New Freeway Danger: Roadside Air Pollution Causes Brain Damage in Mice

By Patrick Morgan | April 9, 2011 2:19 pm

What’s the News: Scientists have for the first time directly linked freeway vehicle emissions with brain damage. Scientists used a new technique that involved trapping airborne toxins along Los Angeles’ 110 Freeway, freezing them in water, and exposing lab mice to the toxins. “As a society, we need to figure out ways to minimize the level of the very, very nasty particulates we are dumping into the air we breathe,” University of Southern California gerontology researcher Todd Morgan told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s having terrible consequences.”How the Heck:

  • The researchers used a particle sampler to collect “fresh ambient particulate matter” along the CA-110 Freeway near Los Angeles City for 30 days. After gathering grime on filters, they then soaked the filters in water for 30 minutes before freezing the water-toxin cocktail.
  • Frozen pollutants only remain chemically stable for around 3 months, so after collecting freeway toxins, the scientists brought the toxic ice cubed back to their lab soon after. They thawed the ice and released the toxins into the air breathed by their lab mice, exposing them to the fumes for a total of 150 hours over the course of 10 weeks.
  • The scientists then harvested the brain tissue of the mice, discovering through various cultures and tests that the mice brains resembled the brains of those suffering from memory loss or Alzheimer’s disease. For example, among other changes, specific receptors in the hippocampus had degenerated and parts of the cerebral cortex were inflamed.

What’s the Context:

Not So Fast: Since the tests were done on mice, humans wouldn’t necessarily be subject to the same effects. Also, because the mice were killed and examined immediately after the prescribed exposure period, we don’t know how long the negative effects last; it’s possible, for instance, that some pollution-caused brain damage might heal after exposure to clean air.

The Future Holds: Instead of looking at the short-term effect of airborne toxins on the brain, the scientists now want to look at the more long-term effect on brain development and aging.

Reference: Morgan TE, Davis DA, Iwata N, Tanner JA, Snyder D, Ning Z, et al. 2011. Glutamatergic Neurons in Rodent Models Respond to Nanoscale Particulate Urban Air Pollutants In Vivo and In Vitro. Environ Health Perspect : doi:10.1289/ehp.1002973

Image: flickr / DEMOSH

  • Rob

    Great post- I’d believe it. Move out of the city asap!~

  • John Lerch

    OTOH they don’t say how the toxins went from (thawed) water to air pollution. It’s highly likely that all kinds of crap could have been growing in a humidifier (if that’s how they transferred the stuff to the air).

  • joe dibuduo

    When I drive on polluted roads, my face becomes numb and my brain goes into a dense fog where I can barely think. So I believe pollution effects humans as well as mice. I’m living proof, because I lived in polluted Las Vegas and could hardly function mentally. Once I moved to the mountains in Prescott AZ and the air is clean, my cognitive abilities returned. If I go to any place with air pollution, my brain again shuts down.

  • Pippa

    I am glad that this is being examined scientifically instead of our jumping to conclusions that are ‘obvious’ – as it is surprising how often the obvious is in fact wrong. For now appropriate caution would seem to be advised.

  • Joe

    Why doesn’t someone do a study on the F*&%$ Chem-trails? One out of 110 is born Autistic!
    They are spraying highly toxic chemicals & heavy metals that kill bees and vegetation. Just look it up if you don’t believe me. EVIL people are behind this.

  • Suz

    I guess this proves that mice should stay off the freeways.

  • cephalopod30

    Joe –

    RE: Autism rates… More than that are schizophrenic. Boo! :)

    Yes, chemicals everywhere. No need to make things up like chem-trails.

    Fight a real fight, there are plenty. Cheers.

  • Jonathan Dickson

    It’s just as well mice don’t drive then, isn’t it?

  • Jockaira

    It would be interesting to know exactly which pollutants caused the observed damages. I suppose more studies will have to be done.

    In the meantime, these damages and injuries may be having an unobserved effect on traffic accident rates which are difficult in any sense to apply to accident prevention. Studies targeting specific types of accidents, such as those caused by inattention, certainly seem justified and may yield usable results.

    It is too early to be alarmed about drivers having their brains polluted, but a test fleet of trucks and other vehicle types equipped with sealed cabs and filtered air might show a significant reduction in accident rates as well as enhanced health of the drivers. If such a reduction is observed, it would be another good reason to control vehicle emissions and very likely mean a small reduction in insurance rates for vehicles with real “climate control.”

  • Jockaira

    You were right Joe. The Evil is all around us as reported in this news item:

    Latest News on Airborne Aerosol Psychomimetic Drug Dispersion.

    A special EPA HAZMAT team has been rushed to San Francisco International Airport to contain leakage from a China Airlines Cargo plane forced to land because of instrument damage caused by stray gunfire from an abortive hijack attempt by apparent Uighar dissidents stowed away before the plane’s take-off from the Fijian republic of the Republic of Fiji.

    HAZMAT team technicians on the scene say that the leakage appears to be a blue-colored liquid coming from massive internal tanks separate from the sanitation system of the aircraft and apparently unrelated to the on-board toilets. The technicians surmise that the leakage developed due to stray bullets puncturing the massive internal tanks fired during the attempted take-over attempt.

    Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have ordered a cordon set up around the airport by the San Mateo County Parking and Traffic Enforcement Bureau (SMCPTEB) which has responded by turning away all incoming automobiles, and citing and impounding all vehicles currently parked at the airport.

    Nine Uighar hijackers have been taken into custody and confined under guard in a nearby hospital after they fell unconscious onto the tarmac after breathing fumes from the blue liquid leakage.

    ICE officials say that the original flight plans for the airplane list its final destination as China Lake in Nevada. One official who commented on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation said, “I told you this would happen.”

    Early on during the incident, technicians complained about feelings of sleepiness and vibrating tongues, a sure sign of thorazine intoxication possibly infused into the blue liquid and outgassing into the area. Emergency hypodermic injections of lysergic acid diethylamide-25 were administered to the technicians which returned the technicians to a mentally alert state and stopped their wagging tongues and unofficial comments.

    Investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at a hastily organized press conference, theorized that the plane was on its way to deliver the cargo of liquid (no other cargo was on the plane) to a clandestine domestic warfare unit based at China Lake. The liquid, a new development by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), had received a dark blue tint making it impossible to see as it was injected into the contrails of jet airliners under contract to the Department of Defense (DOD) to disseminate aerosoled fluoride to non-compliant communities in the US as part of the new Universal Health Care Program. Preliminary analysis of the liquid revealed no fluoride but did find significant levels of thorazine, chlorpromazine, monosodium glutamate, and other as yet unidentified psychomimetic drugs.

    Ten minutes into the press conference, the FBI spokesman’s speech was interrupted by a telephone call from the White House, at which point the spokesman ended the conference with the words “No Comment.”

    This reporter seldom makes comments on the stories he covers, but in this case, makes an exception to say that everything is under control. There is nothing to fear. Your government is in full control of the situation. Any rumors you may have heard are simply that, rumors without any basis.

    Go to your homes and watch the TV for updates on this story and needed information to deal with it.

    ©Internet Paranoia News 2009

  • cs

    I remember that about 20-30 years ago there was a study done on children that lived near large freeway interchanges, and leaded gasoline was the culprit named in the reduced IQ of the children. Perhaps there was some other component/chemical that was present, other than leaded gasoline emissions.

  • http://rose raja

    I remember that about 20-30 years ago there was a study done on children that lived near large freeway interchanges, and leaded gasoline was the culprit named in the reduced IQ of the children. Perhaps there was some other component/chemical that was present, other than leaded gasoline


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