Science Pick: Premature Aging and Waste Landfill Sites.

Ted Schettler
Science Director

See the article in Gene: Telomere shortening in women resident close to waste landfill sites

In this study, scientists from the University of Naples collected blood samples from 50 apparently healthy pregnant women living in an area of Italy with a large number of waste dumps and from a control group of 50 healthy women living in an unpolluted area. The purpose of the study was to compare the length of telomeres on the ends of chromosomes in the cells from women from the two areas.  Telomeres are caps on the ends of chromosomes that shorten successively with each cell division.  Short telomeres are associated with cell senescence, diseases of aging, and cancer. Oxidative stress in the cells may explain how exposure to pollution causes shortening of telomeres.    

After controlling for age of participants, telomeres on the chromosomes of white blood cells from women living in the polluted areas were determined to be significantly shorter than those from the control group. Moreover,  teleomere length became progressively shorter the closer participants lived to the polluted area. Although this study did not include a direct measure of exposure to pollutants in individual participants, the results are highly suggestive of a causal relationship between exposure and shortened telomeres. 

Previous studies have shown also reduction of telomere length associated with exposure to air pollution from traffic and other sources. These findings may help explain the increased risk of premature diseases of aging and cancer in populations exposed to various kinds of environmental pollution.

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