Recent air pollution reports from China, India, and the United States bring awareness of the growing global health concern. In addition to increasing the risk of both heart and lung disease, pollution causes a slew of other serious health problems including neurodevelopment disorders that put severely polluted areas at risk, as well as the global community.
Researchers believe the global increase in air pollution levels may already be linked to the rising rates of disorders such as schizophrenia and autism, among others. In an annual meting of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences researchers detailed the potential effects of this exposure, particularly on the brain. Dr. Deborah Cory-Slechta described how she became involved with this research after reviewing the brains of mice who had been exposed to air pollution as part of a study on the developing lung.
In her examination she could not find a single region of the mice brains which did not show inflammation. To further analyze the initial findings Cory-Slectha and her team conducted a second set of experiments exposing rodents to unfiltered from Rochester, NY. In the end of the study the rodents brains exhibited similar developmental brain damage to what is seen in patients with autism and schizophrenia. The white matter in the mice brains was missing. This is the part of the brain that connects the two hemispheres, and in these mice it either died or never developed.
The mice brains also exhibited enlargement of the ventricles, called ventriculomegly, which is associated with a range of other brain diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, bipolar disorder, and a number of birth defects. Cory Slectha and her team hope this research will bring awareness to this global health concern and lower the air pollution limits in regulations around the world.
Some places are notably worse than others. The Chinese government raised Beijing’s four-tiered smog alert to “orange” this week as the city’s smog levels reached to dangerous levels. Heavy smog blanketed the city, and the alert level lead to bans on barbecues, fireworks, and halted demolition work.
If the current levels in Beijing persist through the weekend the government will be forced to raise the urgency level to “red.” Lung cancer rates in the city have nearly doubled, and Chinese officials estimate that the country’s pollution issue is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people every year. China has plans to curb the problem which include spending $162 billion to clean up primary sources of pollutants.
In India, air pollution levels have reached an all-time-high, and concern for global and local health from the issue has reached a state of emergency. More asthma-related death reports come from India than anywhere else in the world, and air pollution indoors and outdoors are the third and fifth leading causes of death in the country, respectively. According to the World Bank, the issue is costing India $80 billion annually, and is responsible for 23 percent of India’s child mortality.