Improve Air Quality Tied to Higher IQ and Better Earnings

First Posted: May 09, 2014 09:27 AM EDT

Improved air quality boosts IQ levels in children, which leads to significant economic gains later for them.

In a latest study led by researchers at the Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, the association between cost of IQ loss and  exposure to air pollution was estimated.  This finding is based on the study conducted earlier that focused on prenatal exposure to air pollutants among low-income children.

One of the major public health concern and environmental problem is air pollution. It is one of the pernicious problems of modern days and is known to trigger major health hazards. According to the World Health Organization, air pollution is the world's largest single environmental health risk. If humans want to stay alive, it is necessary to lower the rate of air pollution.

In this study researchers found an added benefit of improved air quality stating it boosts levels of IQ in children.

In this study the calculations were based on a hypothesized modest reduction of 0.25 nanogram per cubic meter air (ng/m3) of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) concentrations. PAH belongs to the family of chemicals that is formed on burning of fuels that stays in the atmosphere for prolonged periods.

Currently, the estimated annual mean PAH in New York City is 1ng/m3. 

For this study the researchers looked at 63,462 New York children who were born in 2002 to women on Medicaid. The researchers noted that there was a significant gain in IQ when there was a 25 drop in PAH and this led to an increased lifetime earnings of $215 million.

In a study conducted earlier, the researchers showed how children born to non smoking mothers,  who were exposed to higher levels of airborne PAH during pregnancy, had IQ  three points lesser at age 5 compared to children who were born to mothers who had less PAH exposure.

According to Dr. Perera, "Our analysis suggests that a modest reduction in urban air pollution would provide substantial economic benefits and help children realize their full potential."

The finding was published in the Journal of Public Health Policy.

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