Something’s in the air

Smog over Beijing. © Margaret Bergen

As a new staff member at CI, I’m excited to be learning more about all the ways the scientific community is exploring the links between healthy natural systems and healthy people. Just this week, I came across an interesting article about a new study connecting pre-natal air pollution exposure and IQ.

The study, conducted by the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH), had 249 New York City women (most of them from low-income neighborhoods) wear air quality monitors for two days in the later months of their pregnancies. When their children were IQ-tested at the age of five, it was found that the children who had been exposed to the most prenatal pollution scored an average of four points lower than the rest.

Although I wasn’t totally shocked by this discovery, it’s scary to think that these results came out of a developed country, from a city that has significantly reduced its air pollution in recent years. Around the world, millions of people (particularly in Asia) live in dirty, overcrowded cities where conditions are much worse.

Smog over Beijing. © Margaret BergenI spent 12 hours in Beijing on a layover a few years ago, and I remember looking out the hotel window from the 28th floor in amazement at the smog obscuring the tops of surrounding skyscrapers. On the streets below, people hurried by, some with surgical masks hiding their faces. If air pollution has a visible connection to human health in relatively “clean” cities, what must it look like in places like this?

It makes me think about CI’s “Lost There, Felt Here” campaign. The CCCEH study is yet another example of the unbreakable connection between human and ecosystem health. Bad air in one place can impact each of our lives somewhere else, even if we aren’t aware of it.

Although these study results are disturbing, it brings me hope to think that if CI’s new mission is realized, we will gain even more benefits than we can currently appreciate.

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