Sitting in traffic can feel like it’s breaking your brain, but a recent study indicates exposure to traffic pollution is actually changing the way brains function. The research, published in Environmental Health by scientists at the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria, found exposure to just two hours of diesel exhaust altered how the parts of the brain linked to memory and attention interacted with each other, as well as internal thought and symptoms of depression.
While the study’s sample size was small, its striking results highlight the need for further research — and not just for vehicle pollution — its authors say. The study’s findings could have implications not just for vehicle occupants, but for those who live near major thoroughfares, which are frequently, and often intentionally, routed through communities of color. Diesel exhaust also has similar particulate characteristics to wildfire smoke. “From a wider community standpoint, we need to get more cars off the road,” Melissa Lem, president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, told the CBC. “We’re facing a climate crisis and an air pollution crisis at the same time, both driven by fossil fuel combustion. By getting more people out of cars and onto bikes and sidewalks, we can tackle both simultaneously.” (CBC, Global News Canada, The Hill)