No one accuses The Wall Street Journal, icon of the business world, of devoting excessive column space to protection of the environment or public health.
On the contrary, the WSJ has been an enthusiastic part of the artillery in the conservatives' war on science and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which they consider the epitome of evil, “job-killing government regulation.”
So, I was startled to read this subheading of a major article in the WSJ on November 8. “Scientists Increasingly Link Vehicle Exhaust With Brain-Cell Damage, Higher Rates of Autism.” Curiosity got the best of me, so I continued to read.
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The WSJ detailed a small portion of the medical research revealing the brain damaging effect of air pollution. The article read like something the American Medical Association, the EPA and Al Gore could have collaborated on, using phrases like, “at every stage of life, traffic fumes exact a measurable toll on mental capacity, intelligence and emotional stability…. There is real cause for concern … it can also leave a molecular mark on the genome of a newborn for life … breathing street-level fumes for just 30 minutes can intensify electrical activity in brain regions responsible for behavior, personality and decision-making … Children in areas affected by high levels of emissions, scored more poorly on intelligence tests … older men and women long exposed to higher levels of traffic-related particles and ozone had memory and reasoning problems that added five years to their mental age … The emissions may also heighten the risk of Alzheimer's and accelerate Parkinson's disease…. air pollution might be a risk factor for autism … By age 3, the children who were exposed prenatally to high exhaust levels were developing mental capacities fractionally more slowly. By age 5, their IQ scores averaged four points lower on intelligence tests … By age 7, the children were more likely to show symptoms of anxiety, depression and attention problems…. ”
Remember, this is the great industry ally, the WSJ, reporting that air pollution precipitates neurodegenerative diseases and is having a measurable impact on the intellectual capacity and emotional stability of your entire family, grandkids to grandparents. Some of these studies tried to quantify the impact; 5-9 IQ points.[1,2,3] That's a game changer, a career changer, a serious limitation of one's quality of life and earning capability.
Pause and inhale the irony. The Rupert-Murdoch-owned WSJ – shining beacon of the media empire responsible for the dumbing down of America and the rest of the civilized world, home of Karl Rove editorials, frequent microphone for corporate America and Congressional Republicans, water carrier for the GOP's relentless campaign to strangle the EPA – is reporting a serious contribution of air pollution to the dumbing down of America! Wow! Was the Emperor of Fox News having a “pollution” moment when that article passed over his desk?
But if this kind of intellectual deterioration is ubiquitous for virtually everyone exposed to air pollution, it is also a national crisis. A loss of intelligence of 5-9 IQ points across the country decreases the number of “gifted” children by about 40 percent and increases the number of the “mentally deficient” by about the same amount. Long term, that becomes an economic catastrophe, a threat to the security and pre-eminence of America on the world stage, and a chronic moral disgrace.
“Occupy” protests are illustrating what recent polls have documented: a wide gap between, on the one side, the attitudes of Americans toward most political issues, including pollution and our fossil fuel addiction, and, on the other, the dirty energy corporate coddling by both political parties. The overwhelming majority of Democrats, Republicans, and even 56 percent of Tea Partiers, want America to make the investments needed to be the world's clean energy leader. This same majority also thinks America's oil, coal and natural gas companies have excessive influence on Congress and the White House. Seventy-eight percent of Democrats, 59 percent of Republicans and even 48 percent of Tea Partiers do not see pursuing, even subsidizing, clean energy as a roadblock to economic recovery.
The dirty energy agenda of Republican leadership defies both science and public opinion. The medical information reported in the WSJ is only the tip of an iceberg of over 2,000 studies which have been accumulating for the last ten years and prove the many ways air and water pollution take a startling toll on individual and public health. The chemical alteration of chromosomes, alluded to in the WSJ, is well established, and the implications are difficult to overstate. Those chromosome changes trigger numerous adult-onset chronic diseases involving the heart, lungs, brain, and virtually every organ system and can be passed on to subsequent generations. The pollution your children breathe now will affect the health and intellectual capacity of generations to come.
The Republican economic/job creation strategy of allowing more pollution and continued, even enhanced, dependence on fossil fuels has always been a sham. But now, add remarkable new medical science to climate science to expose this strategy as the utter disaster that it is. Apparently there are even people at the Wall Street Journal who now believe this. Could this be a sign of intelligent life in the Murdoch universe? We can only hope.
2. Edwards SC, Jedrychowski W, Butscher M., Camann D, Kieltyka A, Mroz E, Rauh, V et al. 2010. “Prenatal exposure to airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and children's intelligence at five years of age in a prospective cohort study in Poland.” Environmental Health Perspectives-.doi:10.1289/ehp.0901070
3. Perera, FP, Li Z, Whyatt R, Hoepner L, Wang S, Camann D, et al. 2009. “Prenatal airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon exposure and child IQ at age 5 years,” Pediatrics doi: 10.1542/peds.2008-3506.