Air pollution affects children’s mental health

July 13, 2022

Children and adolescents living in highly air polluted neighbourhoods run a 9% larger risk of being prescribed at least one medication to treat a psychiatric disorder. A study finds a link between children’s mental health and the air pollution in our skies.

A study finds a link between children’s mental health and the pollution in our skies

Traditionally, we see childhood and adolescence as a time of innocence, joy and learning. However, the complexities of the modern world are changing the carefree nature of these early years. Not only at social and technological levels, but also in the development of the body and the mind. All due the carelessness of contemporary industrial growth. Nobody would imagine how air pollution affect our children´s mental health.

Umeå University Study

Dr. Anna Oudin and her team at Sweden’s Umeå University conducted a study using two sources. First, they looked for an accurate model of the country’s general use of land, specifically at zones where air pollution showed high concentrations of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and both PM 2,5 and PM 10 particles.

Then, they compared this regional data with information from the Swedish National Register. Specifically, they looked at the kind of medication that has been prescribed for various psychiatric problems, such as sleep, psychotic and stress disorders. The population sample included young people under 18 years, all of them distributed throughout 4 large counties: Västra Götaland, Skåne, Västerbotten and Stockholm County. The total population sampled was of 552.221 youths.

Something else to be worried about

No good news were found, but at least we now have some data to prove our natural suspicion: air pollution can play a detrimental role in mental health. But what we really should be worried about, though, is on its impact in younger folks’ development. If Dr. Oudin’s research is correct, then children and adolescents living in highly air polluted neighbourhoods run a 9% larger risk of being prescribed at least one medication to treat a psychiatric disorder. This can be triggered by something as small as an increase of 10µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter) of NO2. For concentrations of other air pollutants, like PM 2,5 and 10, the risk runs at 4%; maybe not as high as the former figure, but definitely something to be worried about.

What this translates as, is as a constant visit to the chemist’s for anything between sleeping pills and antipsychotic medications. This is something that we have come to expect from us, the adult population, but it is unwelcoming to discover that young people are now part of our wider mental health problem. And yet, this is not the only surprise about Dr. Oudin’s study.

This happened in the cleanest country in Europe

What really is shocking about this, is that it was found in Sweden, Europe’s least air polluted country. Her skies, by all accounts and measurements, are the most pristine in the Continent, with NO2 concentrations as low as 15mcg/m3. This is considerably below 40µg/m3, which is the maximum tolerable concentration of that chemical, as stablished by the EU. And yet, the team at Umeå University still found a link between air pollution and mental health in areas with such a low degree of air contamination. What this means, is that a higher risk of mental disorders can be found among the children in the other, more polluted, countries of Europe.

 

Air pollution and its negative consequences

If we apply the science used to conduct the study, then children in the UK are also at risk of developing mild to severe mental disorders. Before the national lockdowns to curb the spread of Covid-19, NO2 concentrations were, for all purposes, illegal. Levels began to drop drastically in major cities once life as we knew it stopped in 2020, when taxi and other motor vehicle traffic was reduced. NO2 plummeted around July, with concentrations as low as 17,5µg/m3 in London and 15,5µg/m3 in Glasgow, almost as low as the Swedish national median. These, however, began to rise as soon as restrictions became lax. By November, concentrations peaked once more.

Air pollution can penetrate the human body through the eyes, nose and ears. Once it does so, it is just a matter of time before it reaches the brain and causes inflammation. Its effects on the psyche have been observed previously in the behavior of animals exposed to large doses of air contaminants.

It is not pretty

But what is even worse, are the effects on children’s cognition. Although the Swedish team did not do any research specifically targeted at brain functions, other studies have found links between air pollution, learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). One of them, conducted by Australia’s Monash University, discovered that exposure to high concentrations of PM1, 2,5 and 10 particles (all of them produced by, among other culprits, industrial and traffic emissions) increase in 78% the risk of developing autism among newborns and children as young as 3 years old.

So, what do we do now?

The Australian study only adds more fuel to the fire started by the team of Swedish scientists. By now there shouldn’t be any doubt that air pollution has a detrimental effect on children’s mental development. What should also be clear is that, at the present time, there isn’t much that we can do about it, at least at the grand scale. Of course, there are plans on the way: legal tools to reduce the emission of contaminants, new and amazing green technologies and, we can hope, a general change in the way our politicians and industry leaders think and act about the environment. But all of these measurements, as good intentioned as they are, will have a positive effect only in the long distance run.

 

Childhood should be treasured for what it is

Life can often be grim, and we, as adults, know it first hand. There is no need for children to suffer at such a young age. Childhood should be treasured for what it is: a moment of innocence, play and learning. If our neighborhoods are highly polluted, then, at least, we can do something to protect our indoors with clean air.

Children’s schools should be more than just centers of learning. They should be a place of protection from the pollution outside. At AIR8, we have found that the use of our medical grade filters, designed around HEPA-13 technology, is a convenient way to keep classrooms fresh and healthy. It only takes as little as two of our air purifiers to protect classrooms from nasty pollutants, since just one of them is capable of filtering out 99.97% of contaminant particles, as well as pathogens and viruses, like Covid-19.

AIR8 Air Purifiers

Ours aren’t just any kind of air purifiers. Depending on the model you chose, they have between four and six filtration stages, such as Cold Catalyst, ionisation and carbon filtration. What we can offer you is the best quality by the best price, backed up by TÜV testing and the most affordable per CADR (That is, Clean Air Delivery Rate) in the market.

Quiet, automated, clean and efficient. Our filters are the kind used in both medical and office environments to obtain the best air quality. They are easy to move and efficient in what they do. Yes, it is true, the environment is highly contaminated, and we expose our children every time they step outside. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot do something to protect them while they are at school. Now we have the means to keep their indoors safe and sanitary.