Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: Environmental pollution (Barking, Essex : 1987)


This paper investigates the correlation between the high level of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome CoronaVirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) lethality and the atmospheric pollution in Northern Italy. Indeed, Lombardy and Emilia Romagna are Italian regions with both the highest level of virus lethality in the world and one of Europe’s most polluted area. Based on this correlation, this paper analyzes the possible link between pollution and the development of acute respiratory distress syndrome and eventually death. We provide evidence that people living in an area with high levels of pollutant are more prone to develop chronic respiratory conditions and suitable to any infective agent. Moreover, a prolonged exposure to air pollution leads to a chronic inflammatory stimulus, even in young and healthy subjects. We conclude that the high level of pollution in Northern Italy should be considered an additional co-factor of the high level of lethality recorded in that area.


Microplastics are highly bioavailable to marine organisms, either through direct ingestion, or indirectly by trophic transfer from contaminated prey. The latter has been observed for low-trophic level organisms in laboratory conditions, yet empirical evidence in high trophic-level taxa is lacking. In natura studies face difficulties when dealing with contamination and differentiating between directly and indirectly ingested microplastics. The ethical constraints of subjecting large organisms, such as marine mammals, to laboratory investigations hinder the resolution of these limitations. Here, these issues were resolved by analysing sub-samples of scat from captive grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) and whole digestive tracts of the wild-caught Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus) they are fed upon. An enzymatic digestion protocol was employed to remove excess organic material and facilitate visual detection of synthetic particles without damaging them. Polymer type was confirmed using Fourier-Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy. Extensive contamination control measures were implemented throughout. Approximately half of scat subsamples (48%; n = 15) and a third of fish (32%; n = 10) contained 1-4 microplastics. Particles were mainly black, clear, red and blue in colour. Mean lengths were 1.5 mm and 2 mm in scats and fish respectively. Ethylene propylene was the most frequently detected polymer type in both. Our findings suggest trophic transfer represents an indirect, yet potentially major, pathway of microplastic ingestion for any species whose feeding ecology involves the consumption of whole prey, including humans.

Concepts: Digestive system, Digestion, Apex predator, Pinniped, Gray Seal, Scombridae, Atlantic mackerel, Mackerel


Temporal trends of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) measured in Arctic air are essential in understanding long-range transport to remote regions and to evaluate the effectiveness of national and international chemical control initiatives, such as the Stockholm Convention (SC) on POPs. Long-term air monitoring of POPs is conducted under the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) at four Arctic stations: Alert, Canada; Stórhöfði, Iceland; Zeppelin, Svalbard; and Pallas, Finland, since the 1990s using high volume air samplers. Temporal trends observed for POPs in Arctic air are summarized in this study. Most POPs listed for control under the SC, e.g. polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethanes (DDTs) and chlordanes, are declining slowly in Arctic air, reflecting the reduction of primary emissions during the last two decades and increasing importance of secondary emissions. Slow declining trends also signifies their persistence and slow degradation under the Arctic environment, such that they are still detectable after being banned for decades in many countries. Some POPs, e.g. hexachlorobenzene (HCB) and lighter PCBs, showed increasing trends at specific locations, which may be attributable to warming in the region and continued primary emissions at source. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) do not decline in air at Canada’s Alert station but are declining in European Arctic air, which may be due to influence of local sources at Alert and the much higher historical usage of PBDEs in North America. Arctic air samples are screened for chemicals of emerging concern to provide information regarding their environmental persistence (P) and long-range transport potential (LRTP), which are important criteria for classification as a POP under SC. The AMAP network provides consistent and comparable air monitoring data of POPs for trend development and acts as a bridge between national monitoring programs and SC’s Global Monitoring Plan (GMP).

Concepts: Canada, Norway, Persistent organic pollutant, Arctic Ocean, Polychlorinated biphenyl, Persistent organic pollutants, Biphenyl, Polychlorinated dibenzodioxins


The blowout of the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) drilling rig in 2010 released an unprecedented amount of oil at depth (1,500 m) into the Gulf of Mexico (GoM). Sedimentary geochemical data from an extensive area (∼194,000 km(2)) was used to characterize the amount, chemical signature, distribution, and extent of the DWH oil deposited on the seafloor in 2010-2011 from coastal to deep-sea areas in the GoM. The analysis of numerous hydrocarbon compounds (N = 158) and sediment cores (N = 2,613) suggests that, 1.9 ± 0.9 × 10(4) metric tons of hydrocarbons (>C9 saturated and aromatic fractions) were deposited in 56% of the studied area, containing 21± 10% (up to 47%) of the total amount of oil discharged and not recovered from the DWH spill. Examination of the spatial trends and chemical diagnostic ratios indicate large deposition of weathered DWH oil in coastal and deep-sea areas and negligible deposition on the continental shelf (behaving as a transition zone in the northern GoM). The large-scale analysis of deposited hydrocarbons following the DWH spill helps understanding the possible long-term fate of the released oil in 2010, including sedimentary transformation processes, redistribution of deposited hydrocarbons, and persistence in the environment as recycled petrocarbon.

Concepts: Petroleum, Sedimentary rock, Atlantic Ocean, Hydrocarbon, Aromatic hydrocarbon, Mexico, Gulf of Mexico, Tonne


Microplastic debris is ubiquitous and yet sampling, classifying and enumerating this prolific pollutant in marine waters has proven challenging. Typically, waterborne microplastic sampling is undertaken using nets with a 333 μm mesh, which cannot account for smaller debris. In this study, we provide an estimate of the extent to which microplastic concentrations are underestimated with traditional sampling. Our efforts focus on coastal waters, where microplastics are predicted to have the greatest influence on marine life, on both sides of the North Atlantic Ocean. Microplastic debris was collected via surface trawls using 100, 333 and 500 μm nets. Our findings show that sampling using nets with a 100 μm mesh resulted in the collection of 2.5-fold and 10-fold greater microplastic concentrations compared with using 333 and 500 μm meshes respectively (P < 0.01). Based on the relationship between microplastic concentrations identified and extrapolation of our data using a power law, we estimate that microplastic concentrations could exceed 3700 microplastics m-3 if a net with a 1 μm mesh size is used. We further identified that use of finer nets resulted in the collection of significantly thinner and shorter microplastic fibres (P < 0.05). These results elucidate that estimates of marine microplastic concentrations could currently be underestimated.


After the initial outbreak in China, the diffusion in Italy of SARS-CoV-2 is exhibiting a clear regional trend with more elevated frequency and severity of cases in Northern areas. Among multiple factors possibly involved in such geographical differences, a role has been hypothesized for atmospheric pollution. We provide additional evidence on the possible influence of air quality, particularly in terms of chronicity of exposure on the spread viral infection in Italian regions. Actual data on Covid-19 outbreak in Italian provinces and corresponding long-term air quality evaluations, were obtained from Italian and European agencies, elaborated and tested for possible interactions. Our elaborations reveal that, beside concentrations, the chronicity of exposure may influence the anomalous variability of SARS-CoV-2 in Italy. Data on distribution of atmospheric pollutants (NO2, O3, PM2.5 and PM10) in Italian regions during the last 4 years, days exceeding regulatory limits, and years of the last decade (2010-2019) in which the limits have been exceeded for at least 35 days, highlight that Northern Italy has been constantly exposed to chronic air pollution. Long-term air-quality data significantly correlated with cases of Covid-19 in up to 71 Italian provinces (updated April 27, 2020) providing further evidence that chronic exposure to atmospheric contamination may represent a favourable context for the spread of the virus. Pro-inflammatory responses and high incidence of respiratory and cardiac affections are well known, while the capability of this coronavirus to bind particulate matters remains to be established. Atmospheric and environmental pollution should be considered as part of an integrated approach for sustainable development, human health protection and prevention of epidemic spreads but in a long-term and chronic perspective, since adoption of mitigation actions during a viral outbreak could be of limited utility.


In the context of Coronavirus Disease (2019) (COVID-19) cases globally, there is a lack of consensus across cultures on whether wearing face masks is an effective physical intervention against disease transmission. This study 1) illustrates transmission routes of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2); 2) addresses controversies surrounding the mask from perspectives of attitude, effectiveness, and necessity of wearing the mask with evidence that the use of mask would effectively interrupt the transmission of infectious diseases in both hospital settings and community settings; and 3) provides suggestion that the public should wear the mask during COVID-19 pandemic according to local context. To achieve this goal, government should establish a risk adjusted strategy of mask use to scientifically publicize the use of masks, guarantee sufficient supply of masks, and cooperate for reducing health resources inequities.


In December 2019, a novel disease, coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19), emerged in Wuhan, People’s Republic of China. COVID-19 is caused by a novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) presumed to have jumped species from another mammal to humans. This virus has caused a rapidly spreading global pandemic. To date, over 300,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in England and over 40,000 patients have died. While progress has been achieved in managing this disease, the factors in addition to age that affect the severity and mortality of COVID-19 have not been clearly identified. Recent studies of COVID-19 in several countries identified links between air pollution and death rates. Here, we explored potential links between major fossil fuel-related air pollutants and SARS-CoV-2 mortality in England. We compared current SARS-CoV-2 cases and deaths from public databases to both regional and subregional air pollution data monitored at multiple sites across England. After controlling for population density, age and median income, we show positive relationships between air pollutant concentrations, particularly nitrogen oxides, and COVID-19 mortality and infectivity. Using detailed UK Biobank data, we further show that PM2.5 was a major contributor to COVID-19 cases in England, as an increase of 1 m3 in the long-term average of PM2.5 was associated with a 12% increase in COVID-19 cases. The relationship between air pollution and COVID-19 withstands variations in the temporal scale of assessments (single-year vs 5-year average) and remains significant after adjusting for socioeconomic, demographic and health-related variables. We conclude that a small increase in air pollution leads to a large increase in the COVID-19 infectivity and mortality rate in England. This study provides a framework to guide both health and emissions policies in countries affected by this pandemic.


We measured size-resolved PNCs in the 5-560 nm range at two different types (4- and 3-way) of TIs in Guildford (Surrey, UK) at fixed sites (∼1.5 m above the road level), sequentially at 4 different heights (1, 1.5, 2.5 and 4.7 m), and along the road at five different distances (10, 20, 30, 45 and 60 m). The aims were to: (i) assess the differences in PNCs measured at studied TIs, (ii) identify the best fit probability distribution curves for the PNCs, (iii) determine vertical and horizontal decay profiles of PNCs, (iv) estimate particle number emission factors (PNEFs) under congested and free-flow traffic conditions, and (v) quantify the pedestrian exposure in terms of respiratory deposition dose (RDD) rates at the TIs. Daily averaged particle number distributions at TIs reflected the effect of fresh emissions with peaks at 5.6, 10 and 56 nm. Despite the relatively high traffic volume at 3-way TI, average PNCs at 4-way TI were about twice as high as at 3-way TI, indicating less favourable dispersion conditions. Generalised extreme value distribution fitted well to PNC data at both TIs. Vertical PNC profiles followed an exponential decay, which was much sharper at 4-way TI than at 3-way TI, suggesting ∼40% less exposure for people at first floor (4.7 m) to those at ground floor around 4-way TI. Vertical profiles indicated much sharper (∼132-times larger) decay than in horizontal direction, due to close vicinity of road vehicles during the along-road measurements. Over an order of magnitude higher PNEFs were found during congested, compared with free-flow, conditions due to frequent changes in traffic speed. Average RDD rate at 4-way TI during congested conditions were up to 14-times higher than those at 3-way TI (0.4 × 10(11) h(-1)). Findings of this study are a step forward to understand exposure at and around the TIs.

Concepts: Measurement, Radioactive decay, Traffic, Debut albums, Building, Storey, Floor, Thirteenth floor


Paris and London are Europe’s two megacities and both experience poor air quality with systemic breaches of the NO2 limit value. Policy initiatives have been taken to address this: some European-wide (e.g. Euro emission standards); others local (e.g. Low Emission Zone, LEZ). Trends in NOX, NO2 and particulate matter (PM10, PM2.5) for 2005-2016 in background and roadside locations; and trends in traffic increments were calculated in both cities to address their impact. Trends in traffic counts and the distribution in Euro standards for diesel vehicles were also evaluated. Linear-mixed effect models were built to determine the main determinants of traffic concentrations. There was an overall increase in roadside NO2 in 2005-2009 in both cities followed by a decrease of ∼5% year-1 from 2010. Downward trends were associated with the introduction of Euro V heavy vehicles. Despite NO2 decreasing, at current rates, roads will need 20 (Paris) and 193 years (London) to achieve the European Limit Value (40 μg m-3 annual mean). Euro 5 light diesel vehicles were associated with the decrease in roadside PM10. An increase in motorcycles in London since 2010 contributed to the lack of significant trend in PM2.5 roadside increment in 2010-16.