Mounting evidence appears to link a variety of neurological problems to dirty air. Recent findings have found hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease in the brains of children living in Mexico City and a nearly doubled risk of dementias for older women in highly polluted parts of the United States. Research has also identified autism-like social and behavioral issues in mice exposed to diesel exhaust.
There is an increasing number of biologists, toxicologists, and doctors raising the alarm over this pervasive yet overlooked menace to our memory, attention, and behavior. University of Washington in Seattle neurotoxicologist, Lucio Costa is one of many researchers that are investigating how polluted air could be bad for the brain.
After spending most of his career studying mercury, pesticides, and flame retardants, Costa knows well that many toxins in the environment can hurt the brain. But only in the last several years has the possibility of air pollution as a culprit crossed his mind. A growing body of literature on the topic inspired him to begin research in this diesel lab. “For a long time, I thought that air pollution was affecting mostly the lungs and the cardiovascular system and not the brain,” says Costa. “So I stayed away from any issue related to air pollution.”
Everyone seems to agree that although the research remains at an early stage, enough evidence exists now to take action. “We may not know all the details, and very much of the research is incomplete. But incomplete doesn't mean inconclusive,” says Dr Amedeo D'Angiulli, a neuroscientist at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.