Air pollution may be making us less intelligent

file-20181210-76959-ytz2gaNot only is air pollution bad for our lungs and heart, it turns out it could actually be making us less intelligent, too. A recent study found that in elderly people living in China, long-term exposure to air pollution may hinder cognitive performance (things like our ability to pay attention, to recall past knowledge and generate new information) in verbal and maths tests. As people age, the link between air pollution and their mental decline becomes stronger. The study also found men and less educated people were especially at risk, though the reason why is currently unknown.

We already have compelling evidence that air pollution – especially the tiniest, invisible particulates in pollution – damages the brain in both humans and animals. Traffic pollution is associated with dementia, delinquent behaviour in adolescents, and stunted brain development in children who attend highly polluted schools.

In animals, mice exposed to urban air pollution for four months showed reduced brain function and inflammatory responses in major brain regions. This meant the brain tissues changed in response to the harmful stimuli produced by the pollution.

We don’t yet know which aspects of the air pollution particulate “cocktail” (such as the size, number or composition of particles) contribute most to reported brain deterioration. However, there’s evidence that nanoscale pollution particles might be one cause.

These particles are around 2,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, and can be moved around the body via the bloodstreamafter being inhaled. They may even reach the brain directly through the olfactory nerves that give the brain information about smell. This would let the particles bypass the blood-brain barrier, which normally protects the brain from harmful things circulating in the bloodstream.

Postmortem brain samples from people exposed to high levels of air pollution while living in Mexico City and Manchester, UK, displayed the typical signs of Alzheimer’s disease. These included clumps of abnormal protein fragments (plaques) between nerve cells, inflammation, and an abundance of metal-rich nanoparticles (including iron, copper, nickel, platinum, and cobalt) in the brain.

The metal-rich nanoparticles found in these brain samples are similar to those found everywhere in urban air pollution, which form from burning oil and other fuel, and wear in engines and brakes. These toxic nanoparticles are often associated with other hazardous compounds, including polyaromatic hydrocarbons that occur naturally in fossil fuels, and can cause kidney and liver damage, and cancer.

Repeatedly inhaling nanoparticles found in air pollution may have a number of negative effects on the brain, including chronic inflammation of the brain’s nerve cells. When we inhale air pollution, it may activate the brain’s immune cells, the microglia. Breathing air pollution may constantly activate the killing response in immune cells, which can allow dangerous molecules, known as reactive oxygen species, to form more often. High levels of these molecules could cause cell damage and cell death.

The presence of iron found in air pollution may speed up this process. Iron-rich (magnetite) nanoparticles are directly associated with plaques in the brain. Magnetite nanoparticles can also increase the toxicity of the abnormal proteins found at the centre of the plaques. Postmortem analysis of brains from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease patients shows that microglial activation is common in these neurodegenerative diseases.

The latest study of the link between air pollution and declining intelligence, alongside the evidence we already have for the link between air pollution and dementia, makes the case for cutting down air pollution even more compelling. A combination of changes to vehicle technology, regulation and policy could provide a practical way to reduce the health burden of air pollution globally.

However, there are some things we can do to protect ourselves. Driving less and walking or cycling more can reduce pollution. If you have to use a car, driving smoothly without fierce acceleration or braking, and avoiding travel during rush hours, can reduce emissions. Keeping windows closed and recirculating air in the car might help to reduce pollution exposure during traffic jams as well.

But young children are among the most vulnerable because their brains are still developing. Many schools are located close to major roads, so substantially reducing air pollution is necessary. Planting specific tree species that are good at capturing particulates along roads or around schools could help.

Indoor pollution can also cause health problems, so ventilation is needed while cooking. Open fires (both indoors and outdoors) are a significant source of particulate pollution, with woodburning stoves producing a large percentage of outdoor air pollution in the winter. Using dry, well-seasoned wood, and an efficient ecodesign-rated stove is essential if you don’t want to pollute the atmosphere around your home. If you live in a naturally-ventilated house next to a busy road, using living spaces at the back of the house or upstairs will reduce your pollution exposure daily.

Finally, what’s good for your heart is good for your brainKeeping your brain active and stimulated, eating a good diet rich in antioxidants, and keeping fit and active can all build up resilience. But as we don’t yet know exactly the mechanisms by which pollution causes damage to our brains – and how, if possible, their effects might be reversed – the best way we can protect ourselves is to reduce or avoid pollution exposure as much as possible.

via Air pollution may be making us less intelligent

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Cyclists ‘exposed to less air pollution than drivers’ on busy routes

Study shows people in cars and buses spend longer in toxic air, as do walkers on main roads


Cyclists are the least exposed to air pollution on daily commutes into a congested city centre, research has shown. People in cars and buses spent longer in toxic air, as did walkers unless they made detours to avoid main roads.

The work, conducted in Leeds, supports the investment in cycle lanes to both reduce air pollution by cutting vehicle journeys and improve citizens’ health. It also found that air pollution reached relatively high levels inside cars, echoing a recent warning that cars are “boxes collecting toxic gases”.

Other recent research has led experts to advise parents to use covers on their buggies during the school run to protect their infants. Research in London that compared only bus, tube and car commuting found that car drivers were least affected by air pollution.

Most urban areas in the UK have illegal levels of air pollution, and ministers have lost three times in the high court over the inadequacy of their action. The latest government action plan, described by environmental lawyers as “pitiful”, revealed that air pollution was much worse than previously feared.

The new research used high-quality portable pollution-measuring equipment to track rush-hour commutes of 4km (2.5 miles) into and out of Leeds city centre in June. All the commuters set off at the same time, and the cyclists were by far the fastest, arriving in 11 minutes, half the time of bus and car travellers.

The cyclists were exposed to a total of 12m pollution particles during their journey, almost half the number encountered by those in buses and cars. Cyclists may breathe more rapidly as they exercise, which would bring the particles they inhale up to close to that of motorised transport users. But on routes with slow traffic, where car and bus commuters are forced to sit in clouds of pollution, cyclists fare best.

“On more congested routes, the cyclist would come out with the lowest inhaled dose,” said James Tate, at the University of Leeds, who led the work. Segregated cycle lanes would reduce cyclists’ exposure even more, he said, with a distance of even a metre or two from traffic cutting particles by about a quarter. “Cycle lanes mean you can skip past traffic,” he said. Other research shows the exercise benefits of cycling outweigh the harm of air pollution.

The commuting route was quite long for walkers, and their 35-minute journey time meant they experienced the highest air pollution. The researchers also tested a green walking route that was 20% longer but avoided busy streets. They found particle exposure fell by 75% on the green route. In London, another study found green routes cut walkers’ exposure by half.

“Walkers have a decision to make, particularly on polluted days,” said Tate. “It may take a little longer but, if you have time, you can really cut down on your exposure by walking on a green route.”

The team analysed each stage of the commutes and found the most polluted times for walkers were when they waited at junctions controlled by traffic lights. For cyclists, the peak pollution was when high buildings formed a canyon that trapped toxic air.

Nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant largely emitted by diesel vehicles, was only measured in the vehicles, owing to the cumbersome size of the equipment needed. Inside the cabin of a small electric Nissan van, the driver was exposed to levels above the annual legal limit of 40 micrograms per cubic metre for much of the journey, with peaks of over 100 micrograms per cubic metre.

“Once you have drawn it in, it takes quite a while for the cabin to ventilate,” said Tate, who presented the work at a Royal Society of Chemistry conference. It would cost manufacturers just a few pounds to fit a charcoal filter that would cut nitrogen dioxide levels by 90%, he said.

Gary Fuller, of King’s College London, the author of The Invisible Killer, said: “Forty percent of car journeys in England are less than two miles so there is huge scope for walking and cycling. More active travel has multiple benefits: it can reduce air pollution, reduce climate change emissions and help with urban noise. But most of all, more active travel can help people to get more exercise in their everyday life, and yield huge health benefits as a consequence.”

via Cyclists ‘exposed to less air pollution than drivers’ on busy routes | Environment | The Guardian

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Moorland fires had ‘shocking air quality impact’


The wildfires at Saddleworth Moor and Winter Hill are likely to have had a “shocking impact” on air quality, according to a new study.

The devastating blazes were battled by hundreds of firefighters and soldiers in June and July.

Researchers said the impact of the summer fires on public health in the region could be “considerable”.

Evidence suggests “a significant negative effect on air quality” in Greater Manchester and beyond.

The paper, which was published earlier, found that during the period of the fires, levels of “particulate matter” (particles in the atmosphere), linked to serious conditions such as asthma, lung cancer and infant mortality, were “extremely high”.

When the fires were at their height, the legal limit for daily average exposure to particulate matter (50ppm) was breached on five occasions in different sites across Greater Manchester, the report by north of England think tank IPPR North says.

Monitoring stations also registered extremely high individual spikes in excess of 150ppm.

The Saddleworth blaze broke out on 24 June and about 100 soldiers were drafted in to help tackle it at its height.

At its peak the fire covered an area of 7 sq miles (18 sq km) of moorland.

Police are treating the blaze as arson after people were seen lighting a bonfire on the moors near Stalybridge.

Hundreds of firefighters also tackled the Winter Hill blaze, which broke out four days after the Saddleworth fire, and spread across 7 sq miles (18 sq km) of land.

Two men have previously been arrested over the Winter Hill fire and both were released under investigation.

Report author and research fellow Jack Hunter said: “The impact of the fires at Winter Hill and Saddleworth Moor provide a timely reminder that we must not take the north’s natural assets for granted.

“If we don’t value the natural environment properly, the consequences for people, the environment and the Northern Powerhouse economy can be disastrous.”

Mr Hunter said policymakers “need to put the natural environment right at the heart of decisions” about the future of the north of England.

Environmental concerns raised in the report follow previous research which found that Greater Manchester had “lethal and illegal” levels of NO2 air pollution.

via Moorland fires had ‘shocking air quality impact’ – BBC News

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MPCA issues air quality alert for Twin Cities, parts of central Minnesota


The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has issued an air quality alert for the Twin Cities and portions of central Minnesota, including cities like Willmar and Hutchinson.

The warning runs from 2 p.m. Tuesday through 6 p.m. Thursday.

A release said stagnant weather conditions have resulted in fine particles rising into the Orange (unhealthy for sensitive groups) category in the Twin Cities metro area. Light winds, clear skies and a strong inversion have resulted in poor dispersion, trapping air pollutants near the ground.

The release said the conditions will continue over the next couple of days as the plume of fine particles slowly moves into Central Minnesota.

A front expected to move across the state on Thursday is expected to bring cleaner air into the region.

via MPCA issues air quality alert for Twin Cities, parts of central Minnesota |

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Foggy Tuesday Morning In Delhi, Air Quality ‘Severe’

The Air Quality Index (AQI) of Delhi at 9 a.m. was 409 (severe) against 403 (severe) on Monday recorded at 4 p.m., on a scale of 0 to 500.


It was a foggy morning in the national capital on Tuesday with the air quality remaining “severe” and the minimum temperature recorded at 8.8 degrees Celsius, average for the season, the weather office said. Drop in temperature is contributing to air quality deterioration to “severe” levels in Delhi-National Capital Region.

The Air Quality Index (AQI) of Delhi at 9 a.m. was 409 (severe) against 403 (severe) on Monday recorded at 4 p.m., on a scale of 0 to 500.

“There was mist and shallow fog in the morning. The sky will remain mainly clear becoming partially cloudy in the later part of the day. Very light rain and thundershower is likely in some areas,” an India Meteorological Department (IMD) official said.

The humidity at 8.30 a.m. was 92 per cent, an unfavourable condition for pollutants to disperse.

The maximum temperature on Tuesday was likely to hover at around 23 degrees Celsius.

Monday was the second coldest day of the month with minimum temperature dipping to 7.6 degrees Celsius, one notch below season’s average, while the maximum temperature settled at 23.8 degrees Celsius, one notch below the season’s average.

via Foggy Tuesday Morning In Delhi, Air Quality ‘Severe’

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Air Pollution Linked to Intellectual Disabilities in Children  A new study has found that British children with intellectual disabilities are more likely than their peers to live in areas with high outdoor air pollution.

Breast Cancer Risk: New Study Says Long-Term Exposure To Vehicle Exhaust Fumes Results In Breast Cancer Women working near busy roads are at high risk of developing breast cancer, due to air pollution

Deadly air pollution shortens lives by nearly two years: researchers Air pollution, caused largely by burning fossil fuels, is cutting global life expectancy by an average of 1.8 years per person, making it the world’s top killer, researchers said on Monday.

Posted in Air Quality

Report reveals link between air pollution and increased risk for miscarriage

Air quality has been associated with numerous adverse health outcomes from asthma to pre-term birth. Researchers at University of Utah Health found women living along the Wasatch Front — the most populous region in the state of Utah — had a higher risk (16 percent) of miscarriage following short-term exposure to elevated air pollution. The results are available online on December 5 in the journal Fertility and Sterility.

“Not being from Salt Lake originally, I noticed a pattern in the relation to air quality and pregnancy loss,” said Matthew Fuller, M.D., assistant professor of Surgery at U of U Health and senior author on the paper. “I knew this was an understudied question so we decided to dig deeper.”

Fuller joined University of Utah research analyst Claire Leiser on a retrospective study consisting of more than 1,300 women (54 percent Caucasian, 38 percent Hispanic, and other/missing 8 percent; average age 28 years). The women in the study sought help at the U of U emergency department following a miscarriage (up to 20-weeks gestation) between 2007 to 2015.

The team examined the risk of miscarriage during a three- or seven-day window following a spike in the concentration of three common air pollutants: small particulate matter (PM 2.5), nitrogen dioxide and ozone. The study excluded women who lived outside Utah.

“We are really only seeing the most severe cases during a small window of time,” said Leiser, first author on the paper. “These results are not the whole picture.”

Leiser notes the results suggest there could be an increased risk for an individual. Their research only captured women who sought help at an emergency department at one hospital in the region. It does not account for women who may have sought outpatient care through their obstetric or primary care providers.

The team found a slight increased risk in miscarriage for women exposed to elevated levels of nitrogen dioxide (16 percent for 10 ppb increase during the seven-day window). Although small particulate matter does track with nitrogen dioxide, these results did not significantly associate with an increased risk of miscarriage.

“While we live in a pretty unique geographic area, the problems we face when it comes to air pollution are not unique,” said Fuller. “As the planet warms and population booms, air pollution is going to become a bigger problem not only in the developing world but across the United States.”

The Wasatch Front experiences short-periods of poor air quality, primarily during the winter months, when inversions trap pollutants close to the ground (for the 7-day window: PM2.5 min = 0.3 μg/m3; PM2.5 max = 73.0 μg/m3; O3 min = 4 ppb; O3 max= 80 ppb; NO2 min = 0.5 ppb; NO2 max = 65 ppb). The researchers tracked air quality by zip code, establishing six designated air basins within the Wasatch Front. They compared air quality in each basin to their patients’ outcomes.

The team conducted a case cross-over study that estimated a woman’s risk of miscarriage multiple times in a month where air pollution exposure varied. This approach removed other risk factors, like maternal age, from the study. The scientists were unable to ascertain the age of the fetus at the time of the miscarriage and were unable pinpoint a critical period when the fetus may be most vulnerable to pollutants.

“The results of this study are upsetting, and we need to work together as a society to find constructive solutions,” Fuller said.

Fuller recommends women speak with their doctor about any health concerns. Women can manage the risk by using a N95 particulate respirator face mask to filter out pollutants or avoid outdoor physical activity on poor air quality days. Women can also use filters to lower indoor pollution and, if possible, time conception to avoid seasonal episodes of poor air quality.

Leiser and Fuller were joined by Heidi Hanson, Kara Sawyer, Jacob Steenblik, Troy Madsen, James Hotaling, Yetunde Ibrahim and James VanDerslice at U of U Health; Ragheed Al-Dulaimi at Hurley Medical Center, Flint, Mich. and Karen Gibbins at Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, Ore. Their article, titled Acute Effects of Air Pollutants on Spontaneous Pregnancy Loss: A Case-Crossover Study, appears online in the December 5 issue of the journal Fertility and Sterility.

The work was funded through grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Consortium for Families & Health Research.

via Report reveals link between air pollution and increased risk for miscarriage — ScienceDaily

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Air pollution: Madrid bans old cars to reduce emissions


Spanish authorities have introduced new driving restrictions in the centre of the country’s capital, Madrid, aimed at reducing air pollution by up to 40%.

The tough measures mean motorists will have to test their vehicles’ emissions, with the oldest and most polluting vehicles banned from the city centre.

Drivers entering the controlled zone in breach of the rules will ultimately have to pay a fine of €90 (£80).

The move is also to help reduce noise and encourage more cycling in the city.

Madrid City Council estimates that the project, which was launched on Friday and labelled Madrid Central, will affect about 20% of the cars that enter the city centre.

What are Madrid’s new measures?
The new rules imposed on Madrid’s busy city centre form part of a plan by Spanish authorities to create a cleaner environment by prioritising cyclists, pedestrians, and the use of public transport.

Restrictions for those entering the designated low emission zone vary depending on the type of vehicle and its “label”, which is issued following emissions tests.

For example, hybrid cars with an “eco label” are permitted to drive freely in the centre and use public or designated car parks with no time restrictions.

However, diesel vehicles produced prior to 2006 and petrol vehicles prior to 2000 will not receive a label and can only enter the zone if they are registered in advance and have access to private parking.

From 2020, these vehicles will not be permitted to enter the emissions zone.

Meanwhile, residents who live within the controlled zone can drive freely at any time once registered, but can only park on their own street.

The Madrid Central area, which is marked with red lines on road surfaces and signs displaying red circles at the point of entry, is being policed with surveillance cameras.

How do vehicle emissions impact our health?

Concerns about the impact of exhaust pollutants emitted from older vehicles and diesel engines have risen in recent years.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that millions of deaths around the world every year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution.

Diesel engines contribute to the problem in two key ways – through the production of particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Very fine soot PM can penetrate the lungs and can contribute to cardiovascular illness and death.

Back in 2016, the mayor of Madrid, Manuela Carmena, said the issue needed to be addressed urgently in order to improve the health of “our children, our grandparents and our neighbours”.

How are other European cities tackling pollution?

Madrid is not the only capital city to focus on improving its air quality. Paris, Mexico City and Athens have all pledged to ban diesel vehicles from city centres by 2025.

Measures implemented by other cities include:


  • Banning cars built prior to 1997 from entering the city centre during weekdays between 08:00 and 20:00
  • An additional ban on all diesel vehicles registered before 2001
  • A strategy to phase out older vehicles and remove all diesels from the centre, while offering generous subsidies for other forms of transport
  • Plan to pedestrianise the city centre


  • Introduced a congestion charge for vehicles entering the centre
  • Set up a park-and-ride bus service to encourage drivers to leave their vehicles on the outskirts
  • Adopted an Urban Mobility Strategy initiative, investing in public transport systems buses, trams and the subway


  • Introduced a congestion charge for many vehicles entering the city centre
  • Established a 24-hour low emission zone targeting diesel vehicles throughout the Greater London area
  • To introduce an “ultra-low emission zone” promoting tighter exhaust emission standards in the city centre from April 2019
  • Set up “Cycle Superhighways” to make it safer to cycle throughout the city

via Air pollution: Madrid bans old cars to reduce emissions – BBC News

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