Environment & Space

Air pollution can lead to lung cancer. The connection suggests new ways to stop cancer in its tracks.

Researchers at Francis Crick Institute found that air pollution can "wake up" existing mutations, triggering them to turn into lung cancer. The scientists used their new understanding about this connection to prevent cancer in mice.

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Forget taking a deep breath. Around the world, 99 percent of people breathe air polluted to unsafe levels, according to data from the World Health Organization. Activities such as burning fossil fuels release greenhouse gases that contribute to air pollution, which could lead to heart disease, stroke, asthma, emphysema, and some types of cancer.

“The burden of disease attributable to air pollution is now estimated to be on a par with other major global health risks such as unhealthy diet and tobacco smoking, and air pollution is now recognized as the single biggest environmental threat to human health,” wrote the authors of a 2021 WHO report.

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Robin Donovan
Robin Donovan is a science journalist based in Portland, Oregon. Her work has appeared in Vice, Neo.Life, The Scientist, Willamette Week and many other outlets.
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The Toxic Effects of Noise and What We’re Not Doing About It

Our daily soundscape is a cacophony of earsplitting jets, motorcycles, and construction sites. Engineers know how to eliminate and control noise, but other countries are ahead of the U.S. when it comes to keeping the quiet - with related health benefits.

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Erica Walker had a studio in her Brookline, Mass. apartment where she worked as a bookbinder and furniture maker. That was until a family with two rowdy children moved in above her.

The kids ran amuck, disrupting her sleep and work. Ear plugs weren’t enough to blot out the commotion. Aside from anger and a sense of lost control, the noise increased her heart rate and made her stomach feel like it was dropping, she says.

That’s when Walker realized that noise is a public health problem, not merely an annoyance. She set up her own “mini study” on how the clamor was affecting her. She monitored sound levels in her apartment and sent saliva samples to a lab to measure her stress levels.

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Eve Glicksman
Eve Glicksman is a freelance writer and editor in the Washington, DC, area following a long career in Philadelphia. She writes for the health and science section of The Washington Post along with a mix of stories for other media and associations on trends, culture, psychology, lifestyle, business and travel. Previously, she served as a managing editor for UnitedHealth Group and the Association for American Medical Colleges. To see more of her work, visit eveglicksman.com. 
New study: Hotter nights, climate change, cause sleep loss with some affected more than others

According to a new study, sleep is impaired with temperatures over 50 degrees, and temps higher than 77 degrees reduce the chances of getting seven hours.

Photo by Altınay Dinç on Unsplash

Data from the National Sleep Foundation finds that the optimal bedroom temperature for sleep is around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. But we may be getting fewer hours of "good sleepin’ weather" as the climate warms, according to a recent paper from researchers at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Published in One Earth, the study finds that heat related to climate change could provide a “pathway” to sleep deprivation. The authors say the effect is “substantially larger” for those in lower-income countries. Hours of sleep decline when nighttime temperature exceeds 50 degrees, and temps higher than 77 reduce the chances of sleeping for seven hours by 3.5 percent. Even small losses associated with rising temperatures contribute significantly to people not getting enough sleep.

We’re affected by high temperatures at night because body temperature becomes more sensitive to the environment when slumbering. “Mechanisms that control for thermal regulation become more disordered during sleep,” explains Clete Kushida, a neurologist, professor of psychiatry at Stanford University and sleep medicine clinician.

The study finds that women and older adults are especially vulnerable. Worldwide, the elderly lost over twice as much sleep per degree of warming compared to younger people. This phenomenon was apparent between the ages of 60 and 70, and it increased beyond age 70. “The mechanism for balancing temperatures appears to be more affected with age,” Kushida adds.

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Sherree Geyer
Sherree Geyer is a freelance health journalist. She regularly writes for “Pain Medicine News,” “Pharmacy Practice News” and other trade publications. A member of the Association of Healthcare Journalists, National Association of Science Writers and National Writers Union, she holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northern Illinois University.