The discovery of air pollution particles in the brain stems of young people that are associated with molecular damage linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease has been described as “very worrying” by a Cork expert.
Professor John Sodeau, emeritus professor of Chemistry at University College Cork (UCC) with research interests in Atmospheric Chemistry and Aerobiology, said the new research could lead people to question if it is worth living close to busy roads.
Professor Sodeau was speaking after researchers found pollution nanoparticles in the brainstems of 186 young people from Mexico City who had died suddenly between the ages of 11 months and 27 years.
These nanoparticles are associated with molecular damage that is linked to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and motor neurone disease.
Researchers explained the particles are likely to have reached the brain after being inhaled into the bloodstream or through the nose or gut.
This molecular damage was not found in the brains of similar aged people from less polluted areas, according to the researchers.
Speaking to The Echo, Professor Sodeau said:
“It has been known for many years that air pollution, whether as small solids, liquids, gases or vapours can enter the cells of our bodies, attack them and lead to a long list of diseases, some of which can kill.
“Since about 2016 it has become apparent from road-side measurements that millions of very small particles -ultra-fines/nanoparticles - can lodge in human brains especially if they have lived close, around 50 to 200 metres, to busy roads.
“Epidemiologists and physicians had qualitatively recognised, at least since 2000, links between air pollution and brain deterioration in children, older adults and dogs in urban areas with low air quality, such as Mexico City,” he added.
“But the exact chemical components involved and the processing taking the pollutants from air to brainstem were not known.”
Professor Sodeau said the newly published research from Mexico City provides some answers in this regard.
He also said it “raises the important issue that dementia and Alzheimer’s disease may not be the only neuro conditions we should be thinking about but Parkinson’s disease too”.
“Perhaps the most worrying finding is the discovery that the nano-bullets can become lodged in the brain stems of children, which may quickly manifest itself in problems with movement control and gait, many years before Alzheimer’s may present,” Professor Sodeau explained.
“The journey between discovering every nuance that exists between air pollution, toxic metal damage and neuro-degenerative disease will be a long one.
“But we know enough today for you to decide whether or not it's worth living in a house with a busy road 50 to 200 metres away when you have small children,” he added.
“In the meantime, people should convince their local council that monitoring ultra fine particles or nanoparticles in the air is worth in the investment in a hotspot or two.”