New Research Shows Exhaust Fumes May Cause Brain Farts

Source: Jason Kempin/Getty Images Entertainment
Jason Kempin/Getty Images Entertainment

At this point, everybody knows that air pollution is a genuine threat to life on this planet, and that we’d best clean up our act if we don’t fancy facing mass extinction dinosaur-style. Airborne pollutants have been linked to everything from asthma in children and still-born babies, to holes in the ozone and hazy headlamps. While we may think that we are doing the earth a favor by plugging-in a hybrid, most Americans aren’t doing much more than cause that coal burning plant up river from us to belch out all the more soot and smoke into the environment.

There’s more bad news headed our way, courtesy of Autoblog, which reports that our brain’s cognitive processing capabilities are under attack from air pollution. For the longest time, scientists have warned us about how carbon monoxide causes cancer, and how carcinogens in the air we breath can lead to ailments like shortness of breath and lower sperm counts. But there’s more, too.

Autoblog spoke of a coalition of German and Swiss researchers, who found that pollutants can indeed hurt brain function independently of any connection to the lungs, and that the mere smell of noxious fumes can cause our brains to not function properly. Mohammad Vossoughi, a PhD student at the Leibniz Institute for Environmental Medicine, said it best: “Our findings disprove the hypothesis that air pollution first decreases lung function and this decline, in turn, causes cognitive impairment by releasing stress signals and humoral mediators into the body.”

These findings follow a study that was based around the aging of 834 German women, which shows an association between impaired lung function and cognitive decline, and how cars get the majority of the blame when it come to air-born pollutants. Car fumes are definitely deadly, and according to research from MIT, emissions from vehicles are the most significant contributor to air-related deaths, causing 53,000 premature deaths annually. Compare this to the 33,000 people who die in car accidents every year and suddenly everything gets put into perspective.

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We recently highlighted some of the issues and solutions found within one of America’s most soot-filled states: California. Our research indicated that between 2005 and 2007, smog-related aliments led to “30,000 emergency room visits in California, costing the state $193 million in medical care costs.” What’s more frightening is that Americans don’t even have it that bad: Just imagine what it must be like in cities like Beijing and Mexico City, where air quality is about as bad as it gets.

But it isn’t just cars that are at fault here, air pollution has more to do with what we drive, how we drive, and most importantly, how we care for our cars. Autoblog earlier this month said that around 90% of the atmospheric automotive pollution is being caused by just 25% of the cars on the road. Researchers at the University of Toronto used a device that registers a vehicle’s pollutant rates in real-time, and went about sniffing 100,000 vehicles’ tailpipes with the contraption. What they found was that cars that were poorly maintained, driven aggressively, and/or were utilizing inefficient older engines contributed the most of the soot and carbon monoxide, thus giving further reason for states to enact emission standards.

All of this makes complete sense: An aging clunker that is spewing clouds of black smoke is sure to be a big polluter, and that gunning it down the freeway means pushing that much more exhaust out one’s tailpipe. So where does that leave those of us who are not blessed with state-mandated emission laws? Most cities have an air pollution agency that monitors and reports all things air-related, and these are the guys who supply the morning news with smog reports and issue EPA-related mandates to American citizens. They also hand out citations for pollution when needed, and are constantly rallying for tougher emission standards in states that don’t have any in place.

Most Americans live in the “Wild West” of car emissions, and anything goes out here, with straight pipe motorcycles, catalytic converter-less cars, and coal-rolling diesel trucks blanketing our lungs (and brains) with a carcinogenic cocktail. Living in an urban section of Cincinnati, I see dozens of violations every day, and while the Southwest Ohio Air Quality Agency is indeed the team to turn to when it comes to smog, it is ultimately up to drivers like you and me to make a difference. So stop the unnecessary idling, keep that throttle under control, and for heaven’s sake put a fresh exhaust on that clunker before my brain goes into lockdown.

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