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New York City study shows reduced air pollution may benefit kids future earnings

Kids want and deserve all of the advantages they can get to compete effectively in life. In a high tech era everyone clearly feels access to the best computers and smartphones possible is essential to compete well in school, socially and in the work world. However, in the absence of good health the advantages of high tech devices loses its appeal quickly. A good place to start with a quest for future success for kids is to clean up the air they breath. Improving the quality of air in New York City would boost the future earnings of children reported Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health on May 8, 2014.

A cyclist wearing an anti-pollution mask rides in London, England.
A cyclist wearing an anti-pollution mask rides in London, England.
Rob Stothard/Getty Images

Anticipated economic gains for children due to lowering air pollution in New York City could occur as a result of increasing their IQs. This is the first study which has estimated the costs of IQ loss in association with exposure to air pollution. Frederica Perera, PhD, lead author of the current study, pursued this study with colleagues at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health. In this study of 63,462 New York City children gains in IQ associated to a hypothetical 25 percent reduction in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons translated to increased lifetime earnings $215 million.

It had previously been reported by the researchers that kids born to nonsmoking mothers who were exposed to higher levels of airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons during pregnancy had IQs which were three points lower at age 5 than kids whose mothers had lower polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon exposures. The lowered IQ was modest but was in the range of that which has been seen with low-level lead.

Although this study was based on kids born to mothers on Medicaid in New York City the authors have said that the results are likely to apply to children in a broader sense. IQ has been found to affect academic performance and earnings. Dr. Perera says this analysis has suggested that a modest lowering in urban air pollution would provide substantial economic benefits and help kids to realize their full potential.

This study has been published in the Journal of Public Health Policy. The researchers have noted that outdoor air pollution which is largely from fossil fuel burning is a primary cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States. The developing fetus and young kids are particularly vulnerable to neurotoxicants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which are released in ambient air by combustion of fossil fuel and other organic material.

It has also been noted that there is a disproportionate exposure to air pollution in low-income populations. An analysis of this research has suggested that a modest lowering in ambient concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons is associated with substantial economic benefits for kids. This study leaves us with the impression that failing to fight both poverty and air pollution essentially amounts to the slow murders of young kids before they ever have a chance to get started in life.

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