Of all the new research, three studies in particular paint a stark picture of the extent to which the quality of our air can determine whether we will age with our minds intact. In one from 2018, researchers followed 130,000 older adults living in London for several years. Those exposed to higher levels of air pollutants, particularly nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter released by fossil fuel combustion, were significantly more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease—the most common kind of dementia—than their otherwise demographically matched peers. In total, Londoners exposed to the highest levels of air pollution were about one and a half times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s across the study period than their neighbors exposed to the lowest levels—a replication of previous findings from Taiwan, where air pollution levels are much higher.
Another, a 2017 study published in the Lancet, followed all adults living in Ontario (roughly 6 and a half million people) for over a decade and found that those who lived closer to major high-traffic roads were significantly more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease across the study period regardless of their health at baseline or socioeconomic status. Both of these studies estimated that around 6 to 7 percent of all dementia cases in their samples could be attributed to air pollution exposures.
Those studies from Canada and the UK are certainly intriguing. But the most compelling, and least reported on, study comes from the United States. It was also, incidentally, inspired by our previous reporting.
In 2016, the U.S. ranked only 43rd among 195 countries with an average lifespan of 78.7 years. In 2040, that’s only 21 years from now, Americans are forecast to drop 21 spots, to 64th, as other nations make faster gains.
The top five health drivers that explain most of the future trajectory for premature mortality are high blood pressure, high body mass index, high blood sugar, tobacco use, and alcohol use, Foreman said. Air pollution ranked sixth.
“Polluted air can cause everyone to reduce their level of education by one year, which is huge,” said Xi Chen at Yale School of Public Health in the US, a member of the research team. “But we know the effect is worse for the elderly, especially those over 64, and for men, and for those with low education. If we calculate [the loss] for those, it may be a few years of education.”
Previous research has found that air pollution harms cognitive performance in students, but this is the first to examine people of all ages and the difference between men and women.
The damage in intelligence was worst for those over 64 years old, with serious consequences, said Chen: “We usually make the most critical financial decisions in old age.” Rebecca Daniels, from the UK public health charity Medact, said: “This report’s findings are extremely worrying.”
Outdoor air pollution is shortening lives by months, and in some cases, by more than a year.
These findings were released as the U.S. President is proposing loosening the air pollution controls from coal-fired power plants.
Air pollution is shaving months — and in some cases more than a year — off your life expectancy, depending on where you live, according to a study published Wednesday.
Worldwide, outdoor air pollution reduces the average life expectancy at birth by one year. The effect is much more pronounced in some countries: It cuts the average Egyptian’s life span by 1.9 years and the average Indian’s by 1.5 years. In Russia, it’s around nine months.
For the United States, it’s less, currently reducing the life expectancy of an American born today by a little more than four months on average.
German cities can ban the most heavily polluting diesel cars from their streets, a court ruled on Tuesday, a move likely to accelerate a shift away from the combustion engine and force manufacturers to pay to improve exhaust systems.
The court said Stuttgart, which styles itself the birthplace of the modern automobile and is home to Mercedes-maker Daimler, should consider gradually imposing a year-round ban for older diesel models, while Duesseldorf should also think about curbs.
“We are considering public transport free of charge in order to reduce the number of private cars,” three ministers including Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks wrote to EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella in the letter seen by AFP Tuesday.
“Effectively fighting air pollution without any further unnecessary delays is of the highest priority for Germany,” the ministers added.