Motorists not only have to worry about road rage and distracted driving, but toxic fumes that are causing brain damage, new study suggests.
Remote work was made especially popular during the height of the pandemic. Even workplaces that had never considered it before were forced to make sudden and drastic changes to their cultures, allowing for more flexibility. But as the months passed, and the initial influx of cases continued to go down, many employers began requiring their employees to go back into the office. This meant employees who had been given an option to stay at home were now having to get back on the roads and endure traffic-filled commutes filled with diesel fumes and honking horns once again.
Traffic frustrations have existed for years – along with road rage, distracted driving, and risky maneuvering. Bumper to bumper commutes cause high levels of stress, and it can easily be assumed that, over time, this can deteriorate one’s health. However, traffic frustrations are not the only issue. A new study has also found that heavy diesel fumes from stopped vehicles on busy streets routinely expose the brains of commuters to harmful toxins, leading to long-term brain damage.
The study, published in the Environmental Health, successfully drew this conclusion as the authors performed the first controlled human exposure study using MRI imaging. They used 25 adults aged 19 to 49 years old exposed to diesel fumes and collected the MRI imaging from these exposures. From the images, the research team found that short-term pollution causes a reduction in brain connectivity which can also lead to a loss in productivity over time (ironic, since many commuters are heading to their jobs to be productive). In addition to a loss in productivity, there are adverse health effects in the human body from repeated exposure to the traffic diesel fumes.
Dr. Chris Carlsten, a senior author of the study, suggested that commuters keep their windows rolled up if stuck in traffic for a longer period of time in order to prevent the filtered air contaminated with diesel exhaust from affecting the brain. It’s difficult to avoid the fumes altogether, but limiting exposure is essential. Another way to do this is to avoid filtering outside air through into the car through the vents or wearing a face mask.
Car accidents are one of the leading causes of preventable deaths in the United States, and reckless and distracted driving are common reasons for these fatalities. Texting is becoming one of the biggest factors leading to these deaths. However, in addition to crashes, toxic fumes are also taking numerous lives each year. In fact, it’s estimated that there as many as five million worldwide deaths each year from exposure to air pollution in traffic.
Carlsten’s groundbreaking study about exposure to diesel fumes is the first step towards making change. Policy changes should be considered to regulate on the road pollution and protect those commuting because they have to go to work or are commuting because they have to go to school. No one should have to suffer from diesel fume exposure simply because they are trying to make a living, and heartbreakingly, children are also being exposed. These vulnerable motorists don’t have a choice.