New research from the University of Rochester shows that the exposure to air pollution can have toxic effects on the brain. More than half the U.S. population is living in areas with unhealthy air quality. Moreover, the World Health Organization has identified air pollution as the largest single environmental health risk in the world today. High air pollution has been linked to below-average results on intelligence tests; poorer memory, attention, and vocabulary; and developmental disorders such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
A professor of environmental medicine at the University of Rochester was originally studying the effects of lead exposure. Experiments with mice made it apparent that air pollution exposure caused changes in their behavior as well as widespread inflammation in their brains. Inflammation can damage neurons and prevent the brain from developing properly.
Particles present in polluted air can reach the brain either by traveling through the thin layer between the nasal cavity and the brain, or by passing from the lungs into the blood stream, which then carries the pollution directly to the brain. Polluted particles can be of varying sizes, and what is contained in the mix is related to location. The composition of air pollution can fluctuate dramatically within a neighborhood, a block, or even be different from hour to hour in the same place.
Lead was commonly used in everything from paint to gasoline until the link between its toxicity and adverse health effects could be proven – which took the better part of a century. Researchers were able to show that even low levels of lead exposure resulted in an increased risk for behavioral and cognitive problems in children. Air pollution has similar effects and is just as difficult to remove once it has entered the environment. As with lead poisoning, the victims are more often children of color and those living in low-income communities.
These children may also be more strongly affected by the air pollution in their communities because of the social stressors they are dealing with. Studies have shown that air pollution is less damaging when factors like food insecurity or institutionalized racism are removed.
The EPA is on trend to weaken the regulations around air pollution and restrict the data that can be used to form EPA policies. The agency currently only measures certain types of particles in air pollution and has no standards for “ultrafine” particles. Much research still needs to be done to understand which particles are the most dangerous and when the most damage occurs in children or pregnant women and their babies.
A new initiative from the National Institute of Health will collect data on 50,000 children to track their environmental exposure and neurodevelopment. Scientists hope to be able to influence policy with the results.
If you or someone you love has been harmed by exposure to toxic chemicals the dedicated Philadelphia environmental lawyers at Williams Cedar LLC can help. Our knowledgeable and experienced attorneys will fight to obtain justice and compensation on your behalf. Call 215-557-0099 today to schedule a free consultation about your case or contact us online. From our offices in Philadelphia and Haddonfield, we represent clients throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and across the U.S.