Fine particulate matter found in smoke and haze from air pollution has been a growing concern regarding human health. Conditions such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases have been linked to air pollution. In a recent study, researchers have also associated pollution with an increased risk of neurological disorders.
According to the World Health Organization, nearly one out of eight deaths are caused by conditions related to particulate air pollution. The most common disease caused by air pollution is ischemic heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and acute lower respiratory infections in children.
Kevin Wood from Camfil USA shared that heart diseases associated with air pollution are caused by calcium or material buildup in the coronary artery. Blocked arteries prevent proper blood flow and result in various diseases.
Stroke is another impact of air pollution, which can lead to brain damage or death. Other illnesses such as respiratory diseases are the result of pollutants damaging the lungs.
Air Pollution Causing Neurodegenerative Diseases
A team from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health published their new study in The Lancet Planetary Health journal. Alongside Columbia University and Emory University, their study analyzes the link between fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and neurodegenerative diseases across the United States.
The data of over 63 million individuals that were 65 years or older were collected between the year 2000 and 2016. One million of the senior adults developed Parkinson's disease while three to four million had Alzheimer's and related dementias.
The number of cases was directly related to the increase in PM2.5 every year. Xiao Wu from Harvard Chan School said that this year's Lancet Commission report on dementia prevention, intervention, and care included air pollution as a modifiable risk factor.
The study adds to existing evidence that long-term particulate air pollution is "linked to an increased risk of neurological health deterioration," said Wu. Moreover, even PM2.5 concentrations below the current national standards still have a negative impact on mental health.
Air pollution may contribute to neurodegeneration due to oxidative stress, systematic inflammation, and neuroinflammation wrote the authors. Results also showed that air pollution could potentially make existing conditions worse "by accelerating these biological pathways or worsening intermediate processes."
Exposure to Particulate Matter
Individuals in urban areas were naturally affected by air pollution more than those living in less urban areas. However, exposure to low concentrations of air pollution still resulted in negative health impacts.
Women and white people were identified to be particularly susceptible to the effects of PM2.5. The Midwest was also identified to have the highest number of Alzheimer's and related dementias hospital admissions while northeastern states had the most Parkinson's disease cases.
Antonella Zanobetti from Harvard Chan School said that the nationwide study reveals that current policies are not providing sufficient protection for America's senior citizens. Overall air quality needs to be improved and stricter standards and policies are needed to reduce fine particulate matter concentrations in the country.
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