Air Pollution Linked To Brain Disorders & Diminished Cognitive Abilities (American Psychological Association)

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Dirty gray particulates hanging around as you inhale aren’t too helpful for public health. Particulates spewing from ICE cars, trucks, and buses affect many people worse than pollen. New research by the American Psychological Association reports that I am not alone in being concerned about this.

The American Psychological Association (APA) links air pollution to brain disorders and diminished cognitive abilities. “Smog in our brains,” published by the American Psychological Association, links air pollution to increased depression, troubles for children in their educational process, and degenerative problems.

“Now, the evidence is mounting that dirty air is bad for your brain as well,” APA writes.

Kristin Weir points out, “That yellow haze of smog hovering over the skyline isn’t just a stain on the view. It may also leave a mark on your mind.”

Thank you, APA, for another study to add to the wealth of research supporting commonsense — air pollution is a bad choice, especially now that we have competitive electric transport and clean electricity options.


I missed over a month of school one year as a young child due to severe allergies. Hypersensitivity to allergens as a small child made me into a passionate advocate of pure air, water, and anything that I can do to stop food pollution as well. I seek always to avoid neurotoxins. Do we consider every time we use a product or transportation choice if we are feeding the beast of the issue? It is hard to do.

The American Psychological Association points out that yellow haze is something to consider well. “This should be taken seriously,” says Paul Mohai, Ph.D., a professor in the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment who has studied the link between air pollution and academic performance in children. “I don’t think the issue has gotten the visibility it deserves.”

Trust me, I don’t either, Dr. Mohai.

Testing is a ridiculous stress for students these days, and it is a consuming stress for our underpaid teachers as well. If a child has hyperactive behaviors, confused processing, and diminished clarity from the air she or he breathes, who is to blame? How can even a passionate teacher affect change?

Kristin Weir for the American Psychological Association continues in her article on the risks of air pollution: “Over the past decade; researchers have found that high levels of air pollution may damage children’s cognitive abilities, increase adults’ risk of cognitive decline, and possibly even contribute to depression.”

Young Minds & Air-Pollution-Related Harms To Children’s Cognition

Here’s some more info on the study:

Shakira Franco Suglia, ScD, an assistant professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health, and colleagues followed more than 200 Boston children from birth to an average age of 10. They found that kids exposed to greater levels of black carbon scored worse on tests of memory and verbal and nonverbal IQ (American Journal of Epidemiology, 2008).

Neuro Connections in the Brain
More recently, Frederica Perera, DrPH, at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, and colleagues followed children in New York City from before birth to age 6 or 7. They discovered that children who had been exposed to higher levels of urban air pollutants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons while in utero were more likely to experience attention problems and symptoms of anxiety and depression (Environmental Health Perspectives, 2012). These widespread chemicals are a byproduct of burning fossil fuels.

Full story here.

Air Pollution Weakens The Minds Of The Elderly As Well

And what if you are older and challenged by genetic predispositions toward degenerative cognition as you age?

“These tiny particles — 1/30th the width of a human hair — are spewed by power plants, factories, cars, and trucks. Due to its known cardiovascular effects, particulate matter is one of six principal pollutants for which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established air quality standards.”

No one needs to announce that mental health is a critical issue for the country and the planet. Weir continues: “It now seems likely that the harmful effects of particulate matter go beyond vascular damage.”

Jennifer Weuve, MPH, ScD, an assistant professor of internal medicine at Rush Medical College, made us aware of factors concerning humans as we age: “Older women who had been exposed to high levels of the pollutant experienced greater cognitive decline compared with other women their age (Archives of Internal Medicine, 2012).”

Papers such as this are quite revealing. “Many dementias are often preceded by a long period of cognitive decline. But we don’t know very much about how to prevent or delay dementia,” Weuve says. If it turns out that air pollution does contribute to cognitive decline and the onset of dementia, the finding could offer a tantalizing new way to think about preventing disease. “Air pollution is something that we can intervene on as a society at large, through technology, regulation and policy,” she says.

So many things are within our control — like exercise, which I advocate, and diet. However, how much does exercise harm vs help while vehicles and power plants are spewing out particulates around the sidewalk we walk on.

“The conventional wisdom is that coarse particles aren’t as important as fine particles” when it comes to human health, Weuve says. “They can cross from the lung to the blood and, in some cases, travel up the axon of the olfactory nerve into the brain,” she says. But Weuve’s study held a surprise. She found that exposure to both fine and coarse particulate was associated with cognitive decline.”

Weuve notes, “Ultimately, we’re at the mercy of policy.”

The good news, Nelson says, is that the mental and cognitive effects of air pollution are finally beginning to receive attention from the mental health research community. “We sort of forget about these environmental insults,” says Nelson. “Maybe we shouldn’t.”

Like most, I want more effective and less toxic cures for cancer, and other diseases. Still, sometimes I get tired of the quest to “cure cancer.” Why not put money into the preventative that is also a helpful curative (pure air)? Why not put more money into the obvious?

Cleaning up environmental fumes. Helping people drive electric. Investing in electric transit systems. Eliminating particulates that do contribute to causing, worsening, and quickening cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

Cancer is not simply an insult. Neither are things that stop clear thinking. Society chooses to put people peddling narcotics and other mind-destroying things  in prison. Pollution is as deadly and destroys people’s lives as well. It is a silent form of child abuse. We all need to work on clarity. Every day. In every way.

Thank you Obama for help in this direction, and Tesla, Nissan….

Thank you for efforts protecting our country like Solar Ready Vets and Solar Schools.


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Images: The Human Brain via; Neural Connections of the Brain via Flickr CC; EV charging on renewable energy courtesy by for EV Obsession

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Cynthia Shahan

Cynthia Shahan, started writing after previously doing research and publishing work on natural birth practices. Words can be used improperly depending on the culture you are in. (Several unrelated publications) She has a degree in Education, Anthropology, Creative Writing, and was tutored in Art as a young child thanks to her father the Doctor. Pronouns: She/Her

Cynthia Shahan has 947 posts and counting. See all posts by Cynthia Shahan