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Home > Smart Living> Environment > Even short-term exposure to pollution can affect your health

Even short-term exposure to pollution can affect your health

A new study says that exposure to air pollution, even over the course of just a few weeks, can impede mental performance

A file photo from 2016 shows the Eiffel Tower surrounded by a small-particle haze which hangs above the skyline in Paris, France,
A file photo from 2016 shows the Eiffel Tower surrounded by a small-particle haze which hangs above the skyline in Paris, France, (REUTERS)

India remains one of the worst affected countries in the world when it comes to air pollution. According to the 2020 World Air Quality Report, released earlier this year, India continues to feature prominently at the top of the most polluted cities ranking, with 22 of the top 30 most polluted cities globally from India.

The burden of disease attributable to household and ambient air pollution is still rampant. Now, a new study reveals that exposure to air pollution, even over the course of just a few weeks, can impede mental performance, according to researchers from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in the US. However, these effects were lessened in people taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAIDs) such as aspirin. The study is among the first to explore short-term air pollution exposure and the use of NSAIDs to mitigate its effects. The results of the study were published in the journal Nature Aging on 3 May.

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The researchers examined the relationship between exposures to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and black carbon, a component of PM, and cognitive performance in 954 older males from the Greater Boston Area enrolled in the Normative Aging Study, an official news release explains. They also explored whether taking NSAIDs could modify their relationships. Cognitive performance was assessed using the Global Cognitive Function (GCF) and Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) scales. Air pollution levels were obtained from a site in Boston.

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Pedestrians stand on an overpass above car traffic amid a duststorm in Beijing, China on April 15, 2021. Examples of events that would increase someone's exposure to air pollution over the short term could include forest fires, smog, second-hand cigarette smoke, charcoal grills, and gridlock traffic.
Pedestrians stand on an overpass above car traffic amid a duststorm in Beijing, China on April 15, 2021. Examples of events that would increase someone's exposure to air pollution over the short term could include forest fires, smog, second-hand cigarette smoke, charcoal grills, and gridlock traffic. (REUTERS)

Elevated average PM2.5 exposure over 28 days was associated with declines in both GCF and MMSE scores. “Men who took NSAIDs experienced fewer adverse short-term impacts of air pollution exposures on cognitive health than non-users, though there were no direct associations between recent NSAID use and cognitive performance,” the release explains. Examples of events that would increase someone's exposure to air pollution over the short term could include forest fires, smog, second-hand cigarette smoke, charcoal grills, and gridlock traffic.

The link between long-term exposure to PM and impaired cognitive performance in the aging population is well-established: the reported effects include reduced brain volume, cognitive decrements, and dementia development. Air pollution has also been associated with poor cognition of children and adults. But, until now, little was known about the effects of short-term exposure to air pollution.

The researchers say future studies in this area should investigate the specific effects of chemical components of air pollution on cognitive performance, exposure sources in the environment, and whether cognitive impairments due to short-term air pollution exposures are transient or persistent.

Also read: Air pollution costs Indian businesses billions each year

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