Air Pollution Causes Huge Reduction in Intelligence

August 28

Air pollution causes a “huge” reduction in intelligence, according to new research, indicating that the damage to society of toxic air is far deeper than the well-known impacts on physical health.

The research was conducted in China but is relevant across the world, with 95% of the global population breathing unsafe air. It found that high pollution levels led to significant drops in test scores in language and arithmetic, with the average impact equivalent to having lost a year of the person’s education.

Polluted air can cause everyone to reduce their level of education by one year, which is huge, said Xi Chen at Yale School of Public Health in the US, a member of the research team. “But we know the effect is worse for the elderly, especially those over 64, and for men, and for those with low education. If we calculate [the loss] for those, it may be a few years of education.

The damage in intelligence was worst for those over 64 years old, with serious consequences, said Chen: “We usually make the most critical financial decisions in old age.

Rebecca Daniels, from the UK public health charity Medact, said: “This report’s findings are extremely worrying.”

The new work, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analysed language and arithmetic tests conducted as part of the China Family Panel Studies on 20,000 people across the nation between 2010 and 2014.

The scientists compared the test results with records of nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide pollution.