Study links Parkinson’s Disease and pollution

A Toronto physician has made a connection between poor city air quality and the incidence of Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Murray Finkelstein, a family physician, at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital was instrumental in conducting a breakthrough study on the affects of air pollution in Toronto and Hamilton. The study showed a distinct connection between a toxin found in air pollution and Parkinson’s disease.

“We were able to look directly at exposures of the manganese compound. We recognized that what we were interested in was the emissions of manganese … found in vehicle exhaust,” Dr. Finkelstein said.

In the study, Finkelstein found that manganese increased Parkinson’s by a rate of five per cent in Hamilton. He also found that the average age of those contracting Parkinson’s disease fell to 67 from 70.

Manganese is an essential mineral required by all living organisms; however, experts say too much of it can be toxic. For example, the Canadian government recognized the danger of a manganese-based product used in the manufacture of gasoline, called MMT, and banned its use in the country after 2004.

The Mount Sinai study measured the level of exposure to these toxins among residents in high traffic areas. In Toronto, it said, those affected lived near busy roads or highways; in Hamilton, they lived near industrial sites. With each case, the study examined the proximity of the residence to the toxins. It also revealed that people living in high-rises have a greater exposure to the toxins.

“We recognized that this was traffic-generated pollution,” Finkelstein said.

The findings showed there was no significant increased incidence of Parkinson’s in Toronto caused by manganese, however, manganese was found to be a big contributor to Parkinson’s in Hamilton, because those surveyed lived close to the city’s steel plants.

Dr. Alan Abelsohn, a doctor at Mount Sinai Hospital, said Parkinson’s disease attacks the body’s nerve system.

“It affects part of the brain. You have poor movements, involuntary movement. You’re stiff, can’t walk properly … It’s a terrible disease,” Abelsohn said.

Abelsohn, who treats Parkinson’s patients at Mount Sinai, said he is particularly concerned with the study’s findings that showed participants in Hamilton developed Parkinson’s three years earlier than the average person with the disease.

“It’s people’s lives. It’s very disabling. It’s a concern that more people might get it and that it can come earlier in those people,” Abelsohn said