Poisonous air estimated to cause premature deaths of 7 million people a year worldwide. Breathing in polluted air can reduce your intelligence as well as knocking years off your life. New research shows that air pollution causes a ‘huge’ reduction in brain power, the equivalent of losing a year in education.

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If air pollution reaches a certain level, localities may release warnings, advising people to stay indoors and wear masks. Aside from the immediate effects of air pollution, like damaged heart and lungs, there could be longer-term damage occurring as well. That is according to a study released in August of 2018.

In addition to having a deadly impact on people’s physical health, air pollution is now also believed to be responsible for a profound reduction in intelligence. Chronic exposure to airborne particulate matter appears to cause significant falls in test scores for both language and arithmetic, with average results equating the impact of poisonous air to losing a year’s worth of education.

Researchers Xin ZhangXi Chen, and Xiaobo Zhang studied the impacts of air pollution in elderly participants living in China. They found that long-term exposure to air pollution can reduce cognitive performance. Participants who were exposed to air pollution saw reduced attentiveness and memory and did worse in both math and verbal tests. The impact was most pronounced in older men.

The study’s sample population was fairly large, consisting of 25,000 people in 162 randomly chosen counties in China.

“The damage on the aging brain by air pollution likely imposes substantial health and economic costs, considering that cognitive functioning is critical for the elderly for both running daily errands and making high-stake decisions,” concluded the researchers. “The study implies that the indirect effect on social welfare could be much larger than previously thought.”

“Polluted air can cause everyone to reduce their level of education by one year, which is huge,” said Professor Xi Chen, one of the report’s authors in an interview with The Guardian.

Their study also suggests that the likelihood of developing conditions like Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia may be increased by long-term exposure to pollution as well.

Around the world, the World Health Organization estimates that some 7 million people die each year as a result of polluted air. 2.2 million deaths were from stroke, 2 million from heart disease, and 1.7 million from lung diseases and cancer. 97% of the world’s cities in developing countries have poor air quality. 95% of the population of developing countries breathes unsafe air.

“Air pollution is a significant threat to public health and this study highlights the negative effect that such pollution may have on the ageing brain,” said Soraya Smaoun, Air Quality Coordinator at UN Environment in a press release.

“A better understanding of the critical links between air pollution and health for policies and investments supporting cleaner transport and power generation, as well as energy-efficient housing and municipal waste management can reduce key sources of outdoor air pollution.”

The researchers hope that their findings will help compel China to enact similar air quality standards as are found in the United States.

“Cutting annual mean concentration of particulate matter smaller than 10 μm (PM10) in China to the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard (50 μg/m3) would move people from the median to the 63rd percentile (verbal test scores) and the 58th percentile (math test scores), respectively.”