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Exposure to air pollution impacts cognition

Exposure to particulate matter (PM2.5) impairs adults’ cognitive function, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. 

Using data from 4.6 million user-play observations across seven games of Lumosity, the researchers examined the effects of exposure to PM2.5 on seven cognitive domains: verbal, attention, flexibility, memory, math, speed, and problem-solving.

The researchers found that among these seven domains, the effect on memory was the strongest. The authors have highlighted that this has implications for the types of occupations most likely to suffer from high exposure to PM2.5.

The authors also found that exposure to high levels of PM2.5 appears to exacerbate the inequality in cognitive performance.

This means that low-ability individuals may be the most affected by fine particulates. The researchers have highlighted that this is suggestive evidence that investments in environmental quality are progressive, an important finding in the context of the recent rise in income inequality in the United States.

The analysis also revealed that those under the age of 50 – the working-age population – may be the most affected by contemporaneous exposure to air pollution.

woman looking through window

Based on these findings, the authors concluded that PM2.5 has a substantial impact even at levels below the current 24-hour Environment Protection Agency air quality standards of 35µg/m3, and even at levels below the World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality guideline value of 25µg/m3.

The authors have said this suggests that there may be additional benefits from reducing these thresholds.

The study states: ‘Policymakers should consider the impacts of environmental insults when designing policies to train the youth to enter the labour force and retrain displaced older workers to switch careers successfully.’

In related news, researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health found that short-term exposure to air pollution may impede cognition in older men.

The researchers found that elevated average PM2.5 exposure over 28 days was associated with declines in global cognitive function (GCF) and mini-mental state examination (MMSE).

Photo credit –  胡 卓亨

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Dennis Heidner
Dennis Heidner
3 days ago

Okay, I need to ask the question – “Why were these results seen?” What was the mechanism that the PM resulted in cognitive declines?
Did the researchers check lung capacity before, during and after the study? Is there a decline? How about O2 saturated levels in blood?
When exposed to clean air for several days or weeks did the cognitive decline go away and abilities return?
Is there a chemical component to the PM that was causing the decline?
What other gases in the area were being measured during the test? Was CO2 also increasing with the PM? Or were the particulate levels controlled and the other room air quality conditions maintained?
These results are interesting, but without more information, they cannot be viewed as authoritative.