How does poor air quality from bushfire smoke affect our health?


Brian Oliver, University of Technology Sydney

New South Wales and Queensland are in the grip of a devastating bushfire emergency, which has tragically resulted in the loss of homes and lives.

But the smoke produced can affect many more people not immediately impacted by the fires – even people many kilometres from the fire. The smoke haze blanketing parts of NSW and Queensland has seen air quality indicators exceed national standards over recent days.

Studies have shown there is no safe level of air pollution, and as pollution levels increase, so too do the health risks. Air pollution caused nine million premature deaths globally in 2015. In many ways, airborne pollution is like cigarette smoking – causing respiratory disease, heart disease and stroke, lung infections, and even lung cancer.




Read more:
Firestorms and flaming tornadoes: how bushfires create their own ferocious weather systems


However, these are long-term studies looking at what happens over a person’s life with prolonged exposure to air pollution. With bushfire-related air pollution, air quality is reduced for relatively short periods.

But it’s still worth exercising caution if you live in an affected area, particularly if you have an existing health condition that might put you at higher risk.

Air quality standards

The exposure levels will vary widely from the site of the fire to 10 or 50 kilometres away from the source.

The national standard for clean air in Australia is less than 8 micrograms/m³ of ultrafine particles. This is among the lowest in the world, meaning the Australian government wants us to remain one of the least polluted countries there is.

8 micrograms/m³ refers to the weight of the particles in micrograms contained in one cubic meter of air. A typical grain of sand weighs 50 micrograms. When people talk about ultrafine particles the term PM, referring to particulate matter, is often used. The size of PM we worry the most about are the small particles of less than 2.5 micrometres which can penetrate deep into the lungs, called PM2.5.

People with pre-existing medical conditions are at highest risk.
From shutterstock.com

To put this in perspective, Randwick, a coastal suburb in Sydney which was more than 25km from any of the fires yesterday, had PM2.5 readings of around 40 micrograms/m³. Some suburbs which sit more inland had readings of around 50 micrograms/m³. Today, these levels have already reduced to around 20 micrograms/m³ across Sydney.

We’re seeing a similar effect in Queensland. Today’s PM2.5 readings at Cannon Hill, a suburb close to central Brisbane, are 21.5 micrograms/m³, compared with 4.7 micrograms/m³ one month ago.

A number of health alerts were issued for areas across NSW and Queensland earlier this week.

While these numbers may seem alarming compared to the 8 microgram/m³ threshold, the recent air pollution in India’s New Delhi caused by crop burning reached levels of 900 micrograms/m³. So what we’re experiencing here pales in comparison.

Bushfire smoke and our health

However, this doesn’t mean the levels in NSW and Queensland are without danger. Historically, when there are bushfires, emergency department presentations for respiratory and heart conditions increase, showing people with these conditions are most at risk of experiencing adverse health effects.

Preliminary analysis of emergency department data shows hospitals in the mid-north coast of NSW, where fires were at their worst, have had 68 presentations to emergency departments for asthma or breathing problems over the last week. This is almost double the usual number.




Read more:
After the firestorm: the health implications of returning to a bushfire zone


One study looked at the association between exposure to smoke events in Sydney and premature deaths, and found there was a 5% increase in mortality during bushfires from 1994 to 2007.

But it’s important to understand these deaths would have occurred in the people most vulnerable to the effects of smoke, such as people with pre-exsisiting lung and heart conditions, who tend to be older people.

For people who are otherwise healthy, the health risks are much lower.

But as the frequency of bushfires increases, many scientists in the field speculate these health effects may become more of a concern across the population.

How to protect yourself

If you’re in an affected area, it’s best to avoid smoke exposure where possible by staying indoors with the windows and doors closed and the air conditioner turned on.

If you are experiencing any unusual symptoms, such as shortness of breath or chest pain, or just do not feel well, you should speak to your health care professional and in an emergency, go to hospital.




Read more:
How rising temperatures affect our health


Once the fires have been put out, depending upon the region, local weather conditions and the size of the fire, air quality can return to healthy levels within a few days.

In extreme situations, it might take weeks or months to return to normal. But we are fortunate to be living in a country with good air quality most of the time.The Conversation

Brian Oliver, Research Leader in Respiratory cellular and molecular biology at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research and Senior Lecturer, School of Medical & Molecular Biosciences, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Our ability to manufacture minerals could transform the gem market, medical industries and even help suck carbon from the air



Pictured is a slag pile at Broken Hill in New South Wales. Slag is a man-made waste product created during smelting.
Anita Parbhakar-Fox, Author provided

Anita Parbhakar-Fox, The University of Queensland and Paul Gow, The University of Queensland

Last month, scientists uncovered a mineral called Edscottite. Minerals are solid, naturally occurring substances that are not living, such as quartz or haematite. This new mineral was discovered after an examination of the Wedderburn Meteorite, a metallic-looking rock found in Central Victoria back in 1951.

Edscottite is made of iron and carbon, and was likely formed within the core of another planet. It’s a “true” mineral, meaning one which is naturally occurring and formed by geological processes either on Earth or in outer-space.

But while the Wedderburn Meteorite held the first-known discovery of Edscottite, other new mineral discoveries have been made on Earth, of substances formed as a result of human activities such as mining and mineral processing. These are called anthropogenic minerals.

While true minerals comprise the majority of the approximately 5,200 known minerals, there are about 208 human-made minerals which have been approved as minerals by the International Mineralogical Association.

Some are made on purpose and others are by-products. Either way, the ability to manufacture minerals has vast implications for the future of our rapidly growing population.

Modern-day alchemy

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges we face. While governments debate the future of coal-burning power stations, carbon dioxide continues to be released into the atmosphere. We need innovative strategies to capture it.

Actively manufacturing minerals such as nesquehonite is one possible approach. It has applications in building and construction, and making it requires removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.




Read more:
Climate explained: why carbon dioxide has such outsized influence on Earth’s climate


Nesquehonite occurs naturally when magnesian rocks slowly break down. It has been identified at the Paddy’s River mine in the Australian Capital Territory and locations in New South Wales.

But scientists discovered it can also be made by passing carbon dioxide into an alkaline solution and having it react with magnesium chloride or sodium carbonate/bicarbonate.

This is a growing area of research.

Other synthetic minerals such as hydrotalcite are produced when asbestos tailings passively absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide, as discovered by scientists at the Woodsreef asbestos mine in New South Wales.

You could say this is a kind of “modern-day alchemy” which, if taken advantage of, could be an effective way to suck carbon dioxide from the air at a large scale.

Meeting society’s metal demands

Mining and mineral processing is designed to recover metals from ore, which is a natural occurrence of rock or sediment containing sufficient minerals with economically important elements. But through mining and mineral processing, new minerals can also be created.

Smelting is used to produce a range of commodities such as lead, zinc and copper, by heating ore to high temperatures to produce pure metals.

The process also produces a glass-like waste product called slag, which is deposited as molten liquid, resembling lava.

This is a backscattered electron microscope image of historical slag collected from a Rio Tinto mine in Spain.
Image collected by Anita Parbhakar-Fox at the University of Tasmania (UTAS)

Once cooled, the textural and mineralogical similarities between lava and slag are crystal-clear.

Micro-scale inspection shows human-made minerals in slag have a unique ability to accommodate metals into their crystal lattice that would not be possible in nature.

This means metal recovery from mine waste (a potential secondary resource) could be an effective way to supplement society’s growing metal demands. The challenge lies in developing processes which are cost effective.




Read more:
Wealth in waste? Using industrial leftovers to offset climate emissions


Ethically-sourced jewellery

Our increasing knowledge on how to manufacture minerals may also have a major impact on the growing synthetic gem manufacturing industry.

In 2010, the world was awestruck by the engagement ring given to Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, valued at about £300,000 (AUD$558,429).

The ring has a 12-carat blue sapphire, surrounded by 14 solitaire diamonds, with a setting made from 18-carat white gold.

Replicas of it have been acquired by people across the globe, but for only a fraction of the price. How?

In 1837, Marc Antoine Gardin demonstrated that sapphires (mineralogically known as corundum or aluminium oxide) can be replicated by reacting metals with other substances such as chromium or boric acid. This produces a range of seemingly identical coloured stones.

On close examination, some properties may vary such as the presence of flaws and air bubbles and the stone’s hardness. But only a gemologist or gem enthusiast would likely notice this.

Diamonds can also be synthetically made, through either a high pressure, high temperature, or chemical vapour deposition process.

Synthetic diamonds have essentially the same chemical composition, crystal structure and physical properties as natural diamonds.
Instytut Fizyki Uniwersytet Kazimierza Wielkiego

Creating synthetic gems is increasingly important as natural stones are becoming more difficult and expensive to source. In some countries, the rights of miners are also violated and this poses ethical concerns.

Medical and industrial applications

Synthetic gems have industrial applications too. They can be used in window manufacturing, semi-conducting circuits and cutting tools.

One example of an entirely manufactured mineral is something called yttrium aluminum garnet (or YAG) which can be used as a laser.

In medicine, these lasers are used to correct glaucoma. In dental surgery, they allow soft gum and tissues to be cut away.

The move to develop new minerals will also support technologies enabling deep space exploration through the creation of ‘quantum materials’.

Quantum materials have unique properties and will help us create a new generation of electronic products, which could have a significant impact on space travel technologies. Maybe this will allow us to one day visit the birthplace of Edscottite?




Read more:
How quantum materials may soon make Star Trek technology reality


In decades to come, the number of human-made minerals is set to increase. And as it does, so too does the opportunity to find new uses for them.

By expanding our ability to manufacture minerals, we could reduce pressure on existing resources and find new ways to tackle global challenges.The Conversation

Anita Parbhakar-Fox, Senior Research Fellow in Geometallurgy/Applied Geochemistry, The University of Queensland and Paul Gow, Principal Research Fellow, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia to send naval and air assistance to protect Middle East sea lanes: Morrison


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Australia will commit a frigate, an aircraft and some headquarters staff to an American-led freedom of navigation operation in the Middle East.

Scott Morrison, announcing the long-expected commitment at a Canberra news conference on Wednesday, stressed this was an international mission, but so far the United Kingdom is the only other country to have signed up.

Under questioning, the Chief of the Australian Defence Force, General Angus Campbell, said the operation would be United States-led. But Campbell avoided spelling out in detail the rules of engagement in the event of being involved in an incident, other than referring to legal obligations.

Iran has seized ships in recent months, amid escalating tensions.

This week, an Iranian oil tanker was released after being detained by the British overseas territory of Gibraltar on suspicion of taking oil to Syria. The US tried unsuccessfully to have Gibraltar extend the vessel’s detention.

Morrison said Australia had made very clear both to the US and the UK “that we are here as part of a multinational effort”.

“This is a modest, meaningful and time-limited contribution …to this international effort to ensure we maintain free-flow of commerce and of navigation,” he said.

“Australia will defend our interests, wherever they may be under threat, we will always work closely with our international allies and partners.”




Read more:
Morrison looking at details for commitment to protect shipping


Morrison emphasised that the safety of shipping lanes was vital to Australia’s economic interests.

The government had been concerned over incidents in the Strait of Hormuz, he said. “30% of refined oil destined for Australia travels through the Strait. It is a threat to our economy.”

The Australian contribution will be

  • a P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft for one month before the end of 2019;

  • an Australian frigate in January 2020 for six months; and

  • ADF personnel to the International Maritime Security Construct headquarters in Bahrain.

One complication for Australia in finalising the commitment was the fact there was no Australian frigate in the area, with the next deployment not due until January.

Australian ships participate in counter-piracy and counter-terrorism operations in the Middle East.

The Americans were very pressing in their request to Australia to join the force, including in public statements during the recent AUSMIN talks.

Morrison has emphasised Australia wants to see the de-escalation of tensions in the area and separates its commitment to the freedom of navigation operation from America’s other activities in relation to Iran.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

China: The J-20 Fighter


The link below is to an article reporting on China’s J-20 Fighter, which marks an interesting development for air defence throughout the world.

For more visit:
https://medium.com/editors-picks/e7dd4741d89f

Australia: Defence – The F-35


The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is central to Australia’s air defence plans for the years ahead, however, the continuing delays are causing major issues for Australia’s current defence needs. The link below is to an article that examines the F-35 development program in some detail.

For more visit:
http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-0612-fighter-jet-testing-20130612-dto,0,4701367.htmlstory

Syria: Israel Attacks Weapons Convoy Bound for Hezbollah


The link below is to an article reporting on the latest news concerning Israeli air strikes against a weapons convoy in Syria bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/04/israel-syria-weapons-lebanon

Latest Persecution News – 31 March 2012


Lao Officials Arrest Five Christians in Southern Village

The following article reports on the latest persecution against Christians in Laos – this time for leading a religious movement without approval.

http://www.compassdirect.org/english/country/laos/article_1463400.html

 

Briefs: Recent Incidents of Persecution in India

The following article reports on the latest incidents of persecution in India.

http://www.compassdirect.org/english/country/india/article_1488858.html

 

Sudan’s Aerial Bombing Aims at Churches in Nuba Mountains

The following article reports on Sudanese air strikes aimed at churches in South Kordofan state.

http://www.compassdirect.org/english/country/sudan/article_1489959.html

 

The articles linked to above are by Compass Direct News and  relate to persecution of Christians around the world. Please keep in mind that the definition of ‘Christian’ used by Compass Direct News is inclusive of some that would not be included in a definition of Christian that I would use or would be used by other Reformed Christians. The articles do however present an
indication of persecution being faced by Christians around the world.