We are all subject to the dangers of air pollution. Even if you live in the country, you are exposed to some level of pollution, from your own vehicle or tobacco if you smoke. But a study from the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health finds that high levels of pollution can affect the eventual intelligence of children, making for lower IQ ratings. Other studies link the same pollutants to depression, asthma, and many other health concerns.
Pollution From Cars, Tobacco Linked with Lower IQ Ratings
The study looked at prenatal exposure to air pollution, specifically polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). What they found was pregnant mothers exposed to high levels of these pollutants gave birth to children who would eventually have significantly lower IQ ratings based on intelligence tests at age 5.
These pollutants (PAHs) come from the burning of fossil fuels, used in vehicles and industry. They are also emitted in smaller amounts from the burning of organic materials like tobacco, according to UPI.com.
The study looked at 214 children born to healthy, non-smoking white Polish mothers between 2001 and 2006. During pregnancy the women wore air monitors in small backpacks to measure their exposure to pollutants. They also provided blood and cord samples at the time of delivery.
The children were then tested and monitored through the age of five. They were tested on reasoning and intelligence and were found to have lower IQ ratings as exposure to pollution increased.
A similar study in New York in 2009 found similar results with low IQ ratings among children born to nonsmoking African American and Dominican American women.
Frederica Perera, author of the New York study says these findings are significant because they show air pollution exposure could be “educationally meaningful in terms of school performance.” She also points out, however, that air pollution, in general, has declined somewhat over the past decade or so.
PAH exposure in the womb has also been linked to things like asthma, low birth weight, premature delivery, and heart malformation.
A more recent study from Environmental Health Perspectives found that prenatal exposure to pollutants is associated with a 24% higher score of anxiety and depression in young children. Children as young as six and seven are experiencing depression and anxiety because of toxins in our air.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Health, we are exposed to PAHs in a number of ways:
Breathing: Most people are exposed to PAHs when they breathe in smoke, auto emissions or industrial exhausts. Most exhausts contain many different PAH compounds. People with the highest exposures are smokers, people who live or work with smokers, roofers, road builders and people who live near major highways or industrial sources.
Drinking/Eating: Charcoal-broiled foods, especially meats, are a source of some PAH exposure. Shellfish living in contaminated water may be another major source of exposure. PAHs may be in groundwater near disposal sites where construction wastes or ash are buried; people may be exposed by drinking this water. Vegetables do not absorb significant amounts of PAHs that are in soil.
Touching: PAHs can be absorbed through skin too. Exposure can come from handling contaminated soil or bathing in contaminated water. Low levels of these chemicals may be absorbed when a person uses medicated skin cream or shampoo containing PAHs.
Using skin care products containing PAHs, cooking with charcoal, and job choice can all impact our exposure.