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Air Pollution and neurological disease

What is air pollution?

Air pollution generally refers to chemicals, particles, and other substances with harmful effects that contaminate the atmosphere. This includes gases, such as carbon monoxide, methane, carbon dioxide, ozone and nitrogen oxides. (Air Pollution | National Geographic Society, n.d.) It can also be biological matter like mold and pollen, or fine particulate matter. The concentrations of these pollutants have increased drastically ever since the Industrial Revolution, due to people’s reliance on fossil fuels as energy sources. This is particularly notable in countries with large populations, such as India, China, Pakistan and Egypt. Currently, air pollution is produced by factories, vehicles, household appliances and even natural sources like wildfires. Not only has this resulted in devastating consequences to the climate, but to human health as well. Respiratory diseases and infections are obvious complications, but individuals with prolonged exposure to air pollution are also shown to have a greater likelihood of developing neurological disorders.

What kind of cognitive disorders can be caused by air pollution?

The general consensus regarding air pollution is that PM2.5, fine particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in size, can be extremely damaging to the nervous system. A study followed over 10,000 children aged 9-10, and measured their brain sizes in comparison to PM2.5 levels in their environment. They concluded that even at low concentrations, the particles played a role in reducing the size of different lobes in the brain. (Cserbik et al., 2020) A similar study conducted on older women demonstrated that PM2.5 reduces learning capability and short-term recall, and prolonged exposure increased the risk of Alzheimer's and other dementias. (Younan et al., 2019) Further research on air quality and its relation with neurological conditions in Taiwan indicated that high carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitric oxide levels correlated with low scores on the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE), which evaluates an individual’s cognitive function. (Chen et al., 2021)

How can we reduce air pollution?

Certain regulations are already in place to limit greenhouse gas emissions, such as the Kyoto Protocol, which instructs countries to lower emissions by a pre-designated amount. This is particularly relevant in terms of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide levels. It encourages the use of greener technology, energy and infrastructure. The United States have also discussed a cap and trade system, where a company is limited on the amount of pollution they can create, and exceeding the cap would result in a fine. Businesses that remain under the limit can use it as currency, and the “pollution allowance” can be sold to others for profit. (Air Pollution | National Geographic Society, n.d.) The World Health Organization (WHO) had also updated their air quality guidelines in 2006, aiming to reduce deaths from air pollution by 15%. Finally, individual contributions can also make a difference, if more people took part. If public transportation was more widely used and better funded, there would be less need for personal vehicles that play such a large role in greenhouse gas emissions.

Disorders caused by air pollution: alzheimers etc.

  • Can lead to respiratory diseases (eventually lung cancer), cause heart problems and strokes

  • Long term exposure affects nervous system and leads to cognitive disorders

  • Fine particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) in high concentrations can affect child’s developing brain size

    • Experiment measured outdoor pm2.5 concentrations and sizes of different regions of the brain in children aged 9-10

    • Deduced it played a role in reducing different lobes of brain

  • Studied older adults born from 1978-2018 in the US, also about how pm2.5 increased risk of dementia

  • Conducted memory tests in women aged 73-87, illustrated how pm2.5 increased risk of alzheimers, how loss of memory was early sign

How to reduce air pollution, mitigation measures

  • Kyoto protocol, agreement between 183 countries to reduce co2 emissions

  • US discussed cap and trade system, cap placed on amount of pollution a company’s allowed to produce, more = fine, less = “pollution allowance” can be sold to other companies to avoid fine

  • WHO created new air quality guidelines in 2006, aimed to reduce deaths by air pollution by 15%

  • Individual contributions helpful, ex. public transport, electrical appliances etc.

(Air Pollution and Neurological disease) References
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