SEGH Articles

BREATH Study: Air pollution & COPD within Semi-rural Areas

08 May 2019
Carly Woods, a PhD student at the University of the West of Scotland (UWS), tells us about The Border and Regions Airways Training Hub (BREATH)

The Border and Regions Airways Training Hub (BREATH) was initiated with a €7.7m grant from the European Union INTERREG VA Programme.  This consortium was formed as a collaboration between three research centres; the University of the West of Scotland (UWS), Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT) and Queen’s University Belfast (QUB).  Together, the members of the partnership are dedicated to the investigation of COPD pathogenesis, improvement of public awareness and ultimately alleviation of disease burden.

COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) is an umbrella term used to encompass two distinct, often concurring pulmonary disorders; emphysema and chronic bronchitis.  Emphysema develops as a result of deterioration of the alveolar walls within the lung parenchyma, thereby reducing surface area and disrupting gas exchange at the air-blood interface. Chronic bronchitis occurs when inflammation and mucus hypersecretion contribute to bronchi airway narrowing; together, these disorders manifest via symptoms such as breathlessness, wheezing, and productive cough.  Although distinct, these conditions are often categorised together as they share a common primary cause: exposure to noxious particles such as those which comprise cigarette smoke and ambient air pollution. 

Within parts of Scotland and Ireland, the prevalence of COPD is particularly high (e.g. in South West Scotland where death due to COPD is up to 1.68 fold higher than the national average); current estimations suggest that ~20% of cases of this non-communicable disease are not smoking related.  Furthermore, within the UK, elevated ambient pollution levels have been observed to correspond with rates of morbidity and mortality of COPD sufferers. For these reasons, the relationship between the incidence of COPD and fluctuation in air quality is of particular interest, with numerous epidemiological studies already confirming an association in countries such as Taiwan, China and the US. 

Carly Woods setting up an air quality monitor

Carly Woods setting up an air quality monitor

A key BREATH project is focused on the association between airborne xenobiotics and COPD, primarily within semi-rural areas (Ayrshire and Dumfries & Galloway); specifically particulate matter (PM10 & PM2.5) and gaseous pollutants (NO2 & O3). The identified regions have not been declared as Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) but have insufficient monitoring to allow an accurate understanding of air quality dynamics to underpin this investigation.  A network of low-cost air quality monitors will be deployed within these regions to assess air quality based on a number of parameters with samples of PM characterised on the basis of main chemical indicators. UWS PhD student Carly Woods (pictured) is undertaking targeted field observations to follow up on this aspect.  In particular metal ratios in PM will be used to understand PM source apportionment. Based on field observations, PM and gaseous pollutants will be applied to in vitro models. Subsequent analysis of exposure effects of concomitant and singular xenobiotics will allow determination of the propensity of regional tropospheric particles and gases to induce or exacerbate COPD, and also help to identify the most deleterious components.

Initial stage data from this project will be presented at the 35th Society for Environmental Geochemistry and Health International Conference at Manchester Metropolitan University in July 2019. Contact Dr Iain McLellan (iain.mclellan@uws.ac.uk) for further details.

Keep up to date

Submit Content

Members can keep in touch with their colleagues through short news and events articles of interest to the SEGH community.

Science in the News

Latest on-line papers from the SEGH journal: Environmental Geochemistry and Health

  • Review: mine tailings in an African tropical environment—mechanisms for the bioavailability of heavy metals in soils 2019-05-27

    Abstract

    Heavy metals are of environmental significance due to their effect on human health and the ecosystem. One of the major exposure pathways of Heavy metals for humans is through food crops. It is postulated in the literature that when crops are grown in soils which have excessive concentrations of heavy metals, they may absorb elevated levels of these elements thereby endangering consumers. However, due to land scarcity, especially in urban areas of Africa, potentially contaminated land around industrial dumps such as tailings is cultivated with food crops. The lack of regulation for land-usage on or near to mine tailings has not helped this situation. Moreover, most countries in tropical Africa have not defined guideline values for heavy metals in soils for various land uses, and even where such limits exist, they are based on total soil concentrations. However, the risk of uptake of heavy metals by crops or any soil organisms is determined by the bioavailable portion and not the total soil concentration. Therefore, defining bioavailable levels of heavy metals becomes very important in HM risk assessment, but methods used must be specific for particular soil types depending on the dominant sorption phases. Geochemical speciation modelling has proved to be a valuable tool in risk assessment of heavy metal-contaminated soils. Among the notable ones is WHAM (Windermere Humic Aqueous Model). But just like most other geochemical models, it was developed and adapted on temperate soils, and because major controlling variables in soils such as SOM, temperature, redox potential and mineralogy differ between temperate and tropical soils, its predictions on tropical soils may be poor. Validation and adaptation of such models for tropical soils are thus imperative before such they can be used. The latest versions (VI and VII) of WHAM are among the few that consider binding to all major binding phases. WHAM VI and VII are assemblages of three sub-models which describe binding to organic matter, (hydr)oxides of Fe, Al and Mn and clays. They predict free ion concentration, total dissolved ion concentration and organic and inorganic metal ion complexes, in soils, which are all important components for bioavailability and leaching to groundwater ways. Both WHAM VI and VII have been applied in a good number of soils studies with reported promising results. However, all these studies have been on temperate soils and have not been tried on any typical tropical soils. Nonetheless, since WHAM VII considers binding to all major binding phases, including those which are dominant in tropical soils, it would be a valuable tool in risk assessment of heavy metals in tropical soils. A discussion of the contamination of soils with heavy metals, their subsequent bioavailability to crops that are grown in these soils and the methods used to determine various bioavailable phases of heavy metals are presented in this review, with an emphasis on prospective modelling techniques for tropical soils.

  • Pesticides in the typical agricultural groundwater in Songnen plain, northeast China: occurrence, spatial distribution and health risks 2019-05-25

    Abstract

    Songnen plain is an important commodity grain base of China, and this is the first study on the comprehensive detection of multiple pesticides in groundwater. Based on an analytical method of 56 pesticides, 30 groundwater samples were collected and analyzed. At least 4 pesticides were detected in each sample and 32 out of 56 pesticides were detected. The average detected levels of individual pesticides were approximately 10–100 ng/L. Organophosphorus pesticides and carbamate pesticides were the dominant pesticides, and their percentage of total pesticide concentrations were 35.9% and 55.5%, respectively. Based on the spatial distribution, the characteristic of nonpoint source pollution was indicated in the whole study area except for a point source pollution with the influence of a sewage oxidation pond. Nine core pesticides and three distinct clusters of the core pesticides with various concentration patterns were revealed by cluster analysis. Linear regression identified a significant relationship between the cumulative detections and the cumulative concentrations, providing access to identify the outlying contaminant events that deviate substantially from the linear trend. A new insight for prediction of pesticide occurrence was provided by the Pearson correlation between some individual pesticide concentrations and the cumulative detections or the cumulative concentrations. According to health risk assessment, the residual pesticides posed medium risks for children and infants and approximately 90% of risks were composed of β-HCH, dimethoate, ethyl-p-nitrophenyl phenylphosphonothioate and methyl parathion. These findings contributed to establishing a database for future monitoring and control of pesticides in agricultural areas.

  • Correction to: Potential CO 2 intrusion in near-surface environments: a review of current research approaches to geochemical processes 2019-05-22

    In the original publication of the article, the third author name has been misspelt. The correct name is given in this correction. The original version of this article was revised.