Air pollution can cause declines in human intelligence

It’s well-known that high levels of air pollution are linked to various physical and psychological ailments in humans–including premature death (an estimated 7 million deaths per year) especially “in people with mental disorders,” increased risk for dementia, and “increased mental illness in children.”

However, new research links air pollution to a decrease in intelligence as measured by “significant drops in test scores in language and arithmetic, with the average impact equivalent to having lost a year of the person’s education.”

“The effect is worse for the elderly, especially those over 64, and for men, and for those with low education.”  The loss for those people may be as much as ” a few years of education.”  This study was “the first to examine [the impact on] people of all ages and the difference between men and women.”

This study was based in China and looked at 20,000 people between 2010 and 2014; the pollutants analyzed were nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide.  However, the results are relevant world-wide; by some estimates, 95% “of the global population” breaths unsafe air.

The longer people were exposed to air pollution, the larger the damage–language ability and men were more harmed than mathematical ability or women.  “High air pollution can potentially be associated with oxidative stress, neuroinflammation, and neurodegeneration of humans.”

“Air pollution was seen to have a short-term impact on intelligence as well;” a finding that has consequences for students living in highly polluted areas.

“There is no shortcut to solve this issue; governments really need to take concrete measures to reduce air pollution.”

Read the article (Damian Carrington and Lily Kuo, The Guardian, August 27, 2018).

For more information about the impacts of pollution, search Science Primary Literature (database).

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