Exposure to airborne pollution has been known to harm people’s hearts and lungs for a long time now. But, recently, a growing body of research indicates that air pollution can also affect brain function. So what are the air pollutants that can hurt people’s brains, and how can brain-harming air pollution be controlled?
Air Quality and Health
Poor outdoor and indoor air quality is the leading cause of pollution-related deaths.
Air pollution, particularly traffic-related pollution, has been linked to an increased risk of neurodegenerative illness, including Alzheimer’s disease, and even neurodevelopmental diseases such as:
- Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Learning and cognitive difficulties
However, more study is needed to identify whether these links are causative and, if so, to discover which components of polluted air are responsible for these illnesses and whether individual characteristics such as age, heredity, and gender are essential.
High-efficiency Air Filters In Heavy Traffic Areas
Living near major roadways that are highly crowded with traffic has also been linked to an increased prevalence of brain function illnesses like autism and Alzheimer’s disease, emphasizing the importance of installing air filters with better capture efficiency in residences and buildings near heavily congested roadways.
However, experts are unsure whether this is due to more significant quantities of airborne contaminants emitted by automobiles and trucks on the road or to noise and vibration. And, if air pollution is the root cause of many neurological illnesses, which contaminants are to blame?
Pollutants in the Air That Can Harm the Brain
Lead, mercury, and particulate matter are air contaminants that can harm the brain. These air pollutants can originate from many sources, with particulate matter pollution most prevalent in the total air quality.
Particulate matter pollution refers to fine particles emitted mainly by material combustion. Particulate matter is commonly classified into three categories: PM10, which refers to particles 10 m or smaller, PM2.5, which refers to particles 2.5 m or smaller, and PM1, which refers to particles 1 m or less. PM1 exposure is exceptionally harmful since the smaller these particles are, the more damage they may cause.
Particulate matter pollution may occur in various forms and sizes. Therefore, the sources of these particles are diverse. Some sources are generated directly by sources such as fireplaces, smokestacks, and construction sites. Many particles originate from interactions between various chemicals, such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.
Mercury is a highly toxic neurotoxin that may arise from natural and artificial sources. Although natural causes such as volcanoes can spew mercury into the atmosphere, a significant amount of mercury is also emitted by industrial boilers and coal-fired power plants. In addition, mercury may accumulate in the bodies of animals such as fish and travel up the food chain when swallowed by other creatures.
The hazards of lead exposure are widely understood, as it may harm nearly every organ in the body. Lead air pollution may arise from various sources, including piston-engine plane fuel, ore refinement, waste incinerators, and the manufacture of lead-acid batteries. In addition, lead was once widely used in gasoline for automobiles, but EPA measures reduced lead in the air by 98 percent between 1980 and 2014.
The Effects of Air Pollution on the Brain
According to research, air pollution can impair the brain by raising the chances of acquiring neurological illnesses, increasing the frequency of strokes, and limiting brain function growth and development.
Because fine particulate matter is so minute, it may easily enter people’s lungs and bloodstreams. Particulate matter can even go through the circulatory system and into the brain, where it can cause strokes. Particulate matter is considered to cause hundreds to thousands of strokes each year, and studies have revealed links between exposure to sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and ozone and an elevated risk of stroke.
When pregnant women are exposed to particulate matter in the third trimester, it has been linked to the development of Alzheimer’s and other neurological illnesses and the likely development of autism.
Because mercury may remain latent in the body for years, even mothers who do not exhibit signs of mercury poisoning can have children with neurological defects after being exposed to it. In addition, mercury exposure in utero can influence a child’s growing nervous system and brain function, resulting in reduced cognitive capacities such as language skills, memory, attention, and motor skills.
Lead poisoning is exceedingly deadly, and there is no known safe threshold of lead exposure. Lead poisoning may harm a person’s whole body, with the brain, kidney, liver, and bones bearing the brunt of the damage. Even in adults, high amounts of lead exposure can cause brain damage and reduced mental performance, but the harm is far more severe in children.
Controlling Brain-Harming Air Pollution
Controlling air pollution that damages the brain entails restricting pollutant sources. Source control for particulate matter, mercury, and lead emissions can be accomplished through various strategies such as legislation and innovation.
Regulations and limits on particulate matter emissions help reduce particulate matter levels in the air. The Clean Air Act is responsible for thousands of lives saved each year by lowering levels of criteria air pollutants such as particle air pollution, and it has lowered levels of lead air pollution by 85 percent between 1990 and 2015. Tighter limits on particle air pollution levels can continue to save lives and prevent the development of neurological disorders.
Technological innovation can also help to reduce levels of pollutants in the atmosphere. For example, hybrid vehicles consume less gas and emit fewer pollutants into the atmosphere due to more efficient combustion engines. In addition, power stations have installed scrubbers and capture systems on incinerators to assist control heavy metal emissions such as lead and mercury.
Air Filters can reduce air pollutants in homes and businesses. All building occupants can benefit from using filters with superior particle removal performance. When filters are examined according to current filter testing standards, the minimum filter efficiency level in regions of high pollutant level concern should be MERV 13 or ePM1-50.
Controlling air pollution that hurts the brain is critical for societal health, and we must all act together to reduce harmful air pollutants that can cause brain function disorders.
Controlling Pollution and Promoting Health
Fortunately, air pollution is controllable; however, improvements in research design and air pollution assessment are required to enable more reliable and precise estimates of the potential harmful impacts on brain function and cerebrovascular illness. Looking to the future, as a nation, we must take steps to ensure our air is as clean as possible. At Filti, we manufacture high-quality home and commercial filters that can protect you, your family, and your staff from the damaging effects of air pollution. For more information on quality home and commercial air filters, contact Filti.