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Don’t Breathe

Posted on October 6, 2016 by Jeanne Roberts There have been 0 comments

We have all read the warnings about air pollution and its effect on humans. For those who missed these cautionary tales, the International Energy Agency, or IEA, recently produced a study which suggests that as many as 6.5 million deaths globally can be attributed to circulating atmospheric pollutants.

This puts air pollution – aka emissions, air quality, particulate matter, photochemical smog – near the top of a list of generally fatal health hazards, the first being cardiovascular diseases (more than 17.5 million in 2012), and the second being cancer (an 8.02 million in 2016).

It’s interesting to note that other major causes of death, worldwide and regionally, include COPD (3.1 million), and lower respiratory infections (anther 3.1 million).

Both of these diseases can be directly attributed to air pollution and particulates. As can certain aspects of cardiovascular disease – namely atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, stroke, arrhythmia, and heart failure.

Even some forms of cancer are now viewed as “delayed” health problems resulting from airborne pollution. In fact, sorting out the tangled web of air pollution-related diseases has only begun, and some surprising new culprits have joined the lineup. But read on …

Air Pollution, a Bigger Disease Target Than Estimated

Heart specialists are at the forefront of a growing body of medical professionals, focused on the dangers of air pollution, who feel the need to warn their patients to avoid high-risk jobs; stay indoors during periods of peak air pollution; and avoid some public venues that contribute to the air pollution problem.

Besides the obvious (electric power plants, wastewater processing facilities, oil/gas refineries, farming operations, airports, and highways), these places include charbroil barbecue restaurants; open-air restaurants with grills; public venues that allow people to smoke (most of them now on Mars, thank heaven); graphics and printing establishments; construction sites; forestry operations (including milling); fisheries (including processing); textile operations; and even some laundromats that offer specialized cleaning services like dry cleaning and spot removal.

Global Risks, but Americans Are Not Exempt

Nor is the above a complete list. And Americans are not exempt. The truth is, while the highest levels of air pollution occur in low- and middle-income countries like Africa and India, some regional clusters in the U.S. – in low-income areas – rival anything the world’s poorest countries have to offer.

This is because public infrastructure development (of electricity and water systems, and factory-type production, etc.) invariably targets poorer communities.

Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago, and New York are prime examples of this NIMBY effect, which empowers affluent communities to say “NO”, even as their poorer neighbors are forced to accept such facilities in order to gain jobs or help their areas get needed revenues. (NIMBY stands for “Not in My Back Yard”).

The Newest Risk

Pollution carries risks. For example, a very recent study has identified magnetite particles in the amyloid-plaque portion of the brain of Alzheimer’s victims.

Five years ago, this discovery might have been heralded as proving that humans, too, have built-in geolocators, just like birds and other migratory animals.

More recently, however, scientists have begun to see these human-brain deposits as the result of particulate air pollution passing through the nose and into the brain. These abnormal accumulations – of what researchers are calling “brain metals” – are in fact a hallmark of Alzheimer’s.

Jon Dobson, of the University of Florida, notes that the finding “opens up questions about neurotoxic effects from industrial pollutants”. Up to now, while industrial pollutants have been suspected in a wide range of neurological disorders, none has been positively identified.

The form of magnetite found in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients is identical to iron oxide nanoparticles that result from combustion or friction-derived heating. They are also produced as anti-corrosion agents in coating materials for metal and glass, or as pigments in concrete, brick, tile and the like.

Many of these particles are less than 2 nanometers, so they can enter the brain either directly via the olfactory nerve itself or by taking advantage of a nasal malformation or disease process such as when cocaine erodes the olfactory neuroepithelium (or nasal septum).

Magnetite is linked to increased production of damaging reactive oxygen species, or ROS. These ROS are also linked to other neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Creutzfeldt - Jakob disease (“mad cow”), Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s), and potentially Multiple Sclerosis, or MS.

Was it only this past summer that scientists discovered chemicals could pass across the blood/brain barrier? Or, should we now say, “What barrier?”

This post was posted in Blog and Green Library, Health and Safety, The Air We Breathe and was tagged with air pollution Alzheimer's particulate matter emissions air quality photochemical smog cardiovascular cancer COPD respiratory Not in My Back Yard NIMBY magnetite iron oxide geolocators nanoparticle neu, air quality, ALS, CO2, Lou Gehrig’s Multiple Sclerosis, MS blood-brain barrier


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