Your Brain on Brake Pads

[Image: Flying over Los Angeles; Instagram by BLDGBLOG].

For those of us living near freeways—and scrapyards and waste-processing centers and oil refineries, to name but a few delights of my own particular neighborhood—rest well knowing that all that pollution is going to your brain.

The discovery of nano-scale “microspheres” in the brain tissue of urban residents—based on people tested in Manchester, UK, and Mexico City—was “dreadfully shocking,” a researcher told the BBC. “[T]he particles found in the study were not only far more numerous but also smooth and rounded—characteristics that can only be created in the high temperatures of a vehicle engine or braking systems.”

This is not really news, of course. Recall the report published last year in Mother Jones about the connection between “air pollution and dementia,” with a particular focus on “fine and ultrafine particles—specks of waste at least 36 times finer than a grain of sand, often riddled with toxic combinations of sulfate, nitrate and ammonium ions, hydrocarbons, and heavy metals.”

Though we have long known that these tiny particles cause and exacerbate respiratory problems—like asthma and infections and cancers of the lungs—they are also suspected to contribute to a diverse range of disorders, from heart disease to obesity. And now cutting-edge research suggests that these particles play a role in some of humanity’s most terrifying and mysterious illnesses: degenerative brain diseases.

“While coarse pollution particles seldom make it past our upper lungs,” we read, “fine and ultrafine particles can travel from our nostrils along neural pathways directly into our brains. Once there, they can wreak a special havoc that appears to kick off or accelerate the downward spiral of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.”

Of course, this only adds to the long list of already-known threats presented by air pollution, “including asthma, heart disease and autism.”

The New York Times, for example, ran a terrifying article two winters ago about air pollution in Delhi, pointing out that some international ambassadors have been warned not to raise their children there for fear of the long-term cognitive effects caused by exposure to airborne nanoparticles. One memorable detail: “One article about Mr. Obama’s visit focused on how, by one scientist’s account, he might have lost six hours from his expected life span after spending three days in Delhi.”

Now imagine years—and years and years—spent living in the spray of brake pad dust and diesel fumes and catalytic convertors in the shadow of freeways and power plants, as your brain, and your kid’s brain, absorbs seemingly limitless tiny bits of metal, the way an air filter in your car might fill up with pollen and dust.

Imagine the interior of your head becoming cobwebbed with metal. Now imagine these idiots.

Recall, as well, that Republication presidential candidate Donald Trump wants to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, meaning that there would, in effect, be no regulation at all for this sort of thing. Embrace your dementia now, I suppose, while you’re still cognizant enough to do so.

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