omen. Officials are worried that technical permitting decisions are being placed in the hands of political appointees, rather than expert regulators in the field. And they’re concerned permits -- or simply changes to them -- will be delayed for existing drilling operations.

Moreover, many interpreted it as a prelude to broader actions, including the administration’s plan to next week impose a moratorium on all oil, gas and coal leasing across some 700 million acres (2.8 million hectares) of federal land.

This “announcement is intended as a temporary ban on leasing and permitting but is also a precursor to a longer-term ban,” said Kathleen Sgamma, head of the Western Energy Alliance, which has threatened to go to court to battle any such blockade.

While Biden’s campaign promises - and his initial moves to fulfill them - are a threat to some U.S. oil producers, the actions could be a boon for crude prices by restraining supply.

The administration’s early moves mark a dramatic shift from the course under former President Donald Trump, who sought to accelerate drilling permits and open up more places to oil exploration.

And the change in direction is already apparent in early staffing decisions. Under Trump, the top offshore drilling regulator at Interior was Scott Angelle, a longtime oil industry ally and former Louisiana official who pushed for rapid permitting of Gulf of Mexico oil projects after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

By contrast, one of Biden’s first hires at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that oversees offshore oil leasing and wind farms is Marissa Knodel, a former activist with Friends of the Earth. Knodel was one of about 150 people whose rowdy protest of a bureau auction of oil drilling rights in March 2016 prompted the agency to shift subsequent oil and gas lease sales online.

On the campaign trail, Biden called for phasing out fossil fuels and promised to halt new oil and gas permitting on federal land. Worried oil producers stockpiled leases and drilling permits last year in anticipation of more restrictions under Biden.

But the suddenness of this week’s moves still took many in the industry by surprise, prompting frantic phone calls as lobbyists and lawyers sought to plan their next moves. They are strategizing their options, including litigation, and looking at any political levers they can pull to forestall a broader leasing ban.

Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska, said permitting changes threaten operations in his state during the current winter season, when companies such as ConocoPhillips rely on ice roads and ice pads to support drilling and other activity in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

“If you put a 60-day moratorium on drilling in the NPR-A, guess what? You lose the whole season,” Sullivan said Friday on the Senate floor.

Environmentalists are delighted. They say throttling fossil fuel development on federal land is necessary to pare the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change. The oil, gas and coal extracted from federal lands and waters is responsible for about 24% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report.

“Pausing new fossil fuel decisions brings us closer to healthier communities, a healthier climate and healthier wild places,” said Dan Ritzman, director of Sierra Club’s Lands, Waters and Wildlife campaign. “Public lands can and must be part of the climate solution.”

Very Leftist State gets its just desserts

One of Joe Biden's first acts as president was to sign a 60-day moratorium on new oil and natural gas leases and drilling permits. It's one way the administration plans to tackle the "climate change crisis." But Americans are already feeling the negative effects of the decision.

New Mexico, one of the most productive oil and gas areas in the country, is worried about the moratorium. The natural energy industry's success impacts everything, down to education and government-funded programs.

Industry insiders have said this regulation means the entire regulatory process shuts down, including normal day-to-day activities "routine requests that arise during the normal course of business to requests for rights of way for new pipelines designed to gather more natural gas as part of efforts to reduce venting and flaring," the Associated Press reported.

The majority of New Mexico's production takes place on federal lands. Oil and gas companies pay hundreds of millions in royalties each year to frack. The concern with the new order, however, is that energy companies could move to Texas where there is no reliance on federal lands to obtain energy.

“I think we’re going to see companies choosing not to invest in New Mexico and take their jobs and drilling to Texas just 3 miles away,” New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce said. “They can just scoot across the border where they don’t have federal lands.”

Royalties collected from fracking in the state had a price tag of $2.3 million in 2020, up 48 percent over 2019. The natural energy industry is responsible for 100,000 direct and related jobs in New Mexico.

A study conducted by the University of Wyoming found that New Mexico would lose $207.7 billion in GDP over the next 20 years if the Biden administration's rule remains in effect. That would result in a loss of "36,217 jobs, $22.1 billion in GDP, $9.8 billion in wages and $6.3 billion in tax revenue" over the course of four years under Biden, the Fairfield Sun Times reported.

Interestingly enough, Biden carried the state by 10 percentage points. The state remains heavily Democratic despite the Democrats' repeated calls to end fracking, the state's biggest industry.




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