Air Pollution Impacts Brain Health

Air Pollution Impacts Brain Health

Ongoing research into air pollution’s harm to human health finds that contaminated oxygen increases the risk of dementia. According to science advisers to the UK government, breathing small toxic particles can lead to an accelerated “decline in cognitive function often associated with aging, and with the risk of developing dementia.” Prior research has linked air pollution to other adverse physical health outcomes, like asthma and lung disease, but not mental decline.

Unsurprised by the findings, Stefan Reis of the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology told New Scientist, “[They] add further weight to the understanding that air pollution health impacts are much wider and likely more profoundly affecting public health beyond the traditionally known immediate effects.”

NBC: New Study Finds Pollution Caused Nearly Nine Million Deaths Worldwide In 2019, May 18, 2022.

Euronews: Air pollution has a more devastating effect on life expectancy than smoking and war, September 7, 2021.

American Lung Association: Climate and Your Health, April 5, 2021.

Why This Matters

Air quality is one of the most significant factors for people’s health, and now we know yet another way that fine particle pollution is dangerous. Environmental justice communities, which are more overburdened by health hazards and have greater exposure to them, are more likely to have poor air quality. Recent studies have shown that Black seniors are disproportionately more likely to die from poor air quality health impacts, and that Black Americans are exposed to more pollution from every source. Most air pollution comes from burning fossil fuels, be it from coal-fired power plants or diesel car engines -- all the more reason to get off of polluting fuel sources.

Greenpeace: What is Environmental Racism?, March 19, 2021.

MSNBC: New EPA Plan Cracks Down On Pollution In Communities Of Color, January 27, 2022.

UNEP: How to claim your right for clean air, March 24, 2021.

CNBC: Why Air Quality In The US Is So Bad, April 22, 2021.

Decrease Air Pollution, Increase Life Expectancy

Air pollution is also a major issue on a global scale. It’s one of the leading causes of early death, with a well-established negative link between air pollution, health problems, and reduced life expectancy. But decreasing air pollution increases people's life expectancy by an average of 2.2 years, according to a study released last year.

In some parts of the world with exceptionally high levels of air pollution, like India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan, cleaner air could add around five years to the average life expectancy. Worldwide, people are exposed to three times the recommended amount of fine particle pollution PM2.5, which gets into the lungs and bloodstream and can lead to significant health issues.

Reuters: Air pollution cuts life expectancy by more than two years, June 15, 2022.

DW: Air pollution and what can be done to reduce it, June 6, 2022.

TED: End fossil fuels to protect human health | Carolyn Orr, March 1, 2022.

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Electric Vehicles - The Promise for Health and Equity, September 14, 2021.