Air Clean Up

  • How Fast Can Pollution Affect Your Brain?

How Fast Can Pollution Affect Your Brain?

Nov 02 2019 Read 1028 Times

The damaging effects of exposure to air pollution are well-documented. Inhalation of poor-quality air is known to have debilitating impacts on pulmonary function and cardiovascular health, causing all kinds of illness, ailments, diseases and even premature death in those exposed to it on a regular basis. However, it’s not just the heart and lungs which are susceptible to damage via air pollution – the brain is, too.

In recent years, several scientific papers have shown concerning links between exposure to particulate matter (PM) and reduced brain function, including higher incidences of Alzheimer’s and other impairments of mental faculties. Now, two recent studies have indicated that PM may be having an almost instantaneous impact on those exposed to it, heightening concerns about this ubiquitous contaminant and its effects.

Inhibiting exam performance

Both studies focused on how exposure to PM affected students as they were taking exams. A British investigation assessed 2,400 subjects taking more than 10,000 different exams, cross-referencing their results against PM concentrations in and around the school where the test took place. In certain instances, the exam hall itself was found to have PM10 concentrations of as much as 75µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre). For reference, the so-called “safe limit” for PM10, as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO), is 50µg/m3.

The results of the study showed that poor air quality could negatively affect a student’s grade by as much as 3.4%, making it as big a factor in their performance as the size of the class in which they were taught. Those conclusions were supported by another study in Israel, which encompassed more than 400,000 different exam papers. Instead of PM10, the contaminant being focused on this time was PM2.5 (particles four times smaller in diameter), but the results remained equally as concerning with regard to the students’ performance.

Speedy response required

While the scientific community was aware of the link between poor air quality and impaired cognitive function beforehand, these two studies really underline the immediacy of the former’s effect on the latter. As such, a similar expediency is now required in introducing measures to deal with the issue and ensure that the young people of today do not have their future compromised by regular exposure to unsafe levels of PM in our environments.

Given the wide range of sophisticated equipment available for quantifying PM concentrations, local authorities can no longer plead ignorance to the seriousness of the problem facing us. Instead, they must face the challenge head-on and implement a number of measures geared towards reducing PM levels across urban locations, especially those near schools and other centres of education. Phasing out more polluting forms of private transport, while encouraging the use of public transport, are two of the best ways to achieve that goal, but a multi-faceted, nuanced and above all urgent approach is now desperately needed.

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