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Health & Science

The deadly toll of air pollution; Where people are happiest; Deepwater spill still killing fish; How to spot liars

The deadly toll of air pollutionBreathing dirty air is a real killer. New findings from the World Health Organization show that air pollution was responsible for more than 7 million global deaths in 2012, making it the world’s No. 1 environmental health risk. More than one third of those deaths occurred in Asia, where rapid industrial development in countries like Japan, China, and India has contributed significantly to the problem. The stark figures were included in a WHO report that also revealed a significant link between exposure to air pollution and cardiovascular diseases. And the dangers extend beyond urban populations to rural areas, with more than half of the deaths—some 4.3 million—attributed to indoor pollutants, mainly from household stoves that burn coal, wood, dung, and crop residues. The resulting fumes contribute to heart disease, strokes, lung cancer, and respiratory infections, and they disproportionately affect poor women and children, who spend more time in the home. Toxic air outdoors figured in 3.7 million deaths, and many fatalities were attributable to a combination of both factors. The hardest-hit countries were low- and middle-income nations in Southeast Asia and the western Pacific region. “Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution,” Maria Neira, director of the WHO’s public health department, tells LiveScience.com. “The evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.”

Where people are happiest Want to be happy? Then consider moving to Provo-Orem, Utah. That community reported the highest level of well-being in the U.S. last year. The results from the latest Gallup survey, which rates the well-being of residents in 189 metropolitan areas, found people’s overall contentment to be higher in the Midwest and West and lower in the South. The Ashland-Huntington area, where Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia meet, came in last. The poll, now in its sixth year, is based on more than 500,000 interviews covering emotional and physical health, job satisfaction, safety, and access to food, shelter, and health care. “Our goal is to get leaders thinking about how they can enhance well-being,” Gallup director of client services Patrick Bogart tells USA Today. Different cities excelled in various categories. The San Francisco Bay Area led the way among metros with 1 million or more residents. Honolulu was best for emotional health. Michigan’s Holland–Grand Haven led the way for physical health and access to basic necessities, while Salinas, Calif., took the No. 1 slot for healthy behavior.

Deepwater spill still killing fish The oil released during the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster may damage fish populations in the Gulf of Mexico for years to come. New research from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that exposure to crude oil can cause heart defects in fish embryos—abnormalities that will likely kill many developing fish and shorten the lives of others. The study looked at bluefin and yellowfin tuna and amberjacks, key commercial and ecological species. “You mess up the heart, you mess up the ability of species like this to do simple functions like swim and catch prey,” environmental toxicologist Fernando Galvez tells CNN.com. The April 2010 accident, which unleashed some 4.1 million barrels of oil into the Gulf, coincided with spawning season, when fragile embryos would have been floating on the surface. The study mimicked real-life events, exposing developing fish to oil collected from the Deepwater source pipe and surface-skimming operations. Defects included physical distortions in the hearts, body shapes, and eyes of embryos. BP disputed the findings, saying researchers exposed the fish to higher concentrations of oil than were seen in the wild. But scientists maintain that even minimal exposure to petrochemicals resulted in critical malformations.

How to spot liars If you want to know if someone is lying, try tapping into your subconscious. That’s the conclusion of a new study by University of California, Berkeley, researchers trying to discern why human powers of lie detection appear to be worse than those of other primates like monkeys and chimpanzees. The disparity in skills defies evolutionary logic, and scientists theorized that people’s instincts are overridden by false beliefs about what constitutes dishonest behavior—like fidgeting or a shifting gaze. To test the hypothesis, 72 volunteer students watched videos of 12 people denying they stole $100 (only half of them were telling the truth). Less than 44 percent correctly identified the thieves. The subjects then took an “implicit association test,” designed to measure unconscious associations made between people, objects, and ideas. Students more accurately linked the liars to words like “deceitful,” and the truth-tellers to words like “honest.” This suggests that seeing someone lie instinctively triggers “concepts associated with deception.” The study, in Psychological Science, also noted that women showed “significantly greater indirect accuracy” than men, supporting previous findings on the powers of female perception.

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