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New Study Links Air Pollution to Dementia

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There's no question that air pollution is bad for your body, from lung cancer to heart disease. Even President Trump's coal-friendly U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) admits that dirty air can increase adverse health effects and cause death.

Now, researchers from Arizona State University have determined another air pollution risk: dementia.


The new paper, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, compared fifteen years of Medicare records for 6.9 million older adults with the EPA's air quality data. They tested whether these individuals' onset of dementia was correlated with long-term exposure to tiny pollution particles known as PM2.5.

Indeed, the researchers found that a 1 microgram-per-cubic-meter (μg/m³) increase of PM2.5 over the course of a decade increases a person's odds of receiving a dementia diagnosis by 1.3 percentage points.

PM2.5, which is particulate matter with a length of 2.5 microns or less, is often a cocktail of toxins from power plants, automobiles and other industrial sources.

The World Health Organization has PM2.5 guidelines of 10 μg/m³—a threshold that 95 percent of the world's population does not meet.

The good news is that average PM2.5 concentrations have decreased in the U.S. from 13.5 μg/m³ in 2000 to 8.0 μg/m³ in 2017, thanks to the EPA's strict air pollution regulations.

As the paper was authored by economists, they concluded that air pollution regulations have helped the U.S. save money to the tune of $150 billion since the year 2000, as Slate noted from the study.

The bad news is the Trump administration could roll back these protections. Last month, in efforts to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan that regulates coal plants, EPA acting administrator Andrew Wheeler released the "Affordable Clean Energy Rule," which projects 470 and 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030 due to increased rates of PM2.5.

Other studies have found a link between air pollution and damage to the brain. A study in May suggested that many heavy metals found in the air may make it into brain tissue, and those pollutants are activating genes that may lead to cancers or neurodegenerative disorders. Additionally, a China-based study published last month found that high levels of toxic air "is equivalent to having lost a year of education."

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