Trump/GOP: Make Alzheimer’s Yuge. Really Yuge.
February 1, 2017
Have worked with a lot of Alzheimer’s cases. Not pretty.
But – jobs, jobs, jobs for nursing assistants.
Some of the health risks of inhaling fine and ultrafine particles are well-established, such as asthma, lung cancer, and, most recently, heart disease. But a growing body of evidence suggests that exposure can also harm the brain, accelerating cognitive aging, and may even increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
The link between air pollution and dementia remains controversial—even its proponents warn that more research is needed to confirm a causal connection and work out just how the particles might enter the brain and make mischief there. But a growing number of epidemiological studies from around the world, new findings from animal models and human brain imaging studies, and increasingly sophisticated techniques for modeling PM2.5 exposures have raised alarms. Indeed, in an 11-year epidemiological study to be published next week in Translational Psychiatry, USC researchers will report that living in places with PM2.5 exposures higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) standard of 12 µg/m3nearly doubled dementia risk in older women. If the finding holds up in the general population, air pollution could account for roughly 21% of dementia cases worldwide, says the study’s senior author, epidemiologist Jiu-Chiuan Chen of the Keck School of Medicine at USC.
Deepening the concerns, this month researchers at the University of Toronto in Canada reported in The Lancet that among 6.6 million people in the province of Ontario, those living within 50 meters of a major road—where levels of fine pollutants are often 10 times higher than just 150 meters away—were 12% more likely to develop dementia than people living more than 200 meters away.
The field is “very, very young,” cautions Michelle Block, a neuroscientist at Indiana University in Indianapolis. Nonetheless, it’s a “hugely exciting time” to study the connections between pollution and the brain, she says. And if real, the air pollution connection would give public health experts a tool for sharply lowering Alzheimer’s risks—a welcome prospect for a disease that is so devastating and that, for now, remains untreatable.
Demented dogs in Mexico City in the early 2000s offered the first hints that inhaling polluted air can cause neurodegeneration. Neuroscientist Lilian Calderón-Garcidueñas, now at the University of Montana in Missoula, noticed that aging dogs who lived in particularly polluted areas of the city often became addled, growing disoriented and even losing the ability to recognize their owners. When the dogs died, Calderón-Garcidueñas found that their brains had more extensive extracellular deposits of the protein amyloid b—the same “plaques” associated with Alzheimer’s disease—than dogs in less polluted cities. She went on to find similarly elevated plaque levels in the brains of children and young adults from Mexico City who had died in accidents, as well as signs of inflammation such as hyperactive glia, the brain’s immune cells. Calderón-Garcidueñas’s studies didn’t have rigorous controls, or account for the fact that amyloid b plaques don’t necessarily signal dementia. But later work lent weight to her observations.
Air pollution may cause about 21 percent of cases of dementia worldwide, including Alzheimer’s disease, if a study of older women can be extended to the general population.
Women aged 65 to 79 are 81 percent more at risk for general cognitive decline and 92 percent more likely to develop dementia if they live where fine particle matter exceeds the U.S. Environmental Agency’s standards, according to the study, led by University of Southern California scientists.
The study didn’t examine whether inhaling these particles also puts men at elevated risk.
These extremely small particles are just 2.5 millionths of a meter or smaller. They mainly come from power plants and automobiles and have long been a significant health concern. They escape the body’s defenses more easily than larger particles, said Robert Kard, director of the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District. And when they lodge in the body, they tend to stay there
Trump promised to repeal every new rule imposed by the Obama administration that harms coal. All three of these fit the bill. Smog, mercury, and coal ash are conventional air or water pollutants that can sicken people who live near coal-burning or processing facilities. Under Obama, the EPA updated and strengthened these rules (though not always to the satisfaction of environmental advocates)
Based on the latest science, the agency lowered the allowable levels of mercury and smog and regulated the disposal of coal ash. The coal ash rules were weak, and the smog rules were both weak and long-overdue. But it was still bad news for the coal industry. The good news for environmentalists is that, while the executive branch can reverse these rules on its own, it will require a new rulemaking process. That takes time, requiring a public comment period, and it’s also—like any rulemaking—subject to legal challenge. Green groups will likely go after all these moves, arguing that they violate laws like the Clean Air Act that charge the EPA with protecting public health.
Bringing Back the Coal Industry
Trump pledged on the campaign trail to essentially wish the coal industry back into existence on day one. Unless he’s got a genie in a bottle (maybe that explains Tuesday’s results?), this is a complete fantasy. Coal employment is plummeting for a few reasons: Strip mining and mechanization have reduced the number of miners needed, Appalachian mines have essentially been tapped out, and it’s more expensive to unearth the remaining coal than to burn natural gas or convert to wind and solar. It’s a myth that the Obama administration regulated coal out of existence; that was happening anyway. Reversing Obama’s rules would have a very marginal on coal employment and would only temporarily boost coal use, since economic factors are against it.
Filling the White House With Fossil Fuel Execs
Trump has already named the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Myron Ebell a noted climate science denier, to head his environmental policy transition team. Trump’s favorite for leading the Department of Energy is oil and gas executive Harold Hamm. His other energy advisers include coal magnate Robert Murray, and pro-fossil fuel Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota. The specter has been raised of Sarah Palin as Secretary of the Interior (which manages much of the federal government’s public land). Although Democrats can filibuster cabinet appointments, there’s a good chance that most Trump nominees will get confirmed.