In the midst of a winter cold snap, a study from researchers in the United States and Greece reveals an overlooked side effect of economic crisis – dangerous air quality caused by burning cheaper fuel for warmth.
The researchers, led by Constantinos Sioutas of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, show that the concentration of fine air particles in one of Greece's economically hardest hit areas has risen 30 percent since the financial crisis began, leading to potential long-term health effects.
These fine particles – measuring less than 2.5 microns in diameter (approximately 1/30th the diameter of a human hair) – are especially dangerous because they can lodge deep into the tissue of lungs, according to the EPA.
"People need to stay warm, but face decreasing employment and rising fuel costs," explained Sioutas, senior author of the study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology and Fred Champion Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the USC Viterbi School. "The problem is economic hardship has compelled residents to burn low quality fuel, such as wood and waste materials, that pollutes the air."
Unemployment in Greece climbed above 27 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, heating oil prices have nearly tripled in Greece during the Greek financial crisis of the last few years – driven in part by a fuel tax hike. Cold Greeks, it would appear (according to the air quality), have turned to wood as a major fuel source.
In their study, the researchers collected air samples that supported anecdotal evidence of Greek residents burning of wood and trash for heating. Taken over two-month stretches in Winter 2012 and again in Winter 2013, the samples reveal a dramatic increase in airborne fine particles since the beginning of the economic crisis.
The concentration of these particles, which has been linked to increased risk for heart disease and respiratory problems, rose from 26 to 36 micrograms per square meter over the study period, the researchers found. The EPA standard in the United States is an average of 20 micrograms per square meter over a 24-hour period. Worse yet, the concentrations of carcinogenic organic compounds such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) increased five-fold during the study period, the researchers found.
The concentration of the particulates was highest in the evening, presumably when more people were burning fuel for warmth, the study found. An analysis of the air samples also showed a two-to-five-fold increase in the airborne concentrations of organic compounds such as levoglucosan, mannosan and galactosan, which indicate the burning of biomass. The presence of these compounds has been strongly correlated in past research to oxidative stress in human cells, which is linked to inflammation, aging and the development of age-related diseases.
"Wood's cheap, but it's having a major negative impact on air quality," Sioutas said. The authors recommend active involvement of public authorities and local agencies to implement effective air pollution control strategies. They suggest increasing natural gas distribution in residential areas as a practical long-term solution. Catalytic domestic wood burners and increasing the energy efficiency of existing buildings might be additional possible solutions, according to the report.
Sioutas collaborated with researchers from USC, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and the University of Wisconsin-Madison on the study. Arian Saffari, a Provost PhD fellow at the USC Viterbi School, is lead author of the study. The research was funded by the USC Provost, the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and the City of Thessaloniki Mayor's office.
Robert Perkins | EurekAlert!
Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide
Malaysia's unique freshwater mussels in danger
27.09.2016 | The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus
Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.
This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences
25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
25.10.2016 | Process Engineering