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Students Taking Exams in Areas With High Levels Of Air Pollution Get Worse Grades, Study Finds

Discussion in 'Medical Students Cafe' started by Hadeel Abdelkariem, Sep 30, 2019.

  1. Hadeel Abdelkariem

    Hadeel Abdelkariem Golden Member

    Apr 1, 2018
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    Practicing medicine in:

    • Two studies looked at young people taking thousands of exams
    • It monitored levels of particulate matter PM10 and PM2.5 in the exam halls
    • Found PM10 above WHO safe levels perform up to two per cent worse
    • Levels of PM2.5 within WHO limit had negative impact of up to three per cent
    Students exposed to high levels of air pollution perform worse in their exams, according to new research.

    Young people taking their A-level finals were monitored and compared to pollution level inside study halls by experts at London School of Economics.

    They found air quality has as big an impact on results as class size and that high levels of pollutants can lower exam scores by more than three per cent.


    London School of Economics researchers looked at 2,400 students sitting a total of more than 10,000 papers.

    Dirtier air, areas with high concentrations of particular matter known as PM10 that exceeded World Health Organisation limits, caused performance to drop by two percentage points.

    The WHO limit for PM10 is 50 micrograms per cubic metre. The study revealed that some exam halls had pollution levels as high as 75 micrograms.

    This was found to be potent enough to reduce a student's score by 3.4 per cent.

    PM10 is particulate matter 10 micrometres or less in diameter, PM2.5,a finer and more dangerous form of pollution is only micrometres across.

    The WHO limit for PM10 is 50 micrograms per cubic metre. The study revealed that some exam halls had pollution levels as high as 75 micrograms. This was found to be potent enough to reduce a student's score by 3.4 percentage points

    Another study conducted as part of the same project assessed 400,000 exams taken by teens in Israel.

    This revealed that PM 2.5, a finer form of particular pollution, was highly linked to poor achievement.

    Levels of 23.5 micrograms per cubic metre or above was correlated with a three per cent decline in test scores.

    Even when within the 25 micrograms safety limit set out by the WHO was met, the impact was still seen.

    Sefi Roth, of the London School of Economics carried out both pieces of research and told The Times that students should think about their exposure on exam dates.

    Dr Roth said: 'They can limit their outdoor activity on polluted days or take less polluted routes when they go to school.'

    A link between pollution and cognitive performance 'would imply that a narrow focus on traditional health outcomes, such as hospitalisation and increased mortality, may understate the true cost of pollution as mental acuity is essential to worker productivity in many professions,' Dr Roth said.


    Carbon dioxide

    Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the biggest contributors to global warming. After the gas is released into the atmosphere it stays there, making it difficult for heat to escape - and warming up the planet in the process.

    It is primarily released from burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, as well as cement production.

    The average monthly concentration of CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere, as of April 2019, is 413 parts per million (ppm). Before the Industrial Revolution, the concentration was just 280 ppm.

    CO2 concentration has fluctuated over the last 800,000 years between 180 to 280ppm, but has been vastly accelerated by pollution caused by humans.

    Nitrogen dioxide

    The gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) comes from burning fossil fuels, car exhaust emissions and the use of nitrogen-based fertilisers used in agriculture.

    Although there is far less NO2 in the atmosphere than CO2, it is between 200 and 300 times more effective at trapping heat.

    Sulfur dioxide

    Sulfur dioxide (SO2) also primarily comes from fossil fuel burning, but can also be released from car exhausts.

    SO2 can react with water, oxygen and other chemicals in the atmosphere to cause acid rain.

    Carbon monoxide

    Carbon monoxide (CO) is an indirect greenhouse gas as it reacts with hydroxyl radicals, removing them. Hydroxyl radicals reduce the lifetime of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.


    What is particulate matter?

    Particulate matter refers to tiny parts of solids or liquid materials in the air.

    Some are visible, such as dust, whereas others cannot be seen by the naked eye.

    Materials such as metals, microplastics, soil and chemicals can be in particulate matter.

    Particulate matter (or PM) is described in micrometres. The two main ones mentioned in reports and studies are PM10 (less than 10 micrometres) and PM2.5 (less than 2.5 micrometres).

    Scientists measure the rate of particulates in the air by cubic metre.

    Particulate matter is sent into the air by a number of processes including burning fossil fuels, driving cars and steel making.

    Why are particulates dangerous?

    Particulates are dangerous because those less than 10 micrometres in diameter can get deep into your lungs, or even pass into your bloodstream. Particulates are found in higher concentrations in urban areas, particularly along main roads.

    Health impact

    What sort of health problems can pollution cause?

    According to the World Health Organization, a third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease can be linked to air pollution.

    Some of the effects of air pollution on the body are not understood, but pollution may increase inflammation which narrows the arteries leading to heart attacks or strokes.

    As well as this, almost one in 10 lung cancer cases in the UK are caused by air pollution.

    Particulates find their way into the lungs and get lodged there, causing inflammation and damage. As well as this, some chemicals in particulates that make their way into the body can cause cancer.

    Deaths from pollution

    Around seven million people die prematurely because of air pollution every year. Pollution can cause a number of issues including asthma attacks, strokes, various cancers and cardiovascular problems.

    Air pollution can cause problems for asthma sufferers for a number of reasons. Pollutants in traffic fumes can irritate the airways, and particulates can get into your lungs and throat and make these areas inflamed.

    Problems in pregnancy

    Women exposed to air pollution before getting pregnant are nearly 20 per cent more likely to have babies with birth defects, research suggested in January 2018.

    Living within 3.1 miles (5km) of a highly-polluted area one month before conceiving makes women more likely to give birth to babies with defects such as cleft palates or lips, a study by University of Cincinnati found.

    For every 0.01mg/m3 increase in fine air particles, birth defects rise by 19 per cent, the research adds.

    Previous research suggests this causes birth defects as a result of women suffering inflammation and 'internal stress'.

    What is being done to tackle air pollution?

    Paris agreement on climate change

    The Paris Agreement, which was first signed in 2015, is an international agreement to control and limit climate change.

    It hopes to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C (3.6ºF) 'and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C (2.7°F)'.

    Carbon neutral by 2050

    The UK government has announced plans to make the country carbon neutral by 2050.

    They plan to do this by planting more trees and by installing 'carbon capture' technology at the source of the pollution.

    Some critics are worried that this first option will be used by the government to export its carbon offsetting to other countries.

    International carbon credits let nations continue emitting carbon while paying for trees to be planted elsewhere, balancing out their emissions.

    No new petrol or diesel vehicles by 2040

    In 2017, the UK government announced the sale of new petrol and diesel cars would be banned by 2040.

    From around 2020, town halls will be allowed to levy extra charges on diesel drivers using the UK's 81 most polluted routes if air quality fails to improve.

    However, MPs on the climate change committee have urged the government to bring the ban forward to 2030, as by then they will have an equivalent range and price.

    Norway's electric car subsidies

    The speedy electrification of Norway's automotive fleet is attributed mainly to generous state subsidies. Electric cars are almost entirely exempt from the heavy taxes imposed on petrol and diesel cars, which makes them competitively priced.

    A VW Golf with a standard combustion engine costs nearly 334,000 kroner (34,500 euros, $38,600), while its electric cousin the e-Golf costs 326,000 kroner thanks to a lower tax quotient.

    Criticisms of inaction on climate change

    The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has said there is a 'shocking' lack of Government preparation for the risks to the country from climate change.

    The committee assessed 33 areas where the risks of climate change had to be addressed – from flood resilience of properties to impacts on farmland and supply chains – and found no real progress in any of them.

    The UK is not prepared for 2°C of warming, the level at which countries have pledged to curb temperature rises, let alone a 4°C rise, which is possible if greenhouse gases are not cut globally, the committee said.

    It added that cities need more green spaces to stop the urban 'heat island' effect, and to prevent floods by soaking up heavy rainfall.


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