A study published in the journal Population and Environment in July 2015 linked heavy exposure to contaminated air at home to lower grade point averages in school in fourth and fifth graders in El Paso, Texas. The first such study, it adds to the increasing evidence that success in school is impaired by air pollution. Many other studies have been done based on school location, but not on residences where the students spend the majority of their time.
Grade point averages of 1,895 children and, through federal data, their exposure to air toxics at home were analyzed by University of Texas at El Paso researchers. All air pollution types, including benzene, arsenic, lead, mercury, hydrochloric acid, toluene, vinyl bromide, xylenes, and diesel particulate matter corresponded with lower grade point averages with increased exposure. However, point sources like factories was not a significant factor. It is unclear if the children were exposed in their mothers’ wombs, the critical brain development period.
Sara Grineski, associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at El Paso and co-author of the new study, noted that the two ways air pollution may hamper student grades are through illnesses, mainly respiratory, which cause them to miss school days, and long-term exposure caused developmental issues. The study authors said although air toxics may not cause dramatic school performance drops, the results are “disturbing.”
El Paso’s minorities are disproportionately impacted by toxics, the city being one of the worst for particulate matter. Major causes are the volume of trucks along the U.S.-Mexico border, the El Paso International Airport, the major railway system and the second largest military base in the U.S., Fort Bliss, with its missile and artillery airspace.
The paper from the current study says, “Effects appear to be insidious, since they are mild, unlikely to be perceived, and, hence, unlikely to be addressed in any way … seemingly trivial effects on children’s development may translate into substantial impacts throughout the life course in terms of physical and mental health and personal success.” Control for other factors affecting grades like poverty, mother’s age, education and ability to speak English, and race and sex were done.
An April 2015 study released by Columbia University’s professor Frederica Perera, director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, and colleagues reported New York City children exposed to certain air toxics during pregnancy and born to poverty level mothers had lower IQs. It strongly linked pollution exposure prior to birth to learning and behavioral problems.
In February 2015, Dr. Lilian Calderón-Garcidueñas and colleagues reported impaired short-term memory and IQ were linked to smog in Mexico City. Calderón-Garcidueñas is a researcher at the University of Montana who studies air pollution and health effects.