Share this Post:

unEARTHED. The Earthjustice Blog

This Is Your Brain on Dirty Air… Any Questions?


    SIGN-UP for our latest news and action alerts:
   Please leave this field empty

Facebook Fans

Related Blog Entries

by Liz Judge:

President Obama won the White House on a platform of hope and change – promising an end to dirty corporate influence over our political system a...

by Sam Edmondson:
The Nation Is Sick of Soot

Sometimes, little things cause big problems. The tiny particles in soot pollution are 1/30th the width of a strand of your hair, and yet those tiny pa...

by Sam Edmondson:
Republicans Like Clean Air, Too

The title of this post isn't a revelation. If it's surprising at all, it's only because there is one highly visible place where it just isn't true: Co...

Earthjustice on Twitter

View Sam Edmondson's blog posts
05 July 2011, 12:18 PM
New research links air pollution to depression, brain changes

Remember the anti-drug commercial where illicit drugs (played by butter) fried a brain (played by an egg)? Over the action, a gravelly voice intoned "This is drugs. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?"

Those PSAs were a fixture of my childhood. Now, well into adulthood, I wonder if it is perhaps time for a redux. But in the sequel, instead of playing drugs, butter would play the part of dirty air.

Why the update, you ask? Because it turns out that over time, lungfuls of dirty air may affect our memories and even our moods.

This revelation comes from a neuroscience research team at Ohio State University, which published its findings this week in the journal Molecular Psychiatry (find it next to Rolling Stone at the local newsstand, or here). The research suggests that chronic exposure to soot—also known as fine particulate matter, or PM2.5—leads to inflammation in the hippocampus and cell connections therein that are both weaker and fewer. Such changes are connected to decreased learning and memory function, as well as depression.

The hippocampus sounds like an institute of higher learning for river horses (the literal translation of the Greek word "hippopotamus"), but it's actually an incredibly important part of the brain. "We wanted to look carefully at the hippocampus because it is associated with learning, memory and depression," said Laura Fonken, the study's lead author.

Why does this matter to us? Well, soot is extremely common. It is generated wherever fossil fuels are burned, which means it's billowing out of a tailpipe or smokestack nearby. According to the American Lung Association, more than 18.5 million people in the U.S. live in an area where the year-round levels of such pollution are unhealthy.

We've known for a long time that soot is bad for the lungs and the heart—not to mention a significant cause of premature death. But this latest research indicates it's bad for our brains, too.

Fortunately, something can be done. Particle pollution is controlled by the Clean Air Act, and every five years, the Environmental Protection Agency is supposed to review the latest science and update air quality standards to ensure the public is adequately protected from breathing dangerous levels of the stuff. The time for EPA review is upon us; the agency should set as strong a standard as possible, and Earthjustice is working to ensure it does. The health reasons for doing so were already plentiful, but it seems these researchers at Ohio State may have added another one to the list.
 

great article!

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <p> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <blockquote>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

Type the characters you see in this picture. (verify using audio)
Type the characters you see in the picture above; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.