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Beijing to expand funding for reducing air pollution

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Air Polution China

Beijing, March 18 : Beijing will expand funding to reduce air pollution in 2017, including phasing out thousands of automobiles and replacing coal furnaces in hundreds of villages, a media report said on Saturday.

So far in March, more than 10 days of clear, blue skies have been recorded. There were 198 such days last year and 186 in 2015, according to the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau.

In addition, the number of days with severe air pollution mainly due to a high concentration of PM2.5-particulate matter of 2.5 microns deemed dangerous to human health-fell to 39 last year, down from 46 in 2015, 47 in 2014 and 58 in 2013, the People’s Daily said in the report.

PM2.5 is used as a major index to record the concentration of the six major airborne pollutants.

“Beijing saw its average PM2.5 level lowered to 73 micrograms per cubic meter in 2016, a year-on-year decrease of 9.9 per cent,” said the Chinese capital’s mayor, Cai Qi, giving credit to existing measures such as reducing coal consumption and the number of vehicles.

The municipal government plans to spend up to 18.2 billion yuan ($2.6 billion) this year on stronger pollution-control measures, the Beijing Finance Bureau said.

In 2014, the special allocation for air pollution was 12.9 billion yuan.

“We will crack down on air pollution with an iron fist … to meet the public expectation of blue skies,” the People’s Daily quoted Cai as saying.

Among those measures are subsidising drivers, as about 300,000 old vehicles with excessive exhaust will be banned from the roads; and helping 700 villages replace coal-fired boilers with clean energy such as electricity and gas, which would eliminate coal consumption in the downtown districts and southern regions.

“In 2017, Beijing will lower its coal consumption (including for industrial production and heating) by 30 per cent, with the total amount falling to less than 7 million metric tons,” Cai added.

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New blood test in pregnancy to predict autism risk in babies

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New York, Sep 22: Researchers have developed a novel blood test for pregnant mothers that can, with nearly 90 per cent accuracy rate, predict the probability of having a child that will be diagnosed with autism.

According to studies, if a mother has previously had a child with autism, the risk of having a second child with the developmental disorder is approximately 18.7 per cent, whereas the risk in the general population is approximately 1.7 per cent.

In the study, led by Juergen Hahn, Professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, metabolites of the folate-dependent transmethylation and transsulfuration biochemical pathways of pregnant mothers were measured to determine whether or not the risk of having a child with autism could be predicted by her metabolic profile.

Pregnant mothers who have had a child with autism before were separated into two groups based on the diagnosis of their child whether the child had autism or not.

Then these mothers were compared to a group of control mothers who have not had a child with autism before.

The results, appearing in the journal Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, showed that while it is not possible to determine during a pregnancy if a child will be diagnosed with autism by age 3, they did find that differences in the plasma metabolites are indicative of the relative risk (18.7 per cent vs 1.7 per cent) for having a child with autism.

“These are exciting results as they hint at differences in some metabolic processes that potentially play a role in increasing the risk of having a child with autism,” Hahn said.

“However, it would be highly desirable if a prediction based upon physiological measurements could be made to determine which risk group a prospective mother falls into,” Hahn noted.

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Eat fish thrice a week to boost your unborn’s eyesight, brain

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London, Sep 21: Pregnant women can enhance the development of their unborn child’s eyesight and brain function by regularly eating fatty fish during the pregnancy, a new study has found.

The findings suggested that infants whose mothers ate fish three or more times a week during the last trimester of their pregnancy fared better than those whose mothers ate no fish or only up to two portions per week.

“The results of our study suggest that frequent fish consumption by pregnant women is of benefit for their unborn child’s development,” said lead author Kirsi Laitinen of the University of Turku in Finland.

“This may be attributable to long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids within fish, but also due to other nutrients like vitamin D and E, which are also important for development,” Laitinen added.

For the study, published in the journal Pediatric Research, the research team analysed the results of a small group of mothers and their children drawn from a larger study.

The mothers had to keep a regular food diary during the course of their pregnancy. Fluctuations in their weight before and during pregnancy were taken into account, along with their blood sugar level and blood pressure.

The team recorded the levels of nutritional long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid sources in the mother’s diet and blood serum, and the levels in the blood of their children by the age of one month.

Their children were further tested around their second birthday using pattern reversal visual evoked potentials (pVEP). This sensitive and accurate, non-invasive method is used to detect visual functioning and maturational changes occurring within a young child’s visual system.

“Our study therefore highlights the potential importance of subtle changes in the diet of healthy women with uncompromised pregnancies, beyond prematurity or nutritional deficiencies, in regulating infantile neurodevelopment,” Laitinen noted.

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Eating food cooked on wood, coal may impair your lungs

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Food cooked on wood coal
Photo Credit- Daniel Krieger

New York, Sep 21: Love to eat food cooked on the barbecue? Beware, it is associated with increased risk of respiratory illness or death, researchers warned.

Compared to those who used electricity or gas, chronic and acute respiratory disease hospitalisations or deaths were 36 per cent higher among those who used wood or coal for cooking, researchers, from the University of Oxford, have found.

People who switched from solid fuels to clean-burning fuels reduced their risk to only 14 per cent higher than those who never cooked with wood or coal.

It is because solid fuels emit very high levels of pollutants especially very small particles, which penetrate deep into lungs, the researchers explained.

“The increased risk of major respiratory diseases posed by burning wood or coal can be significantly lowered by switching to a clean-burning fuel”, said Zhengming Chen, professor at the varsity’s Nuffield Department of Population Health.

“Our findings make a compelling case to speed up the global implementation of universal access to affordable clean energy, one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” Chen said.

Nearly three billion people around the world live in households that regularly burn wood, coal or other solid fuels to cook their food.

Typically, these households are found in the rural areas of low- and middle-income countries.

For the study, published in the journal American Thoracic Society, the team analysed the health records of 280,000 adults, aged 30 to 79 from 10 areas of China.

They were followed for nine years and 19,823 were either hospitalised or died following major respiratory diseases.

Of these events, 10,553 were due to asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and 7,324 were due to acute lower respiratory infections, most often pneumonia.

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