Australian research links air pollution to lower brain performance
Researchers from the University of Queensland (UQ) have shown how short-term exposure to air pollution negatively impacts people's brain capacity and functioning.
The study, published as part of a series in the National Bureau of Economic Research on Tuesday, used data from brain training phone app, Luminosity, to measure the performance of adults exposed to varying levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution.
"We found that exposure to moderately high levels of PM2.5 caused a player to drop by almost six points in a 100-point scale," said lead researcher from UQ's School of Economics Andrea La Nauze.
La Nauze said that while the long-term health effects of PM2.5 had been widely studied, this was the first time its immediate impact on cognitive function has been examined.
"The games we studied targeted seven cognitive functions including memory, verbal ability, attention, flexibility, maths ability, speed and problem-solving."
She said that the most impacted were those under the age of 50.
"In fact, if you're under 30 years old and you're exposed to this level of pollution, your cognitive function declines by the same amount as ageing by 15 years."
The research sheds light on another aspect of the economic impact of climate change as it links air pollution to worker productivity.
"Economists are just beginning to study cognition, but recent research suggests changes in cognitive function impact workforce productivity."
The study also showed that even PM2.5 levels over 25 micrograms per cubic meter caused a drop in cognitive performance.
Smoke from bushfires, which are becoming more frequent and severe due to climate change, produce the same particle and can see levels reach 150 micrograms per cubic metre in Australian cities.
La Nauze said safety measures could be implemented at the individual and governmental level to minimize its impact.
"You can alter your exposure in small ways by staying indoors, using air filtration or moving to a less-polluted suburb," she said.
"Fundamentally though, it comes down to government policy: reducing vehicle emissions, targeting sources of air pollution such as bushfires, and revising air-quality standards."
(Source_title：Australian research links air pollution to lower brain performance)