In a study involving approximately 15,000 people, the U.S. National Institute on Aging found that higher levels of exposure to fine particulate matter pollution, or soot, is prematurely aging the brain of those 50 and older by up to three years.
PM pollution had already been linked to other neurological conditions by previous studies, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's Disease. Scientists have discovered that the microscopic particles can actually pass through the lung wall and into the circulatory system.
"As a result of age-related declines in health and functioning, older adults are particularly vulnerable to the hazards of exposure to unhealthy air,’ said Dr Jennifer Ailshire, from the Andrus Gerontology Center at the University of Southern California.
Air pollution has been linked to increased cardiovascular and respiratory problems, and even premature death, in older populations, and there is emerging evidence that exposure to particulate air pollution may have adverse effects on brain health and functioning as well."
PM pollution is found in the exhaust of all internal combustion engines, as well as the pollution from steel mills, smelters, cement kilns, power plants or any facility with a boiler or furnace. The amount of exposure to PM pollution was one of the reasons the federal Agency for Disease Registry and Toxic Substances (ATSDR) found that the health of residents living downwind of TXI's cement plant and the Ameristeel steel mill in Midlothian could have been compromised. Many leading researchers believe there's no safe level of exposure to PM pollution – that is, that any amount of exposure to it has the potential to cause harm.