Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Pollution ‘alters brain function’

with 2 comments

BBC News

An hour sniffing exhaust fumes may not just give you a headache – it could even alter the way the brain functions, Dutch researchers have suggested.

Scientists have known nanoparticles reach the brain when inhaled, but this is the first time they have been shown to affect how we process information.

Researchers sought to replicate the environment experienced by those who work in a garage or by the roadside.

Their findings were published in the journal Particle and Fibre Toxicology.

There’s more of course, but there are big ethical problems with studying human brains and exposes people to toxins. We know that these nanoparticles penetrate deep into the lungs. Indeed it has been suggested that modern diesel engines may be cleaner in terms of the weight of particles they produce, but the particles could be smaller and hemce more numerous, and also more dangerous, as a rsult of some of the engine management techniques used.

It is also the case that although the study showed a “stress reaction” it is not clear what the long term effects might be. I imagine that humans have evolved self preservation mechanisms that warn them of fire when they smell smoke, but we also associate smoke with warmth, comfort, fun and barbecues. People love the smell of woodsmoke, but we also know that it can be very harmful. Likewise tobacco and other smoking materials.

It might also explain the brain dead behaviour of so many road users who appear to be totally oblivious to the risks they run and that they expose others too.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 11, 2008 at 8:42 am

Posted in air pollution

2 Responses

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  1. We did get rid of leaded gasoline, that was a good start. Limiting the amount of carbon monoxide is probably the next best thing that can be done, but unfortunately everybody is concentrating more on the much more benign-for-human-health molecule with one more oxygen atom attached…..


    March 11, 2008 at 1:10 pm

  2. Anthropogenic CO2 is a global issue. Fortunately the things you have to do to reduce it also tend to have beneficial effects on common air contaminants too since most of those come from the same sources as the CO2 – burning fossil fuels. For a long time we have treated those sources of energy as though they were cheap and plentiful, so much of the use was very inefficient. At long last we seem to be recognising that these hydrocarbons are going to be very valuable for future generations as a source of petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals, and much too valuable to just burn.

    And of course you do know, don’t you, that the very worst air quality in this region is the front seat of any car in traffic.

    Stephen Rees

    March 11, 2008 at 1:18 pm

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