Car Exhaust & Alzheimer’s — Thank You, Mickey Mouse

Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

New research from Australian and Singaporean scientists have found a link between car exhaust and Alzheimer’s. It was even on the mainstream news last night. This opens up a whole new argument in favour of the uptake of electric vehicles and the removal of fossil fuels. It has long been accepted that particles in the pollution caused by burning fossil fuels contribute to health issues and global warming, but somehow people have been able to ignore these issues and still protest that the benefits of cheap energy from fossil fuels outweigh the risks. My expectation is that this new research will shock more people into action. There is nothing more personal than watching a loved one slip away into the fog of dementia.

The electrification of everything is better for our health.

In a new study from the University of Technology Sydney, healthy mice are being exposed to very fine particles of iron, magnetite, and diesel hydrocarbons. Over four months they developed “Alzheimer’s disease pathologies.” The mice became more stressed and anxious, symptoms consistent with Alzheimer’s disease.

Magnetite is a tiny particle (smaller than the aids virus) found in air pollution caused by high temperature combustion. It is small enough to pass through the blood brain barrier. Researchers at the University of Technology in Sydney (UTS) have asserted that magnetite can induce signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Internal combustion engines (ICE) and coal fired power stations have been found to produce magnetite particles. They are also found in the dust from brake and engine wear. Magnetite particles (or nano spheres) have been found in the brains of cadavers from the UK and Mexico.

car exhaust and alzheimers
Burning fossil fuels linked to Alzheimer’s

Associate Professor Gunawan, from the Australian Institute for Microbiology and Infection (AIMI), says: “Fewer than 1% of Alzheimer’s cases are inherited, so it is likely that the environment and lifestyle play a key role in the development of the disease.”

“Previous studies have indicated that people who live in areas with high levels of air pollution are at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Magnetite, a magnetic iron oxide compound, has also been found in greater amounts in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. However, this is the first study to look at whether the presence of magnetite particles in the brain can indeed lead to signs of Alzheimer’s,” she said.

Associate Professor McGrath from the University of Technology Sydney School of Life Sciences adds: “Magnetite is a quite common air pollutant. It comes from high-temperature combustion processes like vehicle exhaust, wood fires and coal-fired power stations as well as from brake pad friction and engine wear. When we inhale air pollutant, these particles of magnetite can enter the brain via the lining of the nasal passage, and from the olfactory bulb, a small structure on the bottom of the brain responsible for processing smells, bypassing the blood-brain barrier.”

Magnetite created an immune response in the mice, leading to inflammation and cell degeneration. “The magnetite-induced neurodegeneration is also independent of the disease state, with signs of Alzheimer’s seen in the brains of healthy mice,” said Dr Charlotte Fleming, a co-first author from the UTS School of Life Sciences.

A Google search revealed that there has been a growing body of research into the connection between air pollution from car exhaust and the dementia epidemic. Professors Maher and Allsop from the University of Lancaster dissected the brains of cadavers from both Mexico and Lancaster, UK. In the preamble to their 2016 study, Barbara Maher, Professor of Environmental Science at Lancaster University, and David Allsop, Professor of Neuroscience at Lancaster University, assert: “Very small, round particles made out of magnetite (called magnetite nanospheres) are abundant in city air pollution. They are formed at high temperatures and condense as iron-rich droplets as they cool. These particles range in diameter from less than 5nm (nanometres) to more than 100nm (for comparison an HIV is 120nm in diameter) and are often found together with pollution particles made out of other metals.”

They found that magnetite particles are directly associated with the formation of “senile plaques.” These senile plaques are clumps of abnormal protein found between nerve cells. Magnetite nanospheres enhance the toxicity of the protein in the centre of each “senile plaque.”

They “used magnetic, electron microscopic and other techniques to examine brain samples from 37 cadavers — aged three to 92 years at time of death — who had lived in Mexico City or in Manchester, UK.” They examined the brains of people under the age of 40 who had been exposed to high levels of air pollution in Mexico City and compared them with older Manchester cases who had moderate to severe Alzheimer’s. The samples from both groups were highly magnetic.

They observed: “Most of the magnetite particles in the brain samples were spherical and different in size and shape from the magnetite particles that naturally occur in people and animals. They ranged in diameter from 5nm to 150nm and were found together with nanoparticles containing other metals, such as platinum, nickel and cobalt, which would not occur naturally in the brain. We also extracted the magnetite particles from the brains using an enzyme. The enzyme dissolved the brain tissue and left the magnetite particles intact. These particles were then extracted using a magnet. The particles were a striking match for the magnetite nano spheres found in air pollution.”

This research makes questionable the siting of jogging and biking tracks beside highways. Not a place to be breathing deeply. And it also raises problems with the practice of leaving the engine running in the school pickup zone!

Here we have yet further and damming evidence of the harm caused by burning fossil fuels. How will the vested interests counter it? Perhaps by saying that electric vehicles produce more magnetite than ICE vehicles? That EVs are heavier and so have to use more brake pads? Who knows. Let’s hope sense prevails and the world sees how we are destroying the minds of those we love with this devastating pollution.

Have a tip for CleanTechnica? Want to advertise? Want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

Latest CleanTechnica.TV Videos

CleanTechnica uses affiliate links. See our policy here.

David Waterworth

David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].

David Waterworth has 755 posts and counting. See all posts by David Waterworth