EDF Health

Another reason to reduce methane emissions: Saving lives 

Sarah Vogel, Ph.D., is Senior Vice President, Healthy Communities

Cutting methane emissions is one of the fastest, most effective ways to stabilize the climate. It can also improve public health.   

Today, 130 countries are committed to cutting methane emissions by 30% by 2030 as part of the Global Methane Pledge. As countries work to meet these commitments and more nations join the Global Methane Pledge, there is an opportunity to identify and implement solutions that both reduce methane emissions and improve the public’s health. Finding climate solutions that center health and wellbeing of people is essential if we are to secure a vital Earth for everyone.

At this year’s COP in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, we have a unique opportunity to bring together experts on oil and gas, agriculture, waste and public health on November 15 at the Health Pavilion to discuss the nexus between methane and health as well as opportunities for action.


Methane is a short-lived climate pollutant, and cutting these emissions is important because it is the fastest way to advance global climate goals while also achieving significant near-term public health benefits. Methane contributes significantly to the impacts of climate change on our health–from extreme heat to increased risk of infectious disease. It contributes to ground-level ozone and particulate pollution, which damages airways, aggravates lung diseases, causes asthma attacks, increases rates of pre-term birth, cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, and boosts stroke risk.

Consequences from these health impacts include lost productivity, higher medical costs, and greater pressure on health systems. By suppressing crop growth, ozone can also exacerbate food insecurity.

But there’s also reason for hope. We can prevent vented and fugitive methane emissions with existing technologies, and our ability to identify methane leaks continues to improve. By taking full advantage of such tools and targeting super emitters, policymakers can advance climate action while delivering enormous health benefits regionally as well as to communities living near oil and gas operations.

We can also reduce methane emissions in agriculture and solid waste management. Providing livestock with higher-quality feed would cut methane produced during digestion, improve the animals’ health and deliver more nutritious dairy products for people. Capturing methane from manure and treating digestate to minimize ammonia emissions (precursors of particulate matter) would provide a local source of energy, reduce odors, and mitigate public health risks of those living nearby.

It is crucial to highlight the near-term health benefits of cutting methane. With the help of researchers and community-health practitioners who understand the issue best, we hope to generate the support, collaboration and investment needed to cut methane emissions and improve public health worldwide.

With support from the Wellcome Trust, EDF will convene a series of dialogues in early 2023 about the health-methane nexus and hold a workshop during the UNFCCC Intersessional in Bonn to collaboratively develop recommendations to the UNFCCC for presentation at COP28.

Watch the “Health-Methane Nexus: Opportunities for Action” panel livestream from COP 27 at 10:00 a.m. EET (Egypt)/3:00 a.m. ET or view the post-event recording at GlobalCleanAir.org Convenings.

Posted in Air pollution, Methane, Public health / Tagged | Read 1 Response

How we make pollution more visible

Sarah Vogel, Ph.D.is Vice President for Health.

This post originally appeared on the Global Clean Air blog

Our new animated video shows how invisible pollution makes its way into our body.

When we’re outside, either walking or driving, we’re instinctively looking out for traffic. “Look both ways when you cross the street,” is advice drummed into most children.

But even so, we all have blind spots, and we’re not aware of the present danger polluting cars and trucks bring into our daily lives.

Our new video shows that although air pollution from vehicle exhaust is invisible, its damage to our health is visible and deadly.

EDF’s Global Clean Air Initiative has spent years researching air pollution in cities around the world. Our pioneering work with Google Earth Outreach, academic, community and government partners in Oakland, Houston and London shows that levels of air pollution vary much more widely than was previously known. In Oakland, we now know that levels of air pollution can vary by up to eight times within one city block. We’ve been working to visualize local pollution and its impacts in order to support targeted policies for cleaner air especially in those communities hardest hit by pollution. But we also recognized the need to make the experience of pollution more visible and more personal to each one of us as we walk down a city street.

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Why now is the moment for cities around the world to act decisively on air pollution

Sarah Vogel, Ph.D.is Vice President for Health.

This is the second in a series of Global Clean Air blogs on COVID-19 and air pollution. EDF scientists and program experts will share data about pollution levels during quarantine from a local and global perspective, and provide recommendations for governments and companies to Rebuild Better.

New COVID-19 air quality/ transportation measures in Bogotá, Colombia.

Around the world, we’ve seen dramatic improvement in air quality as a result of the response to COVID-19. While it’s come from an artificial and unwanted brake on the global economy, it’s drawn renewed attention to the devastating impacts of outdoor air pollution.

As many large cities around the world emerge from lockdown, city authorities need to act decisively to prevent air pollution rebounding and even exceeding pre-COVID-19 levels. That was the conclusion of participants in a “Clear Skies to Clean Air” webinar I moderated last week by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development World Wildlife Fund and Environmental Defense Fund, in collaboration with the World Bank.

The improvements in air quality seen during the COVID-19 lockdown have shown individuals and policymakers what is possible and could open the door to reinvigorated efforts to address pollution.

London and Bogotá demonstrate clean recovery strategies

The webinar heard from policymakers on the front lines of addressing air pollution: Shirley Rodrigues, Deputy Mayor of London, with responsibility for environment and energy; and Claudia López, Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia.

New COVID-19 air quality/ transportation measures in London.

Cities need devolved powers if they are to address local air pollution, argued Rodrigues: “We can’t have a centralised approach … Citizens deal with their local authorities, mayors know what is needed in their cities. Devolving powers, alongside funding, is absolutely critical so we can push the electrification agenda and the reclamation of roads, so we can avoid a car-based recovery.”

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A call for urgent action: First-ever WHO conference on a killer that cuts short millions of lives a year

Sarah Vogel, Ph.D.is Vice-President for Health.

To breathe—from our very first breath to our last—is to be alive. But for billions of people around the world, that simple, necessary act is at risk due to pollution. For the hundreds of millions of children and adults with asthma struggling to breathe, the immediate and acute experience of breathing polluted air cannot be mistaken.  And scientific research tells us that air pollution is also cutting short the lives of an estimated 7 million people a year due to heart attacks, stroke and respiratory diseases.  For some context, that is more than the total lives lost to HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

Everyone on this earth has a right to breathe healthy air.  But today, too many countries around the world are facing serious air pollution crises.  That’s why people from all around the world—government officials, civil society organizations, artists, and academics—have gathered this week in Geneva, Switzerland for the first World Health Organization Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health. And it’s why we’re here: to call for urgent and immediate action to address global air pollution.

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Walmart joins ranks of retailers pulling toxic paint strippers from shelves – when will EPA follow suit?

Sarah Vogel, Ph.D.is Vice-President for Health.

Today, Walmart announced that it will stop selling paint strippers containing methylene chloride or N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) in stores by February 2019 – making it the first general merchandise retailer to take such action.  Walmart’s announcement follows the strong leadership demonstrated by Lowes, Home Depot, and Sherwin Williams, all of which have committed not to sell methylene chloride- and NMP-based paint stripping products by the end of the year.  Importantly, Walmart’s action goes beyond its U.S. stores, including those in Mexico, Canada, and Central America, as well as their online store.

The announcement signals an important step by Walmart to better protect consumers from dangerous paint strippers. Methylene chloride is highly neurotoxic and acutely lethal. The chemical is responsible for over 50 reported deaths from acute exposure over the last 35 years – though many more likely have gone unreported. NMP is linked to fetal development problems, including low birth weight and birth defects.

EDF has advocated for several years for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban both methylene chloride- and NMP-based paint strippers, using its enhanced authority under the reformed Toxic Substance Control Act.  In January 2017, EPA proposed to ban methylene chloride and restrict NMP in paint strippers, but action has stalled under the Trump Administration.  For over a year, the agency made no effort to finalize these actions – even taking steps to delay any progress.

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Posted in Health policy, Markets and Retail, Public health, Regulation, TSCA reform / Tagged , , , , , , | Read 1 Response

We are what we eat: New paper outlines how the regulatory gaps in the US threaten our health

Sarah Vogel, Ph.D.is Vice-President for Health.

In a new paper published in PLoS Biology today, Maricel Maffini, Tom Neltner and I detail the regulatory gaps in how the US manages chemicals in food. We explore how failures in our current regulatory system put the public’s health at risk as exemplified in the case of perchlorate, a chemical allowed in food and a well-known endocrine disrupting compound. Perchlorate’s ability to disrupt normal functioning of the thyroid means that even low levels of exposure, especially in those with inadequate iodine intake, can adversely impact the developing brains of infants and children. It is not a chemical that should be in the food of pregnant women, infants and children. And yet it is, and the levels children consume have increased in recent years.

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Posted in FDA, Food, GRAS, Health science, Perchlorate, Public health / Tagged , , , , , | Comments are closed