Breathing Easy?

Walking around the streets of Paris, I quickly noticed the amount of people smoking and cars on the road. In the USA, smoking cigarettes has become pretty uncommon and passing someone smoking is a relatively rare nuisance. However, in Paris smoking is common and you pass multiple people smoking whenever you walk around. Knowing the effects of secondhand smoke and combining that with the traffic here, it made me wonder what effects air quality can have on the brain. As soon as I started searching for articles on the topic, it became concerning how much easier it was to find articles than it was for my past two blog posts.  Even more concerning, was an article by Grineski and Collins (2018) on the effects of air pollution in schools in the United States that found that minority children were more at risk for exposure to polluted air. According to the article, this can cause a child to not do as well in school as their unexposed peers, so what causes this change?

Image I took at the Musee d’Orsay that shows off Parisian traffic.

One article that they had cited that I thought was particularly interesting and relevant was by Calderón-Garcidueñas et al. (2008), they performed autopsies on forty-seven healthy people who had died, mostly of accidents, from either Mexico city, which has extremely high amounts of air pollution or two control cities with very little pollution. They found that air pollution increased the amounts of a peptide associated with Alzheimer’s disease in the brain, even in children. Another study by Rivas et al. (2019) found that air pollution can negatively impact working memory, or the ability to remember and think about things that have just happened in males. They also found that this isn’t isolated to a few individuals and can impact the entire area. However, they found no impact on the working memory of females.

These studies made me wonder why you rarely hear anything about the dangers of air pollution in the USA, so I looked up a map.

Image from:

This map shows that the United States tends to have pretty good air quality when compared to the rest of the world. Atlanta seems like it might have a yellow dot by it however, it’s hard to tell without labels and borders. However, all of France is yellow and it appears that it might have an orange dot around Paris. This means that even when I was enjoying what seemed like “cleaner” air on the Provence trip, it was still more polluted than if I were to get out of Atlanta and go to another part of Georgia.

While I’ve enjoyed Paris, this has made me wonder why the air pollution wouldn’t be something that is talked about more? Before coming here, people warned me about the pickpockets and toilets, but no one warned me that I would pass so many people smoking every day or that the traffic could get so much worse than Atlanta traffic especially with a good well-connected public transport system. Learning about this makes me wonder if there is more that could be done to educate people on the negative impacts that air pollution can have. I feel like we only ever hear about its impacts on the lungs or maybe the throat but, with the exception of the scientists doing this research, no one seems to mention that it can even have huge impacts on the brain.



Works Cited

Calderón-Garcidueñas, L., Solt, A. C., Henríquez-Roldán, C., Torres-Jardón, R., Nuse, B., Herritt, L., … Reed, W. (2008). Long-term Air Pollution Exposure Is Associated with Neuroinflammation, an Altered Innate Immune Response, Disruption of the Blood-Brain Barrier, Ultrafine Particulate Deposition, and Accumulation of Amyloid β-42 and α-Synuclein in Children and Young Adults. Toxicologic Pathology, 36(2), 289–310.

Grineski, S. E., & Collins, T. W. (2018). Geographic and social disparities in exposure to air neurotoxicants at U.S. public schools. Environmental research, 161, 580–587. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2017.11.047

Rivas, I., Basagaña, X., Cirach, M., López-Vicente, M., Suades-González, E., Garcia-Esteban, R., . . . Sunyer, J. (2019). Association between Early Life Exposure to Air Pollution and Working Memory and Attention. Environmental Health Perspectives, 127(5), 057002. doi:10.1289/EHP3169



Amyloid beta. (2019, June 02). Retrieved June 17, 2019, from

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