Clean Air, Healthy Brains

by | Mar 8, 2019

It’s been known for quite some time that polluted air leads to heart and lung problems, and now we are becoming aware that air pollution also has a negative effect on our brains [1]. There is growing evidence that toxic chemicals in our air are linked to disorders such as autism, ADHD, intellectual disability and learning disorders.

Project TENDR (TargetingEnvironmental Neuro-Development Risks), which is run by a unique group of leading scientists, health professions and children’s health advocates, is helping us better understand what we should do about it.

Below is the breakdown of their recommendations.

#1: The US Environmental Protection Agency (or EPA) sets the national air quality standards, known as NAAQS standards. They also calculate the cost of air pollution to our healthcare system. They should give greater consideration to evidence of how toxic air impacts the health of our brain and the resulting serious health issues when they set the NAAQS standards and when they calculate the cost of poor air to our healthcare.

The importance here being that if the EPA does not do this, the cost of air pollution to health care might be lower than it actually is. This could lead people to believe that air pollution is not as pricey as it truly is. It would be like buying something with a price tag of $10 dollars, only later to find out that your credit card was charged for $1,000. What a rip off. Also, the NAAQS standards might not be as good if the effect of air pollution on brain health is not seriously considered.

#2:The EPA should strengthen and enforce federal fuel efficiency standards. Meaning, on average, new vehicles should be able to drive 36 miles per gallon instead of 25 miles per gallon.

The less fuel that a vehicle uses, the less combustion-related pollutants are released into the air. And the less fuel your vehicle uses, the more money you save when you go to fill up. Win-Win!

#3: States and local governments should promote and advance clean energy policies that reduce reliance on fossil fuels, including coal, that is used for energy generation and transportation.

Many states, including New York, Washington DC, Oregon, Hawaii, and California, are moving towards renewable energy for electricity generation. This is a complicated topic, however, since there are a lot of workers whose livelihood comes from the coal industry. Retraining such a large number of people for other jobs has many challenges but we shouldn’t give up on fighting for clean air AND figuring out how to help those who want and need to transition out of the coal industry at the same time.

#4: State and regional agencies should develop best practices that help reduce combustion-related pollutants from large sources (such as highways, other major roadways, ports and rail yards) near residential neighborhoods.

This one is pretty straightforward. When you visit a doctor, wouldn’t you want them to be using the absolute best practices in medicine rather random methods that are convenient and lucrative for them? Same goes here, wouldn’t you want your state to use the best practices available to limit the harmful impact of combustion-related pollutants on your health?

#5: Regional air pollution control agencies across the United States should restrict permitting new sources of combustion-related air pollutants (like highways, ports and rail yards) to be placed in close proximity to residential areas.

Basically, let’s not create new problems. There are amazing urban planners out there who can suggest city and neighborhood layouts that limits how many pollution sources are located near where people live.

#6: Expand air monitoring near locations where children spend time

Air monitoring helps us paint a much more accurate picture of what is going on with the air quality. This would help the local community understand the environment that they live in and know during which days they should stay indoors to protect themselves from poor air quality. Don’t miss our blog on how the Hoover High School environmental science research competition team built their own air monitoring device HERE!

#7-8: Expand research to (1) find strategies to mitigate exposures near large sources of combustion-related air pollution and (2) understand the effects of ultrafine particles on human health

Without research, it’s not possible to know the best approaches of how to help people who are currently living near large sources of combustion-related air pollution or to understand the effects of air quality on our health in general.

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Whew! That was a lot of information. Important, but a lot. Let’s a few deep breaths together. In through the nose, counting to four…1..2..3..4.. And out through the mouth, counting to six… 1..2..3..4..5..6.. Repeat a few more times.

‘Til next time. Wishing you joy, safety and ease.

Anna


References:
[1] https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304902

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