To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Air pollution and genetics combine to increase risk for autism

USC scientists show gene-environment interaction augments risk for developing the disorder


December 2, 2013

IMAGE: Heather E. Volk, Ph.D., M.P.H., is assistant professor of research in preventive medicine and pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and principal investigator at The Saban Research...

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Exposure to air pollution appears to increase the risk for autism among people who carry a genetic disposition for the neurodevelopmental disorder, according to newly published research led by scientists at the
Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC).

"Our research shows that children with both the risk genotype and exposure to high air pollutant levels were at increased risk of autism spectrum disorder compared to those without the risk genotype and lower air pollution exposure," said the study's first author, Heather E. Volk, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of research in preventive medicine and pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and principal investigator at The Saban Research Institute of Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

The study, "Autism spectrum disorder: Interaction of air pollution with the MET receptor tyrosine kinase gene," is scheduled to appear in the January 2014 edition of Epidemiology.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong neurodevelopmental disability characterized by problems with social interaction, communication and repetitive behaviors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 88 children in the United States has an ASD.

ASD is highly heritable, suggesting that genetics are an important contributing factor, but many questions about its causes remain. There currently is no cure for the disorder.

IMAGE: Daniel B. Campbell, Ph.D. is assistant professor of psychiatry and the behavioral sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. He is the senior author of a study finding...

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"Although gene-environment interactions are widely believed to contribute to autism risk, this is the first demonstration of a specific interaction between a well-established genetic risk factor and an environmental factor that independently contribute to autism risk," said Daniel B. Campbell, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and the behavioral sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the study's senior author. "The MET gene variant has been associated with autism in multiple studies, controls expression of MET protein in both the brain and the immune system, and predicts altered brain structure and function. It will be important to replicate this finding and to determine the mechanisms by which these genetic and environmental factors interact to increase the risk for autism."

Independent studies by Volk and Campbell have previously reported associations between autism and air pollution exposure and between autism and a variant in the MET gene. The current study suggests that air pollution exposure and the genetic variant interact to augment the risk of ASD.

Campbell and Volk's team studied 408 children between 2 and 5 years of age from the Childhood Autism Risks From Genetics and the Environment Study, a population-based, case-control study of preschool children from California. Of those, 252 met the criteria for autism or autism spectrum disorder. Air pollution exposure was determined based on the past residences of the children and their mothers, local traffic-related sources, and regional air quality measures. MET genotype was determined through blood sampling.

Campbell and Volk continue to study the interaction of air pollution exposure and the MET genotype in mothers during pregnancy.

Shanghai air pollution hits dangerous peak


By Zhu Ningzhu, December 2, 2013

SHANGHAI, Dec. 2 (Xinhua) -- Smog shrouded the skyline of China's financial hub Shanghai as air pollution in the city hit its worst level on Monday.

Air quality in Shanghai was recorded at 303 on the official Air Quality Index (AQI) on Monday morning, crossing the 300 threshold that indicates the most severe level of air pollution on the chart.
The AQI monitors six pollutants on an hourly basis, including PM 2.5, or particles measuring less than 2.5 microns in diameters, which has been widely blamed for the worsening air pollution across China in recent years.

Shanghai's environmental watchdog listed PM 2.5 as the major pollutant on Monday, without disclosing detailed readings.

The World Health Organization sets a daily guideline value for PM 2.5 at 25 micrograms per cubic meter, while it has been around 10 times this volume in Shanghai in recent days.

Shanghai saw deteriorating air quality over the weekend. The AQI index rose above 230 on Sunday, when the city held its annual Shanghai International Marathon.

The PM 2.5 reading also hit 248 micrograms per cubic meter on that day, according to the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau.

The marathon took place as usual despite the heavy pollution. Some participants wore masks.

The dangerous level of pollution has prompted Shanghai authorities to curb industrial production and activities at construction sites and docks that may add dust to the air. Citizens are advised to stay indoors.

Intercounty Connector toll revenue falls short of early forecasts


By Katherine Shaver, November 30, 2013

  A section of the Intercounty Connector in Olney. The 18.8-mile highway links Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Recent state projections of toll revenues from the Intercounty Connector were generally lower – and more accurate – than those made when Maryland lawmakers approved the road’s $2.5-billion construction.

Recent state projections of toll revenues from the Intercounty Connector were generally lower – and more accurate – than those made when Maryland lawmakers approved the road’s $2.5-billion construction.

Maryland officials have said repeatedly that traffic on the Intercounty Connector matches state projections, even as motorists say the controversial toll road continues to feel remarkably underused two years after it opened.

Tolls collected on the highway, between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, do align with state forecasts, but only because those projections were adjusted downward, according to internal state reports obtained under a public records request.

The ICC took in $39.6 million in the past fiscal year — almost dead-on the latest projection but $10 million to $32 million less than forecasts that Maryland lawmakers had in 2005, when they agreed to significantly increase the Maryland Transportation Authority’s debt to build it.

“They lowered the bar so now they can step over it,” said Montgomery County Council me
mber Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville), a longtime ICC critic. “When you merge onto the ICC, it doesn’t feel like a highway. It feels like an airport runway.”

How many vehicles are using the ICC matters to motorists across Maryland. The $2.5 billion highway, which was hotly debated for decades because of its cost and environmental and community impacts, was the most expensive ever built in the state.

Maryland lawmakers agreed to pay for it by greatly increasing the authority’s debt, including $1 billion worth of bonds and a federal loan backed by all state toll revenue. The state committed to raise tolls statewide, if necessary, to pay them off.

The highway’s massive construction debt also prevents the state from lowering ICC toll rates — $8 for a passenger car making an end-to-end round trip during rush hours — to attract more motorists. Doing so, a recent study found, would lower the 18.8-mile highway’s revenue, requiring motorists statewide to subsidize even more of its costs.

Transportation Authority officials say the ICC is a success. They point to a recent study done by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments that found that ICC motorists cut their travel time in half and that traffic on nearby roads had dropped by 5 percent to 10 percent. ICC traffic is growing by an average of 2.6 percent a month, officials said.

Earlier toll revenue estimates were “ballpark” projections made before ICC toll rates were set, state officials said. The projections also didn’t always reflect the need for a three-year “ramp-up” period for motorists to absorb the new road into their travel habits, officials said.
The state’s consultant, Wilbur Smith Associates, lowered ICC revenue projections significantly for the last time in 2010 — by $7 million annually — to reflect the effects of a global recession and rising gas prices, according to the reports.

Even so, state officials said, the ICC’s true financial impact won’t be known for five to 10 years, after traffic has stabilized. The last segment, between Interstate 95 and Route 1, is scheduled to open next year.

“The fact is, you always have [roads] built for a 30-year time frame,” said Bruce Gartner, the authority’s executive secretary. “You don’t build them for day one.”