A new Duke University study connects Alzheimer’s disease with elevated fine particulates, soot, and other air pollution in North Carolina’s Southern Piedmont area.
Fine particulates are known to increase the risk of heart disease and breathing problems, and air pollution more generally has been previously associated with elevated incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological conditions. However, this study goes further in specifically linking a significant increase in Alzheimer’s hospitalizations and deaths to elevated levels of airborne fine particulates. The levels studied here were less than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulatory standards but higher than those considered unhealthy by the World Health Organization.
The study compared 87 Charlotte-area ZIP codes with elevated fine particulate levels with 81 ZIP codes across the state that have cleaner air. Results controlled for possible co-factors such as race, sex, income, health care access, and smoking.
Researchers said the higher particulates levels in the high-pollution ZIP codes was primarily associated with heavy traffic. This is another example of how the transportation sector is displacing power production as the country’s largest single source of air pollution, including climate change-causing greenhouse gases.