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Smog has an immediate negative effect on school children. “Worrying” results of the study

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Recent research conducted in southern Poland suggests that breathing in smog has an immediate and negative impact on schoolchildren. – Smog, and especially nitrogen dioxide (NO2), causes children to have impaired attention and cognitive abilities. We are talking about immediate effects, not only those postponed in time – explains Mikołaj Compa from the Institute of Psychology of the Jagiellonian University, the author of the study.

For several years, a team of experts from the Institute of Psychology of the Jagiellonian University has been analyzing the impact smog on the brains of growing children. This project is called “Neurosmog”.

So far, we have talked about the long-term impact of smog, but – as it turns out – the impact of smog can also be immediate.

– Smog is a mixture of various chemical compounds and dust. In our analysis, we focused on the concentration of neurotoxic NO2 gas and PM10 dust. The source of the former is cars, especially older diesel models. PM10 dusts, on the other hand, are produced primarily in coal-fired central heating furnaces, explains Professor Marcin Szwed, head of the “Neurosmog” project.

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Cities with the most smog days in 2021PAS, CIEP

Cities with the most smog days in 2021PAS, CIEP

Smog affects the deterioration of concentration and attention in children

In the study, which included more than 700 students aged 10-13, children were asked to complete two special computer tests. In the first of them, children were shown slides on which they had to quickly indicate the direction of a swimming fish. Sometimes there was also a group of “obstruction” fish swimming in a different direction. Researchers were interested in whether children need more time to answer correctly under the influence of smog. This simple task allowed us to test the efficiency of attention.

– Of course, in real life we ​​don’t guess the direction of the flow of fish. But we make quick decisions all the time, the brain mechanism of which remains the same, for example, driving a car, cycling or solving math problems, researchers say.

Does smog harm children? (PAP/Anna Zajkowska)PAP/Anna Zajkowska

The second test looked at children’s ability to focus for long periods of time and to tame their impatience. It is worth emphasizing that the surveyed group was representative. Its members were randomly selected in the towns of those regions of southern Poland that are struggling with smog.

A group of children diagnosed with ADHD was also tested. Scientists suspect that children with this disorder, who already have problems with attention and concentration, may be particularly susceptible to the harmful effects of smog. As the scientists explain, thanks to this, the obtained results are reliable for the entire population of children aged 10-13 years exposed to breathing polluted air. The team also took into account the time children usually spend outdoors to make the results as accurate as possible.

What conclusions have the researchers reached? In the case of this study, the biggest effect we were able to pick up on was almost instantaneous. Test results showed that on days when NO2 concentrations were high, the children’s attention and cognitive abilities deteriorated.

“The effort that the brain puts in to solve the task is greater,” Compa explains. This can translate into worse learning outcomes, as well as problems with performing ordinary, everyday activities.

“The changes are so sudden that they even surprised us. Therefore, we checked the results several times, the result remains unchanged – adds Prof. Swede. The results of the study are so disturbing that the team decided to announce them publicly now, stating that they are fresh and have not yet passed the peer review process in a scientific journal.

Sources of PM10 dust emissionPolish Smog Alert

The neurotoxic effect of smog is immediate

For a long time, science has been providing more and more evidence that smog causes neurons to die, which has a long-term effect on our brains. The research carried out as part of the “Neurosmog” project shows an even worse picture – the neurotoxic effect of smog is immediate.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a gas that spreads in a relatively short distance of several dozen or a hundred meters from roads with heavy traffic, and its concentration is determined by how much “poisonous” cars drive on these roads, and above all by the intensity of car traffic in the vicinity housing estates, schools and kindergartens.

– I know that times are hard and that it is not people who have to go to work every day or take their sick mother to the doctor who should pay for the fact that car concerns in Europe have bet on diesel cars that go to Poland and poison power, says Prof. Swede. “But we hope our study will touch hearts and consciences.” – If the arguments about the far-reaching effects of smog do not reach the unconvinced, then perhaps the evidence of the immediate impact of smog on children will stimulate the imagination more and motivate them to solve the problem quickly and comprehensively – he notes.


Warsaw obwarzanek. Percentage of cinderellas in relation to the number of single-family houses Warsaw Without Smog

The number of Cinderellas in the communes of the Warsaw obwarzanek Warsaw Without Smog

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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