Study Shows Even Brief Exposure to Diesel Emissions Changes Brain Activity

In the past, studies were conducted to determine how exposure to air pollution is linked to cases of neurodegenerative diseases and mental health conditions. A newer study published in the Environmental Health journal revealed that even brief exposure to regular levels of diesel emissions can already affect human brain activity.

According to the findings, being exposed to diesel exhaust for two hours will already result in a decrease in the functional connectivity of your brain. To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers chose 25 adults of good health and exposed them briefly to filtered air and diesel emissions at various times inside a laboratory. With the aid of functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI, they measured the participants’ brain activity before and after every exposure. 

They then observed and studied the changes in the DMN or default mode network of the brain. The DMN plays a significant role in internal thought and memory (or the ability to think and remember). Through the fMRI, researchers discovered that the participants’ functional connectivity decreased across DMN regions after they were exposed to diesel emissions, particularly in comparison to exposure to filtered air.

Although these were temporary changes and the participants’ functional connectivity went back to normal after being exposed to emissions, the University of British Columbia head of respiratory medicine Dr. Chris Carlsten said that continuous exposure can lead to long-lasting effects. He also emphasised the importance of mindfulness when stuck in traffic. Simple steps such as having a working car air filter or taking a different, less congested route when biking or walking will already help minimize exposure to traffic emissions.

Dr. Carlsten also shared how air pollution has become a major environmental threat to human health and how this has affected not only the brain but all organ systems. 

Researchers made sure that they utilised freshly generated exhaust that was aged and diluted according to real-world conditions. They conducted the study at the Air Pollution Laboratory of UBC in Vancouver General Hospital. The facility boasts of an exposure booth with state-of-the-art technology capable of mimicking the feeling of breathing various air pollutants. 

Why diesel emissions are dangerous

Diesel emissions are released by diesel-powered vehicles. They are contributors to the formation of acid rain and help create ground-level ozone, a pollutant that damages vegetation. 

The most common emissions from diesel vehicles are:

  • Hydrocarbons (HC)
  • Carbon monoxide (CO)
  • Aldehydes
  • Sulphur dioxide (SO2)
  • Polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH)
  • Particulate matter (PM)
  • Nitrogen oxides (NOx)

Authorities are most concerned about NOx emissions since these are the ones identified in the 2015 Dieselgate scandal. 

NOx is composed mostly of NO or nitric oxide and NO2 or nitrogen dioxide. Its emissions are an environmental threat because they can form acid rain, smog, and ground-level ozone. They’re also a threat to public health as some of their health impacts can be life-threatening.

A person exposed to NOx emissions can experience changes in their mental and cognitive health. There will be an increased risk of developing depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Additionally, once cognitive abilities weaken, a person becomes more susceptible to dementia.

Other health conditions that can be triggered by exposure to NOx emissions include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, nausea and vomiting, and pulmonary oedema. 

Serious health impacts include cancer, asphyxiation, laryngospasm, and cardiovascular diseases. Over the years, the number of premature deaths linked to air pollution and NOx emissions has increased. Air pollution has become the primary cause of early deaths across the world. 

These environmental and health impacts are the reasons why authorities are committed to safeguarding car owners against carmakers that use illegal devices for passing emissions tests, which is what happened in the diesel emissions scandal.

What was the diesel emissions scandal all about?

September 2015 is a memorable day for the Volkswagen Group because that was when they received a Notice of Violation from US authorities detailing allegations that they used defeat devices in Audi and VW vehicles sold to American consumers. A defeat apparatus senses when a vehicle it’s installed in is about to be evaluated so it immediately lowers emissions to levels that match legal limits. The goal is to make the vehicle appear emissions-compliant so it can easily pass regulatory tests.

However, as soon as the vehicle is out on real roads and being driven in real-life conditions, it emits unlawful and dangerous levels of NOx. Thus, a vehicle equipped with a defeat device is not emissions-compliant; it is a pollutant. 

Volkswagen recalled the hundreds of thousands of affected vehicles and paid the fines and fees. 

Other carmakers followed VW’s example and used defeat devices as well, including Mercedes-Benz, Renault, BMW, and Nissan.

These carmakers lied to their customers and favoured profit more than keeping their customers safe. They need to pay for the inconveniences that affected drivers have gone through. Drivers should file a diesel claim against their car manufacturer.

How do I start my diesel claim?

A successful diesel claim will reward you with compensation, the amount of which will depend on the details of your case. However, before you can file a claim, you have to verify first that you are eligible for one. Visit to get all the details you need to determine your eligibility. Visit their website here – 

Then you can start working with an emissions expert who can help point your case towards the right direction.  

© Copyright 2023 Antonia, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tidylife
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