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Your Brain on Air Pollution

2020.06

요약

대기오염은 한국만의 이슈가 아니다. 전 세계적으로 공기의 질이 악화되면서 대기오염 문제는 환경과 건강뿐 아니라 인권 문제로 접근해야 한다는 유엔 보고서가 나왔다. 데이비드 보이드 유엔 인권·환경 특별조사관은 제네바 유엔인권이사회에 제출한 보고서에서 대기오염으로 매년 지구촌에서 어린이 60만 명을 포함한 약 700만 명이 조기 사망하고 있다고 밝혔다. 이는 매년 전쟁이나 살인, 결핵, 에이즈, 말라리아 등으로 숨지는 사람의 수를 모두 더한 수보다 많은 수이다. 대기오염을 그저 ‘오염’이라고 보기엔 인간에게 너무나 치명적이라는 점을 부인할 수 없다. 대기오염에 자주 노출될 경우 뇌의 발달에도 좋지 않은 영향을 줄 수 있다는 연구 결과도 있다. 미국 신시내티의 한 의학센터 연구팀의 저널에 따르면 대기오염 정도가 심한 곳에서 자란 아이들이 대기오염이 덜한 지역에서 자란 아이들에 비해 뇌 피질 두께가 얇은 경향이 있었으며, 발달 정도를 평가하는 표준화 검사에서도 더 낮은 점수를 받았다고 한다.


There are seven million premature deaths every single year caused by exposure to polluted air. By breathing in bad quality air, we are shortening our lives. Maria Neira, a public health leader and expert, claims that “air pollution knows no borders - even in your own body.” This artaicle will look at her startling talk of how all of our body’s major organs, including our brain, are affected by the chemicals and particles we breathe in. She also calls on both those in power and the public to take action to put an end to sources of pollution.

Neira describes air pollution as a very complex mixture of gaseous chemicals, liquid droplets, and solid particles. Components of this mixture come from various indoor and outdoor sources, such as traffic, industry fuel burning, and household fuel burning. Different sources of pollution create different mixtures of pollutants, meaning air pollution can be a combination of different things. However, they are all toxins. With air pollution, we are breathing in toxic metals, sea salt, soil dust, road dust, diesel smog, nitrates and sulfates, and more.

In a relatively short period, there has been a lot of research done on air pollution and the negative impact it has. There are more than 70,000 scientific papers that examine the relationship between our health and air pollution. The two major organs of our bodies that air pollution affects the most are our lungs and our brain.

As expected, air pollution harms our lungs with every single breath we take. As we inhale oxygen, which is necessary for us to live and survive, we are simultaneously making our lungs suffer by inhaling toxic pollutants, as previously mentioned. We need approximately 10,000 liters of air every single day. Imagine breathing in 10,000 liters of air pollution every day.

We have to worry about our brains, as well. Studies show that the smallest toxic particles of air pollution can actually cross from our lungs into the bloodstream. From the bloodstream, the toxic particles reach our entire body by being pumped by our heart, which threatens all of our organs, including the brain. In addition, long-term prenatal and early childhood exposure to air pollution can have a negative impact on neural development and result in lower cognitive test outcomes. Furthermore, long-term exposure to air pollution can lead to the brains of adults aging more rapidly, and studies in animal models show that there might actually be an increased risk of dementia, as well.

Neira argues that strong action is required by everyone, which includes individuals, civil society, and the private sector, to commit to the roles they have to play. Why is this the case? Because it is a global issue that affects everyone. No country or region can do this alone. Solutions are available, but the question is whether they can be implemented by everyone together.