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Brain smog: Traffic pollution reduces children's ability to learn in school


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(NaturalNews) Living or working in a high-traffic environment does more than make people want to plug their ears or noses; aside from loud highway or airport sounds or the smells of fumes, another detrimental problem has been discovered. Sadly, the problem is a concern for school-age children who may find that traffic-related air pollution is jeopardizing their ability to learn.

A study that appeared in the journal, PLOS Medicine, explains that children attending schools in areas where high levels of traffic-related air pollution exists might actually experience lowered levels of cognitive development.

The study was conducted by researchers from the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona, who examined variations in such development among 7- to 10-year-old children in Barcelona, Spain. Three cognitive areas -- working memory, superior working memory, and attentiveness -- were studied among 2,715 children over the course of one year. The researchers compared cognitive development in those attending primary school in a low air pollution environment to those who studied in a high air pollution setting.

Traffic-related air pollution has negative impact on school-age children: details

The article explains that "...traffic-related air pollution is a developmental neurotoxicant -- a factor that disrupts brain development." Experts pointed out that many schools are located next to heavily-traveled roads where traffic-related air pollution levels peak when school is in session. Therefore, they wanted to determine the impact such exposure might have on children's cognitive development. "Here, in a prospective cohort study (the BREATHE study)," PLOS Medicine notes that "the researchers assess whether exposure of children aged 7-10 years to traffic-related air pollutants in schools in Barcelona, Spain, is associated with impaired cognitive development."

As the researchers surmised, children who attended school in areas where high levels of air pollution caused by traffic existed were indeed impacted, and not favorably.

The journal notes that "...there was an 11.5% 12-month increase in working memory at the lowly polluted schools but only a 7.4% 12-month increase in working memory at the highly polluted schools." In fact, all cognitive areas were found to be affected. The journal goes on to explain, "Other analyses indicated that children attending schools with higher levels of traffic-related air pollutants in either the courtyard or in the classroom experienced a substantially smaller increase over the 12-month study in all three cognitive measurements than those attending schools with lower levels of pollutants."

A call for more awareness, use of public transportation

A lead researcher in the study, Dr. Jordi Sunyer, says "What was surprising for us is among our children, we see very robust, consistent effects." Sunyer is eager to reverse this situation, and has reached out to politicians, encouraging them to better understand and act upon the harmful consequences of traffic-related air pollution. Additionally, Sunyer is an advocate for lessening vehicle use, suggesting that more children walk to school if it is safe and possible. Likewise, Sunyer advises adults to use public transportation rather than individual vehicles when commuting to work. As such, the problem of traffic pollution can be reduced, potentially alleviating exposure for those in nearby areas, such as schoolchildren.

The issue of traffic-related air pollution is a concern in many areas.

Pollution from traffic a global concern

In parts of the UK, studies have found that otherwise healthy people who were exposed to bus and taxi fumes for a two-hour time period experienced damage to their arteries.

In Canada, it's estimated that air pollution is linked to approximately 21,000 premature deaths annually, while in the United States, road transportation emissions is believed to cause about 53,000 premature deaths every year.

In China, the problem is also severe, in large part due to the growing middle class and the resulting purchase for cars (both out of necessity as well as for a status symbol). For example, in Beijing, the number of vehicles has increased to 5.18 million from 3.13 million in early 2008 alone. Beijing is also home to many eight-lane roads, which typically are lined with heavy traffic and the detrimental pollution that comes with it.

Sources:

http://www.sciencedaily.com

http://journals.plos.org

http://www.cbc.ca

http://www.dailymail.co.uk

http://newsoffice.mit.edu

http://www.huffingtonpost.com
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