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← This is your brain on air pollution

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Showing Revision 5 created 02/19/2020 by Erin Gregory.

  1. There is something we desperately need
  2. that we cannot stop doing:
  3. it is breathing.
  4. Do you want to try?
  5. Why don't we stop breathing together
  6. for, let's say, even 10 seconds.
  7. Is that OK?
  8. Let's do it.
  9. Get ready ... OK, now!
  10. Oof, difficult, isn't it?

  11. Well, this is an incredible number

  12. that will again take your breath away:
  13. seven.
  14. Seven what?
  15. Seven million premature deaths a year
  16. caused by exposure to the bad quality
    of the air we breathe.
  17. Imagine -- it's like more than
    the entire population of my dear Madrid
  18. will be wiped out in one year.
  19. And you may ask:

  20. Has this information been disclosed?
  21. Has this information
    been publicized, distributed?
  22. Well, yes.
  23. We have at the moment
    more than 70,000 scientific papers
  24. examining the relationship
    between air pollution and our health,
  25. and the global media has been
    regularly covering this issue.
  26. In fact, in a relatively
    short period of time,
  27. we have come to know
  28. that air pollution is having
    a negative impact
  29. on almost all our major organs.
  30. Let's start by the lungs.

  31. When we think about air pollution,
    we always think about the lungs.
  32. In fact, every time we take a breath,
  33. we are inhaling toxic pollutants,
  34. and our poor pink and lovely lungs
  35. are suffering all of that.
  36. Over the last 10 years,

  37. we have put together a lot of knowledge
    about what's happened to that,
  38. but let me tell you first
    what is air pollution.
  39. OK, air pollution
    is a very complex mixture
  40. of solid particles,
  41. liquid droplets
  42. and gaseous chemicals.
  43. Imagine all of this mixture
  44. that might come from sources
    like household fuel burning
  45. or industry or traffic
  46. or many other indoor and outdoor sources.
  47. And, of course, different
    sources of pollution
  48. will make different
    mixtures of pollutants.
  49. The point is that all of these toxins,
  50. they can be combined in different ways.
  51. Let's take, for instance,
    the particulate matter, the PM.
  52. It can be a mixture that will include --
  53. look at the cocktail here --
  54. soil and road dust,
  55. sea salt,
  56. toxic metals,
  57. diesel smog,
  58. nitrates and sulfates,
  59. and all of this toxic poison,
    this delicious cocktail,
  60. is going through our lungs every day,
  61. and we are constantly exposed
    to this air pollution
  62. because we cannot stop breathing.
  63. I mean, we can do it for 10 seconds,
    but no more than that.
  64. We cannot stop breathing
  65. and, in addition,
  66. we need, every day,
    around 10,000 liters of air.
  67. So we said that we have
    seven million deaths

  68. caused by air pollution every year.
  69. Are we panicking?
  70. Are we keeping calm?
  71. Are we declaring a national disaster,
    a global emergency?
  72. Well, no, and in fact I'm asking myself
    this question every day:
  73. What is happening?
  74. But here is something that maybe
    will force us to react more quickly.
  75. Air pollution is not just
    affecting our lungs.
  76. It's affecting our brain as well.
  77. This is our brain.

  78. Beautiful.
  79. We all have it.
  80. We all need it.
  81. Hopefully, we all use it --
  82. (Laughter)

  83. some more than others.

  84. And in the last 10 years of history,
  85. the research about the relationship
    between air pollution
  86. and our brain's health
  87. has been increased dramatically,
  88. so maybe now our brain
    is going up in smoke.
  89. But let me tell you the evidence,
  90. what we know so far
    about air pollution in our brain.
  91. First, there is an emerging
    body of evidence

  92. regarding the potential harmful effects
  93. of air pollutants
  94. into our central nervous system.
  95. But let's go back to the toxic particles.
  96. Remember?
  97. We left them at the lungs,
  98. enjoying life,
  99. polluting everything.
  100. But now the smallest of them,
  101. they can cross into the bloodstream,
  102. and from the bloodstream,
    pumped by the heart,
  103. they can reach the whole body,
  104. threatening every organ,
  105. including the brain.
  106. We used to say that
    air pollution has no borders,
  107. and it's true as well within our bodies,
  108. because air pollutants will cross
    the placental barrier
  109. and reach the fetus and alter
    the cerebral cortex of our children
  110. even before they take their first breath.
  111. Second, several studies have suggested

  112. that both prenatal and early childhood
    long-term exposure to air pollution
  113. will have a negative influence
    on neural development,
  114. will have lower cognitive test outcomes,
  115. and there will be an influence as well,
    a negative influence,
  116. on some behavioral disorders like autism
  117. and attention deficit
    hyperactivity disorder.
  118. In addition to that, some evidence found
  119. that exposing our children's
    and young adults' brains
  120. for a long time to particulate matter
  121. will cause some reactions
    like brain inflammation,
  122. altering the neural response
  123. and [also] leading to the influence
    of more protein plaques
  124. that are accumulating,
  125. and those can increase
    the risks for diseases
  126. like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
  127. Ironic, isn't it:

  128. we are investing in our children's future,
  129. we are sending them to school
    every day to expand their minds,
  130. the society is investing
    in their education,
  131. and yet the air they breathe
    while waiting for the school bus
  132. is influencing negatively
    the development of their brain.
  133. Let's go to the third: What about adults?

  134. According to recent scientific evidence,
  135. long-term exposure to particulate matter
    will cause a cognitive decline
  136. in study participants as they age.
  137. And not only that,
  138. if you expose them to long-term,
    very fine particulate matter,
  139. their brain will age more rapidly,
  140. and they will have higher odds
  141. of having small, silent strokes.
  142. The last one -- and I will not
    give you more evidence,

  143. because there is a ton of [it] --
  144. some epidemiological studies
    in animal models
  145. have suggested that there might be
    an increased risk of dementia
  146. with sustained exposure to air pollutants.
  147. So, almost everybody
    is exposed to air pollution.

  148. Whether you live in a rural area
    or an urban area,
  149. whether you live in a high-income country
    or a low-income country,
  150. everybody's brains, including yours,
  151. are at risk.
  152. As a medical doctor,

  153. I have been dedicating
    the last more than 20 years now
  154. of my professional life
  155. to raise awareness about
    public health issues,
  156. public health risks,
  157. at the World Health Organization,
  158. and I know that the knowledge is there
    and the solutions as well.
  159. Sure, some places
    are more polluted than others,
  160. but this a global issue,
  161. and no individual, no city,
    no group, no country, no region
  162. will be able to solve it alone.
  163. We need very strong commitments
    and very strong action by everyone:
  164. civil society,
  165. private sector,
  166. even individuals.
  167. We all have a role to play.
  168. Yes, we need to influence
    the way we consume,
  169. the way we commute,
  170. the way we use our energy.
  171. And the good thing is that
    all of those solutions are available.

  172. The question is, if we postpone
    action by one day,
  173. there might be thousands
    of lives that we will lose,
  174. but if we postpone it by one year,
  175. we might be losing again seven million.
  176. So every policy maker, every politician,
  177. needs to be aware of
    the consequences on human health
  178. of postponing their decisions.
  179. In fact,

  180. this is not the first time in history
  181. that we are confronted
    with the risks of this invisible killer.
  182. This was London in 1952,
  183. and as was done in London
    in the '50s and the '60s,
  184. governments and cities,
  185. they need to take urgent action to stop
    the terrible impact of air pollution.
  186. Every politician must know that delaying
    what they call the tough actions,
  187. like reducing traffic in cities
    or investing in public transport
  188. and engaging in promoting
    cycling in cities,
  189. investing in renewable energy,
  190. promoting cleaner energy
    for cooking, cooling
  191. and transportation and heating
  192. are solutions that are very smart,
  193. because, in fact, they reduce emissions,
  194. they improve air quality
    in line with WHO standards,
  195. which are the standards
    that will protect ourselves.
  196. So in fact, all politicians that we need
    these very strong political commitments

  197. and political will from,
  198. but [we need] all of them now.
  199. Those who fail, who postpone action,
  200. they have been requested even
    to defend their position in court.
  201. And from now on,
  202. no politician will be able
    to say, "I didn't know."
  203. So the question here is:

  204. How many lives,
  205. loss of quality of life
  206. and losing our brain power
  207. are we ready to accept?
  208. If the answer is "none,"
  209. I will request that you,
  210. while our brains are still functioning,
    while we are still intelligent,
  211. please exercise your right,
    put pressure on your politicians
  212. and make sure that they take action
    to stop the sources of air pollution.
  213. This is the first thing we need to do
    to protect yourself
  214. and to protect our beautiful brain.
  215. Thank you very much.

  216. (Applause)