My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: March 2020

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Air Pollution and Intelligence - Why Jamaicans need to wear N95 Masks

We already have evidence that air pollution, damages the brain in both humans and animals as noted in the article “Air pollution may be making us less intelligent”, published December 19, 2018 by Barbara Maher,

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Even the tiniest, invisible particulates in pollution from traffic sources has been noted to have the following effects in children who attend highly polluted schools:

§     Dementia
§     Delinquent behaviour in adolescents
§     Stunted brain development

Aside from damaging our lungs and heart, air pollution can potentially be making us less intelligent, too as noted in the article “Air pollution causes ‘huge’ reduction in intelligence, study reveals”, published Monday 27 August 2018 by Damian Carrington and Lily Kuo, The UK Guardian

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A recent study found that in elderly people living in China, long-term exposure to air pollution may hinder cognitive performance in verbal and math tests:

§      Ability to pay attention
§      Recall past knowledge
§      Generate new information

Men and less educated people were especially at risk, the study revealed, though the reason why is currently unknown. 

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In animals, mice exposed to urban air
pollution for four (4) months showed reduced brain function and inflammatory
responses in major brain regions, suggesting that it affected the brain
tissues, which changed in response to the harmful stimuli produced by the
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As people age, the link between air pollution and their mental decline becomes stronger. But exactly what type of air pollution is associated with these ill-effects?

Air pollution and cognitive decline - Metal-rich nanoparticles may be to blame

We don’t yet know which aspects of the air pollution particulate contribute most to reported brain deterioration.
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However, there’s evidence that nanoscale pollution particles might be a part of the “cocktail” of air pollutants that vary in:

§     Size
§     Number of particles
§     Composition of particles

Nanoscale pollution particles are around 2,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Nanoscale pollution particles move around the body via the bloodstream after being inhaled. 

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They may even reach the brain directly through the olfactory nerves that give the brain information about smell. These particles bypass the blood-brain barrier, which protects the brain from harmful substances circulating in the bloodstream. They are similar to those found everywhere in urban air pollution.

Air pollution and Iron magnetite nanoparticles - Alzheimer’s disease and organ damage

Postmortem brain samples from people exposed to high levels of air pollution while living in Mexico City and Manchester, UK, showed the typical signs of Alzheimer’s disease. These included:

§     Clumps of abnormal protein fragments (plaques) between nerve cells
§     Inflammation
§     Abundance of metal-rich nanoparticles (including iron, copper, nickel, platinum, and cobalt) in the brain

Metal-rich nanoparticles form from burning oil and other fuel, and wear in engines and brakes were found in are found in these brain samples. Metal-rich nanoparticles are toxic.

They are often associated with other hazardous compounds, including PAC (poly-aromatic hydrocarbons) that occur naturally in fossil fuels, and can cause:

§ Kidney
§ Liver damage
§ Cancer

When we inhale air pollution, it may activate the brain’s immune cells, the microglia, which may constantly activate the killing response in immune cells. This allows dangerous molecules, known as reactive oxygen species, to form more often.

High levels of these molecules could cause cell damage and cell death, an indication that repeatedly inhaling nanoparticles found in air pollution may have a number of negative effects on the brain, including chronic inflammation of the brain’s nerve cells.

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The presence of iron particles, called magnetite found in air pollution may speed up this process. These Iron magnetite nanoparticles are directly associated with plaques in the brain and can also increase the toxicity of the abnormal proteins found at the centre of the plaques.

Postmortem analysis of brains from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease patients shows that microglial activation is common in these neurodegenerative diseases.

So what can be done about it?

Prevention Brain Damage due to air pollution - Change your behaviour, exposure and use masks

The latest study of the link between air pollution and declining intelligence as well as air pollution and dementia, makes the case for cutting down air pollution even more compelling. 

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The Government needs to implement vehicle technology, regulation and policy as a practical way to reduce the health burden of air pollution globally.

However, there are some things we can do to protect ourselves.

§     Driving less and walking or cycling more can reduce pollution.
§     Keeping windows closed and recirculating air in the car
§     Planting specific tree species that are good at capturing particulates along roads or around schools
§     Keeping your brain active and stimulated by doing cognitive puzzles
§     Eating a good diet rich in antioxidants
§     Keeping fit and active

Avoiding travel during rush hours, driving your car more smoothly without fierce acceleration or braking can reduce emissions. Using your car's AC (Air Conditioning), while it may cost more, might help to reduce pollution exposure during traffic jams as well!

Young children are among the most vulnerable because their brains are still developing, especially as schools are located close to major roads. So substantially reducing air pollution by planting specific tree species that are good at capturing particulates along roads as pointed out in my blog article entitled “How JA$9 Million to NEPA’s Jamaica Air Quality Management Programme is a start towards Air Quality Monitoring”  around schools could help.

Indoor Air pollution – Keep you space well ventilated

Wood-burning stoves producing a large percentage of outdoor air pollution in the winter if you are in the more northern climates. If you are in the Caribbean region, this would correspond to the colder months.

If you still use a wooden stove, dry, well-seasoned wood reduces pollution caused by PHC (Poly-Hydrocarbon) pollution and an efficient ecodesign-rated stove is essential if you don’t want to pollute the atmosphere around your home.

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If you live in a naturally-ventilated house next to a busy road, using living spaces at the back of the house or upstairs will reduce your pollution exposure daily. Indoor pollution can also cause health problems, so ventilation is needed while cooking.

Open fires, both indoors and outdoors, even on a regular LPG Stove, are a significant source of particulate pollution, unless the stove use Hydrogen as a source of fuel as explained in my blog article entitled “UTECH and Hydrogen as Cooking Gas – How Hydride Salts make Hydrogen Cooking Gas and Fuel Cells possible

Keeping your brain active and stimulated, eating a good diet rich in antioxidants, and keeping fit and active can all build up resilience, can all build up resilience.  Still, we are not totally sure what the mechanisms are that these metal-rich nanoparticles cause damage to our brains or whether it is reversible.

Hence the best way we can protect ourselves is to limit exposure to pollution as much as possible by wearing a N95 Mask.