Air Pollution Effects: Longtime Exposure Harms Cognitive Performance

Christopher Davidson
September 2, 2018

A new study from China has linked chronic exposure to air pollution with cognitive performance. Their calculations took into account the gradual decline in cognition as people age, as well as the possibility that people were more impatient or uncooperative when the pollution levels were especially high. The research team found that verbal and math scores "decreased with increasing cumulative air pollution exposure".

The carried out by researchers from Beijing's Peking University and Yale University in the USA analyzed verbal and math test results of 20,000 people of all ages above 10 between 2010 and 2014, comparing them to records of nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide pollution.

As the global population continues to gradually expand and relocated to urbanized areas, the causes and effects of air pollution, as well as land and water pollution, are expected to rise.

But China's carbon dioxide emissions increased a year ago, and even though the country is on its way to meeting its major climate change goals, many of its cities still have dangerously high levels of outdoor air pollution. Researchers said there was a steeper decline in verbal scores than math scores and that the decline was more pronounced among older, less-educated males.

"The outcome of such studies would provide a sound scientific basis for tightening air quality standards to curtail air pollution and protect public health in both developing and developed countries", Dr. Balasubramanian, who was not involved in the study, said in an emailed statement.

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"Polluted air can cause everyone to reduce their level of education by one year, which is huge", Xi Chen, one of the researchers at the Yale School of Public Health, told the Guardian.

Air pollution is a serious problem for people across the globe.

They also report a worrying 91 percent of the planet's population live in areas where the air quality exceeds World Health Organization guideline limits. The study said that eastern China and megacities were worst affected.

Up to 4.2 million people die each year from exposure to outdoor air pollution, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

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