Abnormalities in the brains of mice that resemble the same abnormalities seen in humans that have autism and schizophrenia have been shown to be related to air pollution and the size of the particles in air pollutants for the first time. Dr. Deborah Cory-Slechta, professor of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester, is the first to document the correlation between pollution and mental disease in a large study. The research was published in the June 5, 2014, edition of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
Mice were exposed to the typical pollutants found in small cities during the first two weeks of their lives. The pollution was similar to rush hour pollution in the number of particles and the variation in the size of the particles. The researchers found definite proof that small sized pollutants produce changes in the structure of the brain that produce autism and schizophrenia. The presence of autism was seen more in male mice just like it is in humans.
Smaller particles can be absorbed into the blood stream after being inhaled into the lungs. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has not determined the level of small-particle pollutants that is hazardous to human health and has no regulations addressing this type of pollution. The mice in the study showed a lack of white matter development around the lateral ventricles of the brain even 40 days after a single exposure to pollutants and as long as 270 days after a single exposure.
Dr. Cory-Slechta expresses the hope that this discovery will bring more attention to small-particle pollutant dangers by the EPA. Considering the “war” produced by the gradual limits on emissions from coal plants that produce electricity, one has to wonder if the health of children will be a factor in keeping coal and coal employment. Lawsuits are likely to be filed by both sides of the issue as small-particle pollution becomes a new documented threat to people’s mental health.