Air Pollution Increases Risk of Dementia

by updated 2012/02/26

In the past month more studies have linked particulates in the air to increased risk of heart disease and cancer beyond just lung cancer.  For example a recent Journal of the American Medical Association article by researchers in France stated that pollution like carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.  The link between air pollution and lung problems like asthma and lung cancer has been long been known, but these new studies show that the effects may go much further in impacting health.  Now, a new study shows that air pollutants may increase the risk of cognitive decline in older people.  I was not able to read the full article as it is behind a pay wall but I suspect that pollutants such as heavy metals might be behind this finding.

The joke here would be to say I am glad I don’t live in Los Angeles.  But the reality is that some surprising places in the U.S. have very high levels of air pollution.  Many valley towns are susceptible to air inversions that trap particulates close to the ground.  Other cities and towns are downwind from coal plants and other industrial sources of pollutants.  Then there are those of us that love a good campfire or fire in the fireplace.  What might we be exposing ourselves to?

My first reaction is not to get too worked up about this, what about you?  Have you banned wood stoves or fireplace fires from your home?  Do you love to sit around the campfire?  Personally my pet peeve is all the diesel pickup trucks we have around here.  Driving behind one will make you have to turn off air vents and close windows.  Why can’t manufacturers make those vehicles less polluting?

Will Sig
1 Fritzie N.

This is very alarming. I didn’t know that pollution can increase the risk of dementia. Our place is kind of polluted. How old does dementia usually strike? Thanks for sharing these studies and info.

-Fritzie

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2 Binky

Since we all breathe in great quantities of air, I don’t think it’s all that surprising that air pollution will negatively impact our health. What is surprising is that it seems much more could have been done about it in the past. We knew about it in the late sixties; maybe not the exact consequences, but it doesn’t take much to realize we’d all be better off with clean air.
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3 Danyelle Franciosa

Truly very alarming, it has a big effect to our health because the air we breathe is the air that gives us life which directly goes in our body. I hope there is a study on how to prevent this.

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4 isabella057

Air is very essential to us. We must make a move to prevent this alarming situation. I have a skin asthma, and I can’t stand this air pollution were I lived in. We should help in cleaning our dear earth. Thanks for this post.

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5 Jan

I think this might have to spur me to action. We live close to a metal foundry and many years ago we had a public meeting where we could address our concerns. Over the past year, about once a week thick red or yellow smoke comes pouring out of the roof (not the chimney) and I have seen a thick pal float down the road that looks like a thick morning fog. I recently took a picture of the red smoke and this post has reminded me to do something about it. It is certainly not somewhere that I want to retire!

I’m with you on the smelly cars and trucks Will. Our local council has been changing over to gas run buses over the past few years – a big improvement. I love campfires and the smell of freshly burning wood though.
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6 RK Henderson

The scientist in me is a bit leery of this one. As you say, Will, air pollution is linked to everything. Air is also everywhere. So is disease. And all the air is polluted on this planet, ergo… air causes disease? Sort of reminds me of the classic argument that carrots are poisonous, because everybody who ate one in 1876 is now dead.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not part of the powerful pro-air pollution lobby. But results like this give me pause. I can’t think of a viable way to isolate the effects of air pollution from all other possible influences in a polluted environment. And if they’re using rats to determine all this, well, that methodology also has known failings.

I’m gonna stick with “air pollution is bad because it is.” There are plenty of scientific data that show that.
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7 Anthony Samsel

The following comment is a copy of an op Ed written at the request of Peter Roquemore of the Union of Concerned Scientists. It also appeared in one of NH’s papers and online.

A Victory for All Who Breathe

The EPA on December 21, 2011, announced one of the most significant new air quality standard in our countries history. The first Mercury Air Toxin Standard for Mercury Pollution from Power Plants is a giant step forward and a victory for all Americans who breathe. My wife who suffers from a debilitating respiratory illness will benefit along with all Americans from this positive action. Thank you to all who made this possible, especially to Senators Jeanne Shaheen, Kelly Ayotte and Representative Charlie Bass from New Hampshire. Their yes vote has prevented further delay of the new EPA Air Rules for oil and coal fired power plants. This will help prevent up to 46,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 540,000 life threatening asthma attacks a year. Even the deniers will have cleaner air !

This means so much to me personally as I was privileged to be their at the very beginning. I have now come full circle with this effort, which began In the 1970s while working as a scientist and consultant at Arthur D. Little, Inc. Cambridge, MA. At that time, we looked forward to cleaning up the air for our children and grandchildren. Now, my grandchildren are almost ready for college and will hopefully be able to see the results for which we have waited decades.

Sampling power plant emissions in South Boston, MA, forty years ago was an experience of a lifetime. I have vivid memories of that first day and many others working on the roof of Boston Edison and other power plants under EPA contract. Along with my colleagues, a van load of scientific instruments and equipment we rode the elevator to the roof. It was a brutally cold mid winter day with an off-shore wind blowing the stack emissions down onto the rooftop. We were engulfed in the inescapable chocking gases billowing from the stack rising hundreds of feet above the Boston skyline.

I was the youngest member of the team and as the others were afraid of heights, became the first person in New England to climb the stacks to obtain samples. Hand over hand, without the security of a safety harness, rung after metal rung, I climbed risking my life hundreds of feet above the ground. My eyes were burning, my nose and throat raw from the acid mist. I could feel the powerful vibrations of this roaring beast through my hands and feet as if it were alive and trying to shake my advance. Finally at the top, I inserted the twelve foot long stainless steel sampling probe which was attached to hundreds of feet of wire and tubing. The conquest would be experienced again as we spent many days on the roofs of coal and oil fired plants during that year. The sampling we did developed the initial techniques and methods for air quality sampling for the EPA.

Today, the great news is that this new National Standard for Mercury From Power Plants will help to eliminate up to 90% of the toxins from DIRTY COAL emissions which include: Mercury, Cadmium, Arsenic, Antimony, Thallium, Beryllium, Chromium, Lead, Hydrogen Fluoride and the radioactive carcinogens of Uranium, Thorium and Radon. According to the American Lung Association, nearly 155 million people in the United States live in counties with unhealthful ozone, particulates and these deadly pollutants.

Finally after forty years, most of these toxic emissions will be eliminated, vastly improving the health of all Americans and save billions in health care costs annually. The Clean Air Act of 1970 (CAA) continues a 40-year track record of using sound science to save lives, protect human health and safeguard our environment.

Anthony Samsel was an environmental consultant at Arthur D. Little, Cambridge, MA on many US Coast Guard, EPA, and Army Corps of Engineers environmental projects and impact statements. He is a member of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the author of “The Guide To Water Cleanup Materials & Methods”.

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8 Tony McGurk

I guess there’s no escaping it seeing as we need to breathe. The stack climbing sounded pretty unpleasant an experience. Here in Launceston smoke pollution in winter sits in the valley & is quite a problem. Government blames wood fires but they seem to refuse to hold big companies that pollute to account. There’s a timber factory down the road from us owned by one of the biggest timber companies in Tasmania that also seems to hold a lot of political influence. Smoke billows from their smokestack all day long. The local council tried to fine them but was told by state government that they didn’t have the authority to do so & to leave them alone. Admittedly a lot of it is from fires during winter but I can’t imagine winter without my nice warm wood burning heater.
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9 Will

Yes burning fires is a bug part of it too. Starting March 1st until it becomes too dry and dangerous, open burning is allowed here. People burn everything. They are supposed to burn only dry leaves, branches, etc. but lots of people do not follow the rules. If you walk around and look at the cooled off burn piles when people are done, you will be amazed at the stuff left that does not burn. There are box mattress springs, reclining chair metal frames, and all kinds of other metal stuff. The material and plastics burn but leave the non-burnable evidence behind. Then whole area smells like the aftermath of a house fire for months.

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