When you think of factors that increase the risk of Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s disease you probably think of genetics or traumatic brain injury. Even if you created a lengthy list of factors, you might never list air pollution—but more and more research shows that air pollution is involved in these brain diseases, which now affect 6 million Americans and 50 million people worldwide.
While we have known for years that air pollution increases the risk of asthma, lung infections and lung cancer, we are discovering that it is also linked to heart disease, depression, obesity and brain diseases. In a study published in the medical journal Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers assessed the effects of black carbon—a marker of traffic-related air pollution—on cognitive function and the central nervous systems of male study participants. The scientists found that there was a significant link between air pollution levels and a reduction in cognitive function, a worrisome result given our growing air pollution emissions.
Research also shows that coarse pollution particles tend to settle in the upper lungs, making them a threat to respiratory health, while fine and ultrafine pollution particles actually travel through the nostrils along neural pathways into the brain. That’s a scary thought…that smell of diesel or gasoline fumes we’ve become so accustomed to can actually be accessing our brains where they can do serious damage. Fine pollution particles can travel thousands of miles and ultrafine particles travel up to 6 miles, so what happens on one side of the planet can affect people on the other side.
It is no surprise that President Donald Trump’s decision to pull America out of the Paris Climate Accord will have far-reaching and longstanding results. Even major corporations that aren’t exactly known for their commitment to clean air (like ExxonMobil, Chevron, Dow Chemical Company, DuPont and even the much-hated Monsanto) are asking The Donald to stay committed to the Paris climate accord, and for good reason: the health of humans and other species on the planet depends on clean air.
Aren’t we already seeing enough signs of the damage? Respiratory illnesses, heart disease, brain disease, depression and other illnesses linked to air pollution are at record levels. And the effects of pulling out of the climate pact aren’t only health-related; the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, estimates that pulling out of the agreement will cost the United States close to $2 Trillion every year by 2100.
The Paris Climate Accord was a landmark decision made by representatives of 195 nations in December 2015 to commit to reducing climate change and ensure the health of future generations.
While Trump makes his decision, the effects of air pollution are already having disastrous consequences. Research in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found a link between air pollution exposure and the brain inflammation and amyloid plaques involved in Alzheimer’s disease in both children and adults.
So what can you do? In addition to signing a petition urging the governor of your state to stay in the Paris climate accord, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board there are other things you can do, including:
- Reduce travel on days with poor air quality.
- Avoid vigorous physical activity on days that have poor air quality.
- Avoid using your wood stove and fireplace on days that have poor air quality.
- Avoid using leaf blowers and other dust-producing equipment.
- Drive slowly on unpaved roads and other dirt surfaces.
- Get involved with air quality improvement programs in your community.
- If you own or operate an industrial source of PM10, comply with local rules that apply to your operation. Work with local agencies to develop strategies that will further reduce PM10 emissions.
Additionally, I would add:
- Encourage your employer to allow more teleworking or working from home.
- Turn off your vehicle engine immediately after arriving at your destination—don’t leave it idling while you check your phone.
- If your community doesn’t have an anti-idling bylaw encourage them to pass one.
- Eat a nutrient-rich diet and supplement with the vitamins that protect DNA against air pollution. Learn which vitamins play this critical role in my blog “The Vitamins that Protect Your DNA against Air Pollution.”
- Contact your government representative asking for the removal of Scott Pruitt from the Environmental Protection Agency before he totally dismantles the agency responsible for improving air quality and the environment.