Glendale Air and Fetal Brain Damage

New research links air pollution to fetal brain damage. Sure, big surprise, pregnant women aren’t supposed to smoke. True, but the dirty air in the study is cleaner than the air in Glendale. Now GWP wants to build a larger dirty power plant right downtown making matters even worse.

The study, “Air pollution exposure during fetal life, brain morphology, and cognitive function in school-age children” tracked the air pollution levels during pregnancy and then followed up with neuroimaging and cognitive function tests of 783 children at the ages of 6 and 10.

Fetuses of mothers exposed to more than 20.2 μg/m³ (micrograms per cubic meter) of fine particles and more than 39.3 µg/m³ of nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) had thinner cortex in several brain regions of both hemispheres. For example, the “cerebral cortex of the precuneus region in the right hemisphere was 0.045 mm thinner for each 5-μg/m³ increase in fine particles”.

These brain changes contribute to difficulty for children to self-regulate temptations and impulsive behavior. These changes in self-control are related to mental health problems like addictive behavior and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

We observed brain development effects in relationship to fine particles levels below the current limit. Therefore, we cannot warrant the safety of the current levels of air pollution in our cities.

Mònica Guxens, MD

The most disturbing thing about this study is that Glendale air is currently dirtier than the study air. Our air ranges between 35 and 88 μg/m³ fine particulate matter and over 148 µg/m³ for NO₂ compared to 20.2 μg/m³ and 39.3µg/m³ in the study.

Air pollution is so obviously bad for lungs, heart, and other organs that most of us have never considered its effects on the developing brain. But perhaps we should have learned from studies of maternal smoking that inhaling toxins may have lasting effects on cognitive development.

John Krystal, MD, Editor of Biological Psychiatry

The air pollution in Glendale is worse than the study area and yet Glendale Water & Power wants to expand the Grayson Power Plant and produce more power locally than they have in the last 20 years. Their own environmental report shows that normal operation of the new plant would see a net increase in fine particulate matter and NO₂  (see the highlighted amount on this chart below). It’s even worse in months that they have to do plant maintenance or if they end up generating more power than they predicted for these calculations.

Bigger plant, more emissions
FEIR Chart showing net increase in emissions

The Glendale City Council has a choice. They can choose to make the air quality in Glendale worse or they can choose to start powering Glendale with clean renewable energy. The choice affects the development of every child born in Glendale for the next 30 years. We don’t need a $500 million methane plant that will pollute our air. We need clean energy solutions. We need clean energy leadership. We need clean air leadership.

Areas of the brain affected by nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter during fetal development
Areas of the brain affected by nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter during fetal development
Biological Psychiatry Cover
Cover of Biological Psychiatry Volume 83, Issue 7