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Top Environmental Concern: Air pollution proves to damage human’s intelligence and increase the risk of ….

Toxic air is everywhere. Air pollution could be more harmful to our body than previously thought. A prolonged exposure to dirty air proves to have a significant damage to people’s cognitive abilities.According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nine out of every 10 people on the planet breathe air containing a high level of pollutants and the worst affected regions is situated in Africa and Asia.

Air pollution causes seven million premature deaths a year and small pollution particles are known to be detrimental to our body. Nevertheless, the damage of air pollution to people’s intelligence and mental abilities are less well known to the public. It is said that 95% of the global population breathe unsafe air. And air pollution in China is three times above World Health Organization limits.

Recently, a large-scale study in Chinese found that air pollution causes a “huge” reduction in intelligence. This research examines people of all ages and the difference between men and women and found that air pollution harms cognitive performance in students. Researchers at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) examined data from the national China Family Panel Studies longitudinal survey, mapping the cognitive test scores of nearly 32,000 people over the age of 10 between 2010 and 2014 against their exposure to short- and long-term air pollution.

To be more precisely, this research found that high pollution levels led to significant drops in test scores in language and arithmetic, and its impact is equivalent to having lost a year of the person’s education.

The results would apply around the world. The research found those who exposed to dirty toxic air longer get higher damage to their intelligence. The study followed the same individuals as air pollution varied from one year to the next. Thus, many other possible causal factors such as genetic differences are automatically accounted for.

What does it mean? For the next generation, children’s intelligence declines as they grow up. 

Xi Chen[1], as a member of the research team, pinpoints the fact that “the effect is worse for the elderly, especially those over 64. Because the elder have weaker immune system. What is worse, another analysis found those living near busy roads had an increased risk of dementia. Derrick Ho, at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, asserts that “high air pollution can potentially be associated with oxidative stress, neuroinflammation[2], and neurodegeneration[3] of humans.”

Xi Chen emphasizes that fact that the damage to intelligence was likely to be incremental, with a 1mg rise in pollution over three years equivalent to losing more than a month of education.

Pollution exposure was measured using data on air quality, which includes three air pollutants: sulfur dioxide[1], nitrogen dioxide[2] and particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter.

Zhang said. “Our findings on the damaging effect of air pollution on cognition imply that the indirect effect of pollution on social welfare could be much larger than previously thought.”

[1] 二氧化硫

[2] 二氧化氮


Altogether, exposure to toxic air in the long-term will lead to “extremely high mortality” and huge impact on human being’s intelligence and mental health as well. It’s the government’s obligation to make air pollution below legal limits ASAP for the reason that air pollution damage people’s health every single minute.


According to the WHO, 20 of the world’s most polluted cities are in developing countries. And China has been engaged in a “war against pollution” for the past five years. The consequence of the air pollution has been neglected for decades. It’s time for the governments to take concrete measures to reduce the phenomenon.

Aarash Saleh, a registrar in respiratory medicine in the UK and part of the Doctors Against Diesel campaign, asserts that the “exposure to air pollution can worsen our cognitive function. Road traffic is the biggest contributor to air pollution in residential areas and the government needs to act urgently to remove heavily-polluting vehicles from our roads.”

[1] at Yale School of Public Health in the US

[2] 中文:神經炎症

[3] 中文:神經退行性疾病

Tag: toxic air, air pollution’s impacts on physical health, Air quality, pollution exposure, smoggy cities, cost of economic development, human capital, pollution fight, Beijing residents


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