New research has linked dementia, a degenerative brain disease that affects brain functions, to living in an area with heavy traffic. Two primary factors are said to be associated with the onset of dementia; exposure to noise pollution and air pollution caused by fossil fuel powered combustion engine vehicles. However, the report did not go as far as to say that exposure to exhaust fumes causes dementia directly.

Greater adoption of clean energy technologies, such as hydrogen fuel cells and electric motors, could help mitigate the risks associated with living in high-traffic areas. Adopting clean energy in stationary applications, such as offices, homes, and industrial buildings will also help to ensure future generations can breathe cleaner air, even in built up areas.

Health hazards associated with urban pollution

The research, spearheaded by Public Health Ontario, studied 6.6 million individuals for over a decade, and found that 1 in 10 cases of Alzheimer’s found in city-dwellers could be associated with living near heavy traffic.

The report does, however, concede that other factors associated with living in urban areas, such as unhealthy lifestyle choices, or respiratory and cardiac issues caused by air pollution.

It’s no secret that many large cities across the world are polluted to dangerous levels, and while the results of this study cannot conclusively link dementia to pollution, it certainly adds further evidence that highly polluted areas are a health risk to inhabitants. Research has shown that 5.5 million people died prematurely worldwide in 2013 as a result of air pollution.

The study identified air pollution as a key contributing factor to deaths by heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, bronchitis, emphysema, and other circulatory and respiratory ailments. Tellingly, over half of these deaths were in China and India, two of the world’s most polluted countries.

Large metropolitan areas are the worst affected

The problem in developed Asian countries like China and India is more acute, where heavy industrialisation has led to toxic air in many of the urban centres of both countries. However, urban centres in the West also have a similar problem, especially large metropolitan cities such as Paris, London, New York and Berlin.

A solution is urgently needed in order to curb the rate at which toxic air is killing people around the globe; emissions creating greenhouse gases need to be cut. One way to do this is to invest in clean energy technology, such as hydrogen fuel cells, which can be used to power almost anything; homes, offices, trains, cars, and much more. The primary roadblock to mass adoption of clean energy technologies is investment from both a government and industry level.

We must clean up our cities

Proton Motor’s Chairman Ian Peden said: “Demand for inner city living is higher than ever, and the existence of associated health risks become more and more apparent over time. We must clean up our cities to maintain a good quality of life, and the demand for clean energy technologies to ensure long term public health and prosperity is growing.

“Clean energy industries need support from government, industry and the general public to generate the demand to quickly bring these technologies to market. At Proton Motor we strive every day to ensure we can meet this demand. Our products deliver the clean energy solutions that can clean up our inner cities.”

The link between pollution and dementia may not be conclusive, but one thing is certain; toxic air is a killer. In the world’s biggest cities, the situation is critical. Unless we begin investing in clean energy technology today, the problem will just get worse, until we’ll have to start giving up our health in order to live in the world’s biggest cities.

Proton Motor is a leading manufacturer of hydrogen fuel cells and fuel cell systems for mobile, maritime and stationary applications.