There are a number of serious health effects of air pollution, one of them being poor academic performance of students in polluted areas. For example this study has found there to be a link.
The study found that schools located in areas with the highest pollution levels also had the lowest attendance rates and the highest proportions of students failing to meet the state’s educational testing standards.
Previous studies have also show that children are more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution than adults. Evidence suggests that exposure to pollutants during important times of physiological development can lead to long-lasting health problems, dysfunction, and disease.
Especially young children are in danger, as their lung functioning is not yet fully developed. Compared to adults, they breathe in greater levels of polluted air in relation to their weight and spend more time outside when air pollution levels are the highest. Children are often exposed to higher levels of arsenic, lead, pesticides, and other pollutants than adults, because of differences in metabolism and children’s tendency to put their hands and small objects in their mouths.
The alarming aspect of this is that childhood is a critical time period for brain formation. Researchers have shown that children who are exposed to air pollution perform worse on cognitive functioning tests and have impaired neurological function and lower IQ scores compared with other children.
Children exposed to high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – a common air pollutant generated by the burning of fossil fuels – have been found to have decreases of 6.71, 7.37 and 8.61 points in quantitative, working memory and gross motor areas, according to the article.
Also, children with high levels of exposure to both NO2 and PM10 perform significantly worse on neurobehavioral tests, even after confounding variables are factored in. They also have a decreased ability to perform well on both verbal and nonverbal intelligence and memory assessment tests, such as the Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test and the Wide Range Assessment of Memory and Learning.
So when we were asked to be present at China-Finland Principals Forum 2016, we of course wanted to be there to talk to principals about the importance of clean air, especially in schools. It is clear that we can’t resolve the living conditions of all children, but we can at least make sure that the school environment is safe for them.
As school is about to start in many countries, including Finland, we hope to bring more awareness to the topic of this post. We also hope to cooperate with many more schools in future and help them resolve any possible air quality problems.