Science News

Here’s how pollution from coal-fired power plants can clog lungs

A new experiment conducted by a professor at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine confirms that burning coal can cause serious lung damage. Specifically, the researchers conducted experiments on mice by exposing them to ashes or fumes of burnt coal.

Irving Coy Allen, along with colleagues from various other American institutes and a university in Shanghai, has discovered that very small titanium oxide particles can prove highly toxic. These particles would be present in the ash and smoke of burnt coal. Lung damage to mice also occurred after a single exposure while long-term damage occurred in just six weeks of exposure.

Current coal-fired plants have very complex filters to avoid most of the emissions of nanoparticles into the atmosphere following the combustion of coal. However, when these filters are not present or not efficient, these particles can expand into the air and easily enter the lungs.

Especially the smallest particles, known as titanium suboxide nanoparticles, are of most concern to scientists. These are very small particles, which reach a diameter of 100 millionths of a meter. Once they enter the lungs, they come across macrophages, the defensive cells that are supposed to counteract foreign particles.

Against these particles, so small, macrophages go into difficulty. They cannot decompose them and begin to die, a process leading to increased recruitment of macrophages.

It is a “surprising discovery,” as Allen himself defines it, and a phenomenon that occurs after only one exposure. And even after long periods of time, these buildups remain in the lungs. This phenomenon, of course, raises concerns about urban pollution produced by coal-fired power plants.

Science News

Discrimination of children and adolescents linked to their mothers poor health

When a child suffers discrimination, the mother can suffer harm not only on a psychological level but also on a health level. Indeed, a new study analyzes the link that exists between unfair social treatment by young adults and the decline in the health of their mothers during middle age.

“Our study suggests that when a child experiences discrimination, these cases of unfair treatment are likely to harm the health of the mother as well as their own,” says Cynthia Colen, a sociology professor at Ohio State University and lead author.

This is the first study that finds a link in the “opposite” direction between discrimination and unfair treatment of children and young people and the health of their mothers. Previously, links had been found between unfair treatment of pregnant women and the health of their children.

To carry out the study, the results of which were published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, the researchers analyzed two generations of families using data from a survey started in 1979 that followed the subjects for more than forty years. The database consisted of data concerning 3,004 mothers and 6,562 children.

Discrimination levels and unfair treatment were assessed through responses to specific surveys while mothers’ health was self-assessed. All mothers were between 40 and 50 years old. The researchers also discovered racial disparities in the results: African American adolescents and young adults reported most of the experiences of discrimination and 31% of black mothers reported having poor health compared to 17% of white mothers and 26% of mothers Hispanic.

“We now know that these negative health effects are not limited to the person experiencing firsthand discrimination – instead they are intergenerational and will likely contribute to racial health disparities which means that black people can expect to die younger and live a lesser life,” reports Colen.

Science News

Study explains why during ice ages there was less carbon dioxide in the air

Scientists have long since discovered that during the ice ages on Earth the carbon dioxide contained in the atmosphere was regularly lower, by about a third, compared to the warmer phases. There is no complete explanation about this effect and various theories have been created over time to explain their causes.

One of the most popular theories goes back to the oceans: during the cold ages and the ice ages, the seas cooled, more or less at the same rate (their temperature decreased by approximately 2.5 °C) and this caused a greater release of carbon dioxide in the air since the water, when it is colder, shows a greater degree of solubility of the CO2.

However, the models that refer to this theory show that the cooling of the seas was responsible for only a few percentage points with respect to the reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The mystery seems to have been solved by a new study published in Science Advances.

According to Andreas Schmittner, climatologist of the State University of Oregon, in reality the oceans, during the ice ages, would have cooled to a level much higher than previously theorized. The cooling of the water was such that it represented at least 50% of the causes that led to the decrease of CO 2 in the air.

Another third is represented by the increase in iron-laden dust in the seas, which led to an increase in the presence of phytoplankton which absorbed more carbon making it deposit on the seabed.
The seas increased the presence of iron as this, in the form of very fine dust, came from the continents and from the increase in ice in various regions of the world which in turn caused the release of iron from rocks and soil.

Adding together the two factors relating to the seas (cooling and increase in iron dust), we therefore explained, according to this study, at least three-quarters of the causes that led to the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere.