Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image


Dementia rates ‘higher near busy roads’

People who live near major roads have higher rates of dementia, research published in the Lancet suggests.

About 10% of dementia cases in people living within 50m of a major road could be down to traffic, the study suggests.

The researchers, who followed nearly 2m people in Canada over 11 years, say air pollution or noisy traffic could be contributing to the brain’s decline.

Dementia experts in the UK said the findings needed further investigation but were “certainly plausible”.

Nearly 50 million people around the world have dementia.

However, the causes of the disease, that robs people of their memories and brain power, are not understood.

Population growth

The study in the Lancet followed nearly two million people in the Canadian province of Ontario, between 2001 and 2012.

There were 243,611 cases of dementia diagnosed during that time, but the risk was greatest in those living closest to major roads.

Compared with those living 300m away from a major road the risk was:

• 7% higher within 50m
• 4% higher between 50-100m
• 2% higher between 101-200m

The analysis suggests 7-11% of dementia cases within 50m of a major road could be caused by traffic.

Dr Hong Chen, from Public Health Ontario and one of the report authors, said: “Increasing population growth and urbanisation have placed many people close to heavy traffic, and with widespread exposure to traffic and growing rates of dementia, even a modest effect from near-road exposure could pose a large public health burden.

“More research to understand this link is needed, particularly into the effects of different aspects of traffic, such as air pollutants and noise.”

The researchers suggest noise, ultrafine particles, nitrogen oxides and particles from tyre-wear may be involved.

However, the study looks only at where people diagnosed with dementia live. It cannot prove that the roads are causing the disease.


“This is an important paper,” says Prof Martin Rossor, the UK’s National Institute for Health Research director for dementia research.

He added: “The effects are small, but with a disorder with a high population prevalence, such effects can have important public health implications.”

Prof Tom Dening, the director of the Centre for Dementia at the University of Nottingham, said the findings were “interesting and provocative”.

He said: “It is certainly plausible that air pollution from motor exhaust fumes may contribute to brain pathology that over time may increase the risk of dementia, and this evidence will add to the unease of people who live in areas of high traffic concentration.

“Undoubtedly living in conditions of severe air pollution is extremely unpleasant and it is hard to suppose that it is good for anyone.”

The best advice to reduce the risk of dementia is to do the things that we know are healthy for the rest of the body – stop smoking, exercise and eat healthily.

Canada pressed to make clean environment a constitutional right

A pioneering conservationist called on Canada this week to make clean environments a constitutional right — an idea forged decades ago and widely adopted but with mixed success around the world.

Canadian academic, science broadcaster and environmentalist David Suzuki said these protections must be enshrined in Canada’s bill of rights to prevent their degradation at the hands of less environmentally oriented governments that periodically come to power.

In an interview with AFP, he pointed to former Tory prime minister Stephen Harper, who during a decade in office (2006-2015) “began to dismantle a lot of our environmental laws,” and to the US President-elect Donald Trump who has called global warming a hoax.

“We’ve now seen a monumental earthquake kind of change in the United States with the election of Donald Trump,” said Suzuki, who turns 80 in March.

“In one election we could see the overturning of decades of environmental legislation that worked.”

The idea of clean air, potable water and healthy food free from heavy metals, pesticides, and other pollutants as a human right emerged in the mid-1970s.

The collapse of fascist, colonial and communist regimes led to an unprecedented wave of constitution making; more than half of the world’s constitutions in fact were written during this period.

This, combined with awareness of environmental degradation and the inadequacy of state responses, lead to more than 80 nations enacting some form of constitutional protection for the environment.

Yet ecological sustainability remains elusive for most.

Regardless, Suzuki lamented having to fight over and over the same battles of the last 35 years to prevent oil drilling in sensitive areas, the construction of hydroelectric dams requiring extensive flooding, or supertanker traffic along Canada’s pristine Pacific coast.

“We thought we won 30, 35 years ago,” he said. “Now we’re having to fight the same battles over again.”

“We can’t keep doing this. We have to change the way we have a relationship to the world.”

Canada, he said, needs hard rules not subject to political oscillations. “We need to enshrine these rights in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” he told AFP.

– Hottest year on record –

Constitutional change does not come easy in Canada.

The constitution was patriated from colonial masters in Britain in 1982, but with the support of only nine of Canada’s 10 provinces.

Quebec, then under separatist leadership, refused to sign the document. Subsequent attempts to officially bring the French-speaking province under Canada’s wing provoked infighting that threatened to break up the nation.

Failing a constitutional amendment, Suzuki called for activists to redouble their efforts in the face of growing threats to past achievements.

“You’ve got to fight like mad,” he said. “You’ve got to be eco-warriors.”

To Americans musing about moving to Canada, he offered a stern message: “I’m not interested in rats deserting a sinking ship.”

“Now is the time for you to work your ass off to make sure that (the next four years) are going to be as good for the environment as possible, and work toward the next election,” he said.

On Wednesday, business and political leaders meeting in Marrakesh urged Trump not to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on fighting global warming.

It sets the goal of limiting average global warming to 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels by cutting greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels. On Monday the UN said average temperatures were already up 1.2 degrees Celsius.

Countries including the United States have pledged to curb emissions under the deal by moving to renewable energy sources.

But Trump has vowed to boost oil, gas and coal.

Suzuki praised Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for championing the Paris accord, but questioned Ottawa’s paradoxical support for the construction of new pipelines to move Canadian oil to tidewater in order to reach new overseas markets.

“Why are we even talking about pipelines,” he said.

“If we’re serious about the Paris agreement, we have to get off the fossil fuels very, very rapidly. And in order to recover the cost of building a pipeline, you have to use it for 30, 35 years.”

Scarborough condo leading way toward ‘zero waste’

One wildly successful Scarborough condo building may be a model for the city in keeping more of our garbage out of the dump.

Toronto’s path to diverting all waste from a rapidly filling landfill might start at a Scarborough condominium.

The 1,000 or so residents of Mayfair on the Green responded to skyrocketing waste fees with a multi-pronged diversion campaign. They turned the garbage chute into an organics collector, tapped city educational tools including multilingual signs and cut trash output to one dumpster every two months from one dumpster every week.

“If you really talk to the people and they really understand, they will help,” says Princely Soundranayagam, the building’s superintendent who has spearheaded the transformation since 2004.

“Also, put a dollar mark (of savings) in front of them. In the beginning it is hard to get people to change but once you explain the benefits, they will co-operate to save money and for the environment.”

The condo used to spend $7,000 to $10,000 a year to get drains cleared. The problem stopped when Soundranayagam gave residents empty containers to bring down used cooking oil. Now they sell the used oil.

Toronto Environmental Alliance is calling Mayfair on the Green an example for the kind of thinking Torontonians — and city staff — urgently need to embrace.

“They are blowing everyone out of the water” by diverting more than 85 per cent, compared with the 26-per-cent highrise average, says Emily Alfred, a senior campaigner at the environmental advocacy group.

“The city should study that building, find out what they did and use it as a model . . . get people thinking differently. The city should invest in people and education to get them excited about reducing consumption and diverting more of their waste.”

Toronto used to be a diversion leader. In 2007, when the residential diversion rate was 42 per cent, the city said it would get to 70 per cent by 2010. More than five years after that target, the rate is stalled at 53 per cent.

As the city consults Torontonians on its solid waste strategy, Toronto Environmental Alliance has released a road map to “zero waste.”

The 27-page report says the city is failing to ask why two-thirds of material in the average Toronto garbage could be diverted to existing waste programs but isn’t.

The report cites models for change and suggests Toronto invest in successful programs such as Second Harvest, which distributes surplus food from restaurants and stores to community agencies.

“If they had twice as many trucks, they could go to twice as many restaurants,” Alfred said. “There is a tool library (for reusing items) that struggles to find space, that has to rent space. The city could easily boost its diversion rate with some smart investments.”

The clock is ticking and big money is at stake. Green Lane landfill, near London, Ont., bought by Toronto a decade ago for $220 million, is expected to be full by 2029.

Alfred warned that it takes years to get environmental approvals for a new landfill. It’s expensive to bury waste, and so are technological answers like incineration. Diversion is the quickest, cheapest and best solution, she said.

The path to zero waste


41%: Amount in a typical house garbage bag that could be diverted
54%: Amount in a typical apartment/condo garbage bag that could be diverted

Green bins are finally starting to be offered to highrise dwellers, but with a city policy change they could be everywhere from offices to restaurants and malls, Toronto Environmental Alliance says. Community groups such as Second Harvest could be expanded and encouraged. Civic examples to follow include San Francisco, where all buildings must collect organic waste for compost.


20%: Amount in a typical house garbage bag that could be diverted
24%: Amount in a typical apartment/condo garbage bag that could be diverted

While Torontonians are pretty good at using blue bins, they send up to 84,000 tonnes of recyclables to landfill every year. Consistent rules ensuring people have the same access to blue bins at home and work would boost the diversion rate. Companies need to reduce packaging. In Vancouver, businesses are forced to collect the same recyclables as homes and schools.

Hazardous waste, electronic waste, durable goods

4%: Amount in a typical house garbage bag that could be diverted
4%: Amount in a typical apartment/condo garbage bag that could be diverted

These items are a small part of the waste stream but pose environmental and health hazards. In Toronto it is inconvenient for businesses, schools and others to dispose of hazardous and electronic materials properly. Mobile, highly visible depots would help. Community partners that could be expanded include the REBOOT second-hand computer service.


6%: Amount in a typical house garbage bag that could be diverted
4%: Amount in a typical apartment/condo garbage bag that could be diverted

Clothing, toys and furniture that could have a second life are dumped in landfill every day. Reusing those items is even better than recycling because it conserves the energy that went into producing them. The Toronto Tool Library, Repair Café Toronto and Kind Exchange are showing the way. Regulations could force companies to make products with longer life spans.

Metro Vancouver`s Decision to Cancel Incinerator Procurement Gives True Zero Waste a Chance!

Download (PDF, 421KB)