Scientists link pollution to high blood pressure in teens

Long-term exposure to particle pollution may be associated with higher blood pressure in teens, a survey of London-based adolescents has found. 

While all age groups showed increased blood pressure in response to fine particle (PM 2.5) pollution, the effects were particularly strong in teenage girls, according to the study, published on Wednesday in PLoS ONE.  

Pollution from PM 2.5 — particles whose diameter is 2.5 microns or less — typically comes from car exhaust fumes, building materials and industry. 

The authors focused on the 11-16-year-old age group, which they described as a particularly important phase of growth and development. Negative effects on organs during this stage can lead to lifelong complications, they warned. 

“More than 1 million under 18s live in neighborhoods where air pollution is higher than the recommended health standards,” senior author Seeromanie Harding, from King’s College London, said in a statement.  

“There is an urgent need for more of these studies to gain an in-depth understanding of the threats and opportunities to young people’s development,” Harding added.  

To draw their conclusions, the authors analyzed data on 3,284 adolescents in two age groups: 11-13 and 14-16. They measured systolic and diastolic blood pressure at participating schools.  

High blood pressure can raise the risk of hypertension, heart attacks and strokes in adulthood, the authors noted. 

Different from the effects they saw from particle pollution, the scientists found that exposure to nitrogen dioxide — from diesel traffic — was associated with lower blood pressure in teens.  

The impact was similar to the effects of “ingesting green leafy vegetables or beetroot juice,” co-author Andrew Webb, from King’s College London, said in a statement.  

Welcome to The Hill’s Sustainability newsletter, a weekly publication tracking the growing battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Not already subscribed? Subscribe here.

Today we’ll look at some of the climate efforts President Biden touted in his State of the Union, then take a deep dive into the multi-state battle over Colorado River cuts.

But first…congrats to Sharon for being among 12 journalists worldwide selected for a 2022 SEAL Environmental Journalism Award for her work last year at The Hill! The award recognizes sustainability coverage and is distributed annually.

Biden claims victory on climate in State of the Union

President Biden lauded his administration’s historic climate investments in his Tuesday night State of the Union Address, our colleague Zack Budryk reported.

Building a ‘clean energy future’: Biden described the Inflation Reduction Act — a spending bill signed into law last year — as “the most significant investment ever to tackle the climate crisis.” 

The legislation, which passed Congress solely with Democratic votes, contributed to “lowering utility bills, creating American jobs, and leading the world to a clean energy future,” Biden said.

Grids, roads, jobs: The president also presented the law as an investment in resilience to natural disasters and the effects of climate change, Budryk reported. 

  • “In addition to emergency recovery from Puerto Rico to Florida to Idaho, we are rebuilding for the long term,” Biden said.  
  • Some such rebuilding includes “new electric grids able to weather the next major storm, roads and water systems to withstand the next big flood [and] clean energy to cut pollution.”  

Oil and gas for the short-term: Biden noted, however, that the country is “still going to need oil and gas for a while, but there’s more to do.”  

To read more about Biden’s climate remarks, click here for the full story.

California plays ‘hardball’ on Colorado River

A multistate quest to protect a dwindling Colorado River has devolved into a high-stakes battle pitting California against its neighbors. 

At odds are two dueling proposals as to how seven states should apportion critical consumption cuts that could help save the lifeblood of the Western United States.  

Deep divisions: Despite engaging in months of negotiations, the states failed to produce a unified agreement by the Jan. 31 deadline stipulated by the Federal Bureau of Reclamation. 

Instead, they offered two competing proposals: one from California and one from the six other basin states. 

A lost opportunity: “There need to be some long-term solutions here to reduce water supply, and there’s a lot of money to do it,” David Hayes, a former climate policy adviser to President Biden, told The Hill. 

  • The negotiating parties could have discussed how best to use such funds “to forge a new future,” said Hayes, who is now a lecturer at Stanford Law School. 
  • “Now that’s an opportunity that will be lost,” he added. 

What do the plans entail? The six-state proposal focuses on distributing the burden for evaporation losses that occur when the river flows downstream.  

As the biggest user of the Colorado River, California would face the greatest supply cuts in this scenario. 

And California? The Golden State’s proposal, which would include greater cutbacks for Arizona than for California, relies on voluntary measures that would serve “to minimize the risk of legal challenge.”  

“If they stand pat, they will continue to get more water because of their older water rights on the river,” said Neil Grigg, of Colorado State University. 

Why is that? California’s plans would adhere to the legal dictates of the Colorado River Compact of 1922 — the traditional water “priority” system that originally divided up the river. 

“California would gobble up all the Colorado River water — they were already growing and would get to use it first,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. 

California disagrees: JB Hamby, chair of Colorado River Board of California, sees these century-old events through a different lens.  

  • The state “used water earlier and quicker” than other states because it has long been an ideal location for growing food. 
  • “The way the priority system works is to not upset the existing people who have been living in and dependent upon that resource for a long time,” Hamby added.


The federal government will likely end up putting its foot down in the ongoing state-to-state squabble, according to Buschatzke, the Arizona water chief.  

“We will continue to try to get an agreement,” Buschatzke said. “The path we’re on seems like the federal government’s going to step in.” 

Deadlines looming: The Bureau of Reclamation this spring is expected to publish a draft environmental impact statement probing alternatives to the current Colorado River operating guidelines. 

  • One alternative was supposed to be a “consensus-based” proposal from the seven states — to be submitted by Jan. 31.  
  • Another is an in-house plan “applicable under federal law,” according to the Interior Department. 

Lawmakers take on Colorado River: As the basin states struggle to come to an agreement on consumption cutbacks, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers is pushing to evaluate the issue. 

An informal group launched by Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) has expanded to include senators from the seven basin states: California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. 

  • Details about the caucus were first reported by CNN but later confirmed to The Hill by a spokesperson for Hickenlooper. 
  • The Colorado senator told CNN that “there might be additional resources that are needed to really solve this.” 

Read more from this week’s Colorado River coverage:

Insurance company under fire for supporting pipeline

The world’s largest insurance broker is under fire for supporting a controversial oil pipeline that cuts through East Africa’s national parks. 

These complaints have opened a new front in a larger war within the global insurance industry over the future of support for fossil fuels. 

Under fire: On Tuesday morning, a coalition of Ugandan and Tanzanian civil society groups and a U.S.-based environmental nonprofit filed a formal complaint to the State Department against insurance giant Marsh McLennan. 

  • The groups accused Marsh McLennan of enabling the forced eviction of 118,000 people from their homes. 
  • They say the project will endanger fragile wildlands and freshwater resources that nourish more than 40 million people. 

At the center of the controversy: The 867-mile East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project (EACOP) would move oil from wells near Africa’s Great Lakes to the Indian ocean.

Twenty-one insurance and reinsurance companies have publicly refused to back the project on climate, environmental, social and governance (ESG) grounds. 

  • Marsh spokesperson Sally Roberts wrote to The Hill that the project is proceeding despite the company’s support for the energy transition. 
  • Geopolitical concerns made “a secure energy supply crucial for the global economy and society as a whole,” Roberts added. 

Expanded fight: The complaint is unusual because Marsh McLennan is not building the pipeline — a joint project between China’s CNOOC and France’s Total Energies. The insurance giant is not even underwriting it.  

Instead, the advocacy groups charge that the brokerage giant acted unethically by agreeing to help EACOP find insurance. 

  • Without that help, the project cannot proceed, Coleen Scott of Inclusive Development International, one of the signatories of the State Department complaint, told The Hill.  
  • The pipeline’s failure would also spell a serious setback for the accompanying buildout of new oil development in East Africa, Scott added. 

Gorillas in the rigs: If the pipeline goes through, it could open the door to broader oil development in East Africa — including in the gorilla-rich Virunga National Park, according to The Africa Report. 

For more on the story, please click here.

Lunar dust could act as Earth’s sun umbrella: study

Dust from the Moon could potentially help slow the effects of climate change, a new study has found.  

A cloud of lunar dust launched between the Earth and the sun could provide a drifting sunshade, according to the study published on Wednesday in PLoS Climate.

Advocates of this sort of “solar geoengineering” hope such a cloud could help block some of the solar radiation that warms the Earth — slowing the planet’s heating. 

Global context: The study breathes new life into the field of solar geoengineering — which seeks to reduce the amount of the sun’s heat that reaches the earth. 

The Biden administration is currently reviewing comments on a proposed five-year research project aimed at a “scientific assessment of solar and other rapid climate interventions” to slow climate change — something the European Union is already studying

Discomfiting topic: Blocking sunlight is an idea that makes many climate scientists very uncomfortable — not least because it’s a potential distraction from cheaper means of slowing climate change, like burning fewer fossil fuels. 

A group of 380 scientists have signed an open letter calling on world governments to pledge to take solar geoengineering off the table

  • “While it is certainly true that reducing sunlight can cause cooling, it acts on a very different part of the climate system than carbon dioxide,” University of Pennsylvania climate scientist Michael Mann told The Hill. 
  • “And efforts to offset carbon dioxide-caused warming with sunlight reduction would yield a very different climate, perhaps one unlike any seen before in Earth’s history,” Mann added.

He cited the risk of “massive shifts in atmospheric circulation and rainfall patterns and possible worsening of droughts.”  

Skepticism south of the border: Last month, Mexico banned experimentation by startup Make Sunsets, the government reported. 

  • The company had been releasing sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere above Baja California as an experimental means of reflecting heat, according to the MIT Technology Review. 
  • Some researchers have proposed that a space-based approach — as modeled in the PLoS study — sidestep the environmental consequences posed by Earth-based experiments. 

For more on this space-based proposal to cool the earth — and why many scientists think it is worth the risk — please click here.

Weekly wrap-up

Bite-sized helpings of news we’ve covered this week.  

‘Phthalates’ may raise diabetes risk in women: study 

  • Hormone-disrupting “phthalates” — commonly used in plastics — may increase diabetes incidence in women, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. White women with high exposures showed the most risk: a 30 to 63 percent greater chance of developing diabetes, the University of Michigan team found. Read the full story here

January was a month of weird weather: NOAA

  • Seven northeastern states saw their warmest January on record — part of the month’s pattern of weird weather that included near-record tornado storms and California’s devastating (but snowpack-restoring) atmospheric rivers. More than 100 tornadoes struck the U.S. in January — a milestone that has happened only three times since 1950, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).

Scientists find another plastic-chomping bacteria

  • One type of soil bacteria can’t eat sugars but eagerly breaks down plastic polymers, according to a paper in Nature Chemical Biology. These bacteria are “a naturally occurring resource of biochemical reactions” that can help deal with the planet’s accumulating waste, Northwestern microbiologist Ludmilla Aristilde said in a statement. 

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for more and check out other newsletters here. We’ll see you next week!

Tags air pollution Climate change Colorado River plastics

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