Welcome to Zordar Times!

Air Pollution: Threat to Mental Well-being


Pabitra Priyadarshini Jena

In this article, we discuss air pollution’s effects on the brain. Our discussion will cover some statistics, harmful effects, and possible solutions.

Air Pollution

Image courtesy: STAT news

Recently, I came across an article on Science Daily regarding how traffic pollution impedes brain function. Twenty-five healthy adults were exposed to diesel exhaust and filtered air during an experiment conducted by the University of British Columbia. Brain fMRI scans were taken before and after exposure. Upon exposure to diesel exhaust, their brains were found to have reduced cognitive performance. The researchers also reported that these effects were temporary and that brain activity returned to normal after the exposure.

It’s worth noting that if such a brief exposure can lower brain function, what about long-term exposure?

In order to better understand the cognitive decline and air pollution, as well as its harmful effects and ways to stop them, I conducted further research on the topic.

Air pollution: what is it and how does it occur?

A pollutant is a substance or particle present in the air that can be harmful to human health, animal life, and the environment. The sources of these pollutants include industrial emissions, vehicle exhaust, fossil fuel burning, household garbage waste, coal, wood and charcoal (during cooking), agricultural activity, as well as natural sources such as dust and wildfires.

Gases that contribute to air pollution include:

  • Carbon monoxide
  • Sulfur dioxide
  • Nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter

There are approximately 30% of commercially available chemicals that are neurotoxic!

The next step is to understand how it affects our brain:

There was a time when scientists believed that air pollution did not affect the brain. This has been proven false by a recent study (experiment referred to above).

Although air pollution has been shown to adversely affect mental health, its exact mechanism of action is unknown. We do know this, however:

It is possible for particles to enter the body through the bloodstream or the thin lining of the nose. Consequently, inflammation occurs, followed by oxidative damage to proteins, free radical production, and abnormal protein aggregate formation, leading to neurodegeneration.

Listed below are some stats about the same:

  1. 6.6 million Canadians were surveyed in 2016 and a road-closed population had a 7% higher risk of dementia than a street-adjacent population.
  2. It is estimated that air pollution is responsible for one-third of all strokes, lung cancers, and heart attacks.
  3. Among children under 18, 43% live in areas where air pollution levels are higher than WHO recommendations.
  4. According to the World Health Organization, 6.5 million deaths were caused by air pollution worldwide in 2015.
  5. Worldwide, approximately 3.7 million premature deaths occur every year, of which 88% are in countries with middle and low incomes.

Image courtesy: NRDC

Harmful effects of air pollution on the brain:

  1. An unborn child’s detoxification system is weak during gestation. As a result, exposure to harmful particles in the air can alter the morphology of the brain permanently. It should be noted that placenta cells are absorbing plastic particles that are as large as cloud droplets.
  2. Induces neurodegenerative diseases by impairing cognitive function and making people think or work less effectively.
  3. Affects cell growth and migration, among other physiological processes. Infants and children’s developing brains are most likely to be affected by this. Autism spectrum disorder and other mental disorders have been linked to it.
  4. A child’s memory, verbal and non-verbal skills may be adversely affected even if they are not born with any of the above disorders.
  5. Those exposed to air pollution suffer from more mental health symptoms. In some cases, depression and suicidal tendencies can accompany these mental health symptoms, especially in those suffering from existing mental health problems.
  6. It is estimated that 1.2 billion people, including agricultural workers, construction workers, waste collectors, and police officers, spend the majority of their time outdoors; such workers are particularly vulnerable to ambient air pollution. Furthermore, such workers frequently breathe polluted air, as well as solar UV and allergenic pollen.

Here are some possible solutions:

  1. An emphasis on monitoring air quality can be placed on areas around hospitals, schools, and workplaces, in particular.
  2. The energy consumption of hospitals is among the highest in developed countries. Health sectors can demonstrate the benefits of climate change mitigation by reducing their own carbon footprint.
  3. The average hospital in a developed country consumes a considerable amount of energy. Health sector emissions can be reduced to demonstrate how mitigation of climate change benefits health.
  4. Be careful if you have a young child walking on busy streets during rush hour, and make sure they are above the level of exhaust fumes. During peak traffic times, such as when cars are stopped at traffic lights, limit the time you spend there.
  5. Try exercising in places that are less polluted when you’re out in the fresh air.
  6. Avoid burning waste due to the harmful effects of smoke.

Check out your city’s  Air Quality Index here!

In conclusion, brain function can be temporarily impaired by even brief exposure to traffic pollution. The neurological effects of air pollution remain a concern.

Inflammation, oxidative damage, and neurodegeneration are caused by air pollution, which contains various pollutants including neurotoxic chemicals. Among children, it can adversely affect brain development and cause mental illnesses. Several alarming statistics illustrate how air pollution affects people in many ways, including an increased risk of dementia, strokes, lung cancers, and heart attacks. It is particularly dangerous for pregnant women and outdoor workers. In order to mitigate the harmful effects of air pollution, it is essential to monitor air quality, reduce emissions, and adopt personal preventive measures.

Zordar Times is an independent media organization that delivers news, opinions, and information free from political or business influence. We remain committed to unbiased reporting and transparency. To sustain our mission, we rely on financial support from readers like you. By contributing any amount you desire, you empower our journalists and writers to carry out their duties without fear or pressure. Click the button below to support us. Thank you for standing with us!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *