When we think about children’s mental health triggers, we tend to blame the strains of social media, overscheduling and trauma. And to be clear, those are all contributing factors. But a new study suggests what’s in the air could have acute impacts, too. And depending on the neighborhood you live in, the air children’s mental health-air pollution threat could be very real.
The latest alarm bells stem from a 2019 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives. Researchers at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the University of Cincinnati found an association between short-term exposure to ambient air pollution and a spike in psychiatric disorders in children.
Although the pollution levels fell within an acceptable range according to the EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards, they still seemed to induce “psychiatric exacerbations” in children who were taken to the emergency department with symptoms of conditions like depression, schizophrenia and suicidality.
For this five-year study conducted in Cincinnati, researchers analyzed the connection between ambient air pollution and mental health disorders in children.
But let’s back up for one second. What is ambient air pollution, exactly? This is when atmospheric air contains potentially harmful pollutants emitted by industry, households, cars and trucks, according to the World Health Organization.
The WHO warns that fine particulate matter in air pollution poses the greatest effects on human health. Most fine particulate matter comes from fuel combustion emitted from vehicles, power plants, households and more.
For the study, monitored and evaluated exposures to ambient particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter of 2.5 microns or less.
Here are the major takeaways from the study:
One of the scariest facts about this recent children’s mental health-air pollution study is that all daily exposures to air pollution registered below the National Ambient Air Quality Standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The study measured what’s called “fine particulate matter” in the air. This type of air pollution is known to have the greatest effect on human health. It’s composed of inhalable particles made up of sulphate, ammonia, nitrates, black carbon, sodium chloride, mineral dust and water.
The smaller the particles get — like when they’re less than 2.5 microns, the greater the health risk after exposure. This is because smaller particles are more able to penetrate our lungs and enter the bloodstream.
According to the World Health Organization, the major sources of outdoor air pollution include the following:
Particulate matter is also present in indoor air pollution, from cooking, mold, household products, furnishings and paint.
Exposure to these types of air pollution are dangerous for all humans, but can be particularly harmful for children and adolescents.
Children are more likely to be exposed to air pollution because they generally spend more time outdoors, engaging in physical activity. And compared to adults, they breathe more air per pound of body weight.
The EPA offers a few recommendations for people experiencing exposure to high levels of fine particle pollution.
It’s also important to take steps to purify the air in your home, where children spend most of their time. You can do this by choosing environmentally friendly cleaning and beauty products, like the ones suggested by the Environmental Working Group.
Choosing organic and natural home furnishings will also help to reduce your exposure to pollutants. And adding houseplants that remove pollution to your home, like spider plants, jade plants and bromeliad, has show to reduce pollutants.
The post The Children’s Mental Health-Air Pollution Clue We Can’t Ignore appeared first on Dr. Axe.