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Barcelona Could Cut Deaths from Air Pollution and Improve Quality of Life by Implementing in Full Plan

A study by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), published in the journal Environment International, found the city of Barcelona

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Barcelona, Deaths, Air Pollution
FILE - Pollution and clouds are seen over the sky of Barcelona, Spain, July 25, 2019. VOA

Barcelona could cut deaths from air pollution and improve quality of life by implementing in full a plan to calm traffic and free up space for residents, researchers said Monday.

The compact Spanish city is home to more than 1.6 million people and is plagued by contaminants and noise largely due to heavy density of traffic, as well as lack of greenery.

A study by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), published in the journal Environment International, found the city of Barcelona could prevent 667 premature deaths every year if it created 503 “superblocks” as first proposed.

The superblocks — which keep cars out of designated areas in the city and develop public space in streets — have been complex to roll out, with only six put in place so far.

Barcelona, Deaths, Air Pollution
Barcelona could cut deaths from air pollution and improve quality of life by implementing in full a plan to calm traffic and free up space for residents. Pixabay

“What we want to show with this study is that we have to go back and put the citizen at the center of … urban plans, because the health impacts are quite considerable,” said lead author and ISGlobal researcher Natalie Mueller.

As a city with the highest traffic density in Europe, Barcelona also needed to make it easier for people to commute in from the wider metropolitan area by public transport, she added.

The projected reduction in deaths from the superblocks plan would be achieved mainly as a result of a 24% decrease in air pollution from nitrogen oxide (NO2), along with lower traffic noise and urban heat, the study said.

Data released Friday from the Barcelona Public Health Agency showed air pollution accounted for 351 premature deaths in the city in 2018, around the same as in 2017.

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Motor vehicles generated the main pollutant, with almost half the city’s population regularly exposed to NO2 levels above the safe limit set by the World Health Organization, the city council said.

From January 2020, Barcelona will implement low-emission zones on weekdays, keeping 125,000 vehicles out of the city.

The city council will also declare a climate emergency including a package of urgent measures to cut down on private vehicle use and boost public transport, among other actions.

It has already extended cycle paths and upgraded its shared bike scheme, while shrinking on-street parking.

 

Barcelona, Deaths, Air Pollution

The compact Spanish city is home to more than 1.6 million people and is plagued by contaminants and noise largely due to heavy density of traffic, as well as lack of greenery. Pixabay

‘Courage’ needed

Barcelona City Hall told the Thomson Reuters Foundation it aimed to start drafting plans for three new superblocks shortly, as well as launching public consultations for others.

The ISGlobal study found that, besides reducing deaths, a full roll-out of the superblocks project would increase life expectancy by almost 200 days on average per inhabitant, and generate an annual economic saving of 1.7 billion euros ($1.9 billion).

The superblocks have sparked opposition in some local areas, notably among small traders who fear they could deter customers.

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But Mueller said the concept was similar to banning smoking in bars and restaurants, which was initially unpopular but quickly accepted once people realized the benefits.

“Even if they don’t see it in the beginning, often in the end they are quite happy,” she said, noting the need for “courage” in public policy making. (VOA)

Next Story

Air Pollution, Stress Associated with Thought Problems in Kids: Researchers

Stress likely leads to wide-ranging changes in, for example, epigenetic expression, cortisol, inflammation, and brain structure and function

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Pollution, pollutants, India, air pollution, WHO, diwali
Delhi air quality continues to be 'very poor'. VOA

Parents, please take note. Researchers have revealed that kids with elevated exposure to early life stress in the home and increased prenatal exposure to air pollution exhibited heightened symptoms of attention and thought problems.

Early life stress is common in youth from disadvantaged backgrounds who also often live in areas with greater exposure to air pollution, according to the study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

“Prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a neurotoxicant common in air pollution, seems to magnify or sustain the effects of early life social and economic stress on mental health in children,” said study first author David Pagliaccio from Columbia University in the US.

“Air pollutants are common in our environment, particularly in cities, and given socioeconomic inequities and environmental injustice, children growing up in disadvantaged circumstances are more likely to experience both life stress and exposure to neurotoxic chemicals,” said senior author Amy Margolis.

Air pollution has negative effects on physical health, and recent work has begun to also show the effects on mental health. Life stress, particularly in early life, is one of the best-known contributors to mental health problems.

This new study examined the combined effects of air pollution and early life stress on school-age children.

According to the researchers data were collected from the CCCEH Mothers and Newborns longitudinal birth cohort study in Northern Manhattan and the Bronx, which includes many participants who self-identify as African American or Dominican.

Mothers wore an air monitoring backpack during the third trimester of pregnancy to measure exposure to air pollutants in their daily lives.

Stress
Stress is increasingly becoming a dreaded phenomenon. Lifetime Stock

When their children were 5 years old, mothers reported on stress in their lives, including neighbourhood quality, material hardship, intimate partner violence, perceived stress, lack of social support, and general distress levels.

Mothers then reported on their child’s psychiatric symptoms at ages 5, 7, 9 and 11.

The combined effect of air pollution and early life stress was seen across several measures of thought and attention problems/ADHD at the age 11.

The effects were also linked to PAH-DNA adducts–a dose-sensitive marker of air pollution exposure.

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The researchers said that PAH and early life stress may serve as a “double hit” on shared biological pathways connected to attention and thought problems.

Stress likely leads to wide-ranging changes in, for example, epigenetic expression, cortisol, inflammation, and brain structure and function.

The mechanism underlying the effects of PAH is still being interrogated; however, alterations in brain structure and function represent possible shared mechanistic pathways, the study said. (IANS)