Air Pollution Linked to Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s Damage in Young Brains
Tiny air pollution particles make their way up to the brainstems of young people where they accumulate, new research published in the journal Environmental Research showed. These same nanoparticles have been "intimately associated" with the molecular damage that serves as a hallmark for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, The Guardian reported. That linkage could have global implications if confirmed because 90% of people currently live with toxic outdoor air, another Guardian article reported.
Alzheimer's Society defines air pollution as being made up of several different components including gases, chemical compounds, metals and tiny particles known as particulate matter. When we breathe and eat, these nanoparticles enter our bodies and circulate through our bloodstream to the brain, where they can accumulate in the brain stem, The Guardian reported.
The researchers found abundant pollution nanoparticles and evidence of nerve cell growths, plaque and tangles that are linked to neurological disease in the brainstems of 186 young people (ages 11 months to 27 years) from Mexico City who died suddenly, reported First Post.
"The iron-and aluminum-rich nanoparticles found in the brainstem are strikingly similar to those which occur as combustion- and friction-derived particles in air pollution (from engines and braking systems)," said Barbara Maher, part of the research team, reported Science Alert.
In addition to the high presence of particulate matter, the brainstems also showed signs of early and progressive neurovascular nerve damage, First Post reported. The way these particles reacted with brain cells could increase oxidative stress and eventually lead to death of neurons, the report said.
The participants had all experienced lifelong exposure to particulate pollution, Study Finds reported. Brains of similarly-aged people from less-polluted areas did not display the same disease markers, The Guardian reported.
According to CNN, Mexico City has struggled with dangerous air pollution levels for decades. Statista found that the capital city reported an average particulate matter concentration in 2019 more than double the World Health Organization's recommended maximum average concentration. Air pollution rates in the majority of major cities exceed the same safe level of pollution, Alzheimer's Society reported.
Other studies have linked higher pollution levels to increased rates of different mental health diseases and wellness issues. One study similarly found that living in cities with high air pollution put children at higher risk of Alzheimer's and suicide. The researchers in that study also found that Alzheimer's disease started in the brainstem of young urbanites who'd been exposed to high levels of particulate matter and called high pollution levels "a serious health crisis."
This latest study takes the correlation one step further. According to The Guardian, it's the first time a physical mechanism, namely the accumulation of nanoparticles in the brain stem, has been observed that can possibly explain why brain damage increases as rates of air pollution go up.
"(O)ur new findings indicate that what air pollutants you are exposed to, what you are inhaling and swallowing, are really significant in development of neurological damage," Maher told Science Alert.
The next step for researchers is to show whether the nanoparticles cause the damage and whether that damage leads to disease later in life.
"We can't prove causality so far, but how could you expect these nanoparticles containing those metal species to sit inert and harmless inside critical cells of the brain?" Maher told The Guardian. "That's the smoking gun – it seriously looks as if those nanoparticles are firing the bullets that are causing the observed neurodegenerative damage."
Maher said that the findings provide a hypothesis that now can be tested by further research. This can be done, for example, by observing whether increased exposure to pollution nanoparticles correlates with brain stem damage that affects movement control and the gait of young people.
According to The Guardian, other experts are cautious about the findings, citing that many other factors can contribute to neurodegenerative diseases. While the scientists say it is still premature to say that the brain damage caused by air pollution directly leads to the development of these diseases, the findings provide a pathway for future research to confirm causation.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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