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Traffic pollution linked to brain damage

Simon Forsyth/FlickrUSC scientists link vehicle emissions to brain damage in mice.

Ever feel as though you’re losing your mind as you sit in your car, inching along at one mile per hour in rush-hour traffic?

New science suggests you really may be. 

Researchers at the University of Southern California found that short-term exposure to traffic pollution causes brain damage.

And mice exposed to a smoky cocktail of vehicle emissions – including burnt fossil fuels, weathered car parts and pavement – exhibited signs of memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease after just a few tokes.

The study appeared in Thursday’s online edition of Environmental Health Perspectives.

Several studies have shown a correlation between traffic pollution and ill health. But this is the first to look for a direct link between vehicle emissions and brain damage.

The researchers collected air samples from the 110 Freeway in Los Angeles onto filters, added a little water to them, and then freeze-dried the particles until they were ready to begin the experiment.

They also filtered out anything that wasn’t nano-sized.

They then exposed mice to the air-borne particles for five hours a day, three times a week, for ten weeks.

And they were surprised by what they had found.

“We’d been looking at the effects of the environment, and diet in particular, on the brain. And we knew that air pollution, specifically traffic pollution, has shown effects on lungs and the respiratory system,” said Todd Morgan, lead author of the study and a researcher at USC. “We wanted to see what impact it had on the brain. We know that there are neurons – olfactory neurons – that lead straight from the nose into the brain.”

Morgan said the particles the mice were exposed to are the same as those any driver would experience on the road – with their windows open or closed.

But, those with their windows open would get a higher dose. He said drivers of convertibles, motorcycles and even postal workers – whose doors are open all day long – would be the most at risk.

But he stressed caution about reading too much into the results. The work was done on mice, and therefore implications for humans are not clear-cut.

However, he said the results do warrant further study, so that we can better understand the effects on human brains.

He said the study supported others that have found children and adults who live in more polluted areas have lower IQ scores than those living elsewhere.


Filed under: Environment, Daily Report


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