A recent study has found that higher levels of air pollution can have a detrimental impact on students’ exam results by decreasing their productivity.
The investigation, carried out by PLOS medicine and based on 3000 school children in Barcelona, found that kids exposed to higher levels of air pollution suffered from ‘slower cognitive development’.
It was already known that particulate matter in the air such as carbon monoxide can incur damage to the heart and lungs, causing long term health problems like lung cancer and heart disease.
However, the results of the study by PLOS are especially significant as they focus on how air pollution also damages the brain and reduces productivity and human capital.
The study states that a one unit increase in particulate matter (PM10) reduces students’ test results 0.055 points.
These revelations pose an obvious problem for the University of Leeds with the city being the third most polluted in the United Kingdom.
According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), in 2016 the average level of air pollution in Leeds was 33.27 µg/m3. This means that students’ exam results on days where PM10 was at this level would be 1.83% lower.’
A one unit increase in particulate matter (PM10) reduces students’ test results by 0.055 points.
Given that there is such intense competition between universities to attract undergraduates through promoting successful exam results, the university has already taken steps in order to try and reduce levels of air pollution around campus.
According to the Leeds Ecosystem, Atmosphere and Forest (LEAF) Centre, the university has 1,400 trees on campus which remove annually 540 tonnes of carbon, the equivalent to removing 1 million cars worth of pollution for a year.
Elliot Denvir, the co-founder of Bristol-based company Airhead and University of Leeds alum, is creating a pollution mask to protect people from inhaling toxic fumes.
He urges the university and its students to think up new ways of reducing air pollution. ‘Students are incredible change-makers and I wondered if they may come up with novel ways to help the world reduce air pollution’, he stated.
According to Denvir, such a policy could be banning cars around campus during exam times.
It seems Leeds City Council is also committed to reducing air pollution.
A report from the Leeds Climate Commission declared a climate emergency in April 2019 and pledged to make Leeds a carbon-neutral city, setting 2030 and 2050 as tentative dates, indicating a necessary 85% cut in carbon emissions.
These are bold promises, but the research carried out by the likes of PLOS will be crucial in pressuring institutions and the government to act in order to prevent air quality posing a threat to human potential.
George Solano Davis