Agilent and the Deadly Fog

In December 1930, a fog in the Meuse Valley killed 60 Belgians.  In October 1948, a fog in Donora, Pennsylvania killed 20 Americans.  And in December 1952, a fog in London killed a staggering 4,000 Britons.

The victims died from respiratory ailments.  Thousands more required hospitalization.  The skies turned yellow and black.  And for the first time, societies realized that air pollution could be deadly.

These killer fogs resulted from a combination of industrialization and weather.  Factories released fluorine gas, sulfur dioxide and coal dust into the air.  Then, temperature inversions and a lack of wind caused these harmful particulates to be trapped close to the ground, resulting in a blanket of poisonous air.

These disasters led to the enacting of clean air acts and laws in much of the western world.  Unfortunately, developing countries now face similar air quality concerns as they rapidly industrialize.

An international team of scientists was recently able to recreate the conditions of London’s killer fog using atmospheric measurements from Beijing and Xian, two heavily polluted Chinese cities.  The researchers found that that the air over Chinese cities today has a chemistry similar to that of London’s 1952 killer fog.

Agilent technologies are used to analyze air quality both indoors and outdoors, as well as to conduct research into the effects of air pollution.

U.S. researchers studied the effects of fine ambient air particulates on cardiovascular disease.  They discovered molecular alterations associated with vascular disease progression in mice.  In a second study, Italian researchers found that toxic particulates in the air can alter gene expression in the lungs and cardiac systems of mice.

One difference between 1952 London air and current China air is today’s prevalence of smaller nanoparticles.  In a third study, U.S. researchers studied the effect of nanoparticles on the human system.  They discovered extensive reprogramming of nearly 500 genes regulated in response to engineered nanoparticles, leaving biological systems susceptible to other environmental agents.

In all three of these studies, the researchers used an Agilent Bioanalyzer system to assess RNA integrity and purity.

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