According to Dutch researchers, breathing in diesel exhaust fumes causes a stress response in the brain that can possibly result in long-term damage to brain function.
Researchers monitored the brain waves of 10 volunteers as they sat in a room filled with diesel exhaust fumes for one hour. The level of fumes was similar to that found on a busy road.
The volunteers didn't need to be there for the whole hour, though, as after just 30 minutes brain wave patterns showed a stress response, which for those us without a medical degree, means changes in information processing in the brain cortex.
Although previous studies have shown that very small nanoparticles in traffic fumes can travel all the way from the nose and lodge themselves in the brain, this is the first evidence of a change in brain activity.
"We can only speculate what these effects may mean for the chronic exposure to air pollution encountered in busy cities where the levels of such soot (nanoparticles) particles can be very high," said lead researcher Paul Borm from Zuyd University.
So the big question, can breathing in diesel fumes fry your brain?
"It is conceivable that the long-term effects of exposure to traffic nanoparticles may interfere with normal brain function and information processing."
Of course this is by no means a victory for petrol-powered cars as diesel was only chosen for the study because it's the common exhaust fume in Europe.
The Dutch group says further research is required to find out for sure if there is need for panic. Currently the nanoparticles found in traffic fumes have already been linked with increased rates of respiratory and cardiovascular disease.
Want to read more? The study is available online at http://www.particleandfibretoxicology.com/