Air Pollution Might Lower Your Child's GPA

First Posted: Aug 31, 2015 03:47 PM EDT

Previous studies have discussed the dangers of air pollution, ranging from respiratory issues to an increased risk of premature birth.

New findings published in the journal Population and Environment examine how early exposure to air pollution could potentially lower a child's grade point average (GPA).

A team of researchers at the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP) examined 1,895 fourth and fifth grade children living in El Paso, Texas who were attending the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD). They used the Environmental Protection Agency's National Air Toxics Assessment to estimate children's exposure to toxic air pollutants, including diesel exhaust near the location of their homes.

Findings revealed that due to high levels of motor vehicle emissions from trucks, cars and buses on the roads and highways near their homes, the childrens' GPAs were significantly lower, accounting for other factors that were known to influence school performance. Parents and guardians were also required to answer questions regarding their childrens' grades in language arts, reading, math, social studies and science. Furthermore, the survey asked about the family's income, educational level, household size and if the child qualified for free or reduced-price meals.

"There are two pathways that can help us to explain this association," said the study's co-author Sara E. Grineski, Ph.D., an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at UTEP, in a news release. "Some evidence suggests that this association might exist because of illnesses, such as respiratory infections or asthma. Air pollution makes children sick, which leads to absenteeism and poor performance in school. The other hypothesis is that chronic exposure to air toxics can negatively affect children's neurological and brain development."

"This isn't a phenomenon unique to EPISD," Grineski added. "What makes our study different is that we are actually studying kids in their home setting, but there's a body of literature where they have studied levels of air pollution at schools in California and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, instead of at children's homes. A study on the Los Angeles Unified School District showed that schools with higher levels of pollution have lower standardized test scores."

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