Air Pollution Is Making Us Poorer, Unhealthier, And Now Dumber

Studies from universities and analysis from groups like the American Lung Association have found that the environment has dramatic effects on the public health causing premature death, lung cancer, asthma, reproductive harm, cardiovascular harm, and even susceptibility to infections. It’s why the importance of air quality and regulation of pollution to keep air quality at sufficiently healthy levels is so important. Studies have also found more and more evidence that environmental issues are effecting poorer community’s more than affluent ones and diving deeper you find that communities of color are reeling from these impacts more than others

For example, just recently, an analysis of the approved oil wells by Governor Jerry Brown found the majority of them are in communities of color, and therefore the effects being felt more directly by the community. It’s one of the many forms of systematic racism and inequality that are often overlooked and there is plenty of evidence and data to support it. Additionally, it’s abundantly clear that poor health breeds poverty, and poverty leads to poor health. 

A report by the Urban Institute found a gradient relationship between economic well-being and health. With the report, they found that “income and wealth directly support better health because wealthier people can afford the resources that protect and improve health”, citing better benefits, more stable jobs, and fewer occupational hazards as some of the factors. In contrast, “People with low incomes tend to have more restricted access to medical care, are more likely to be uninsured or under-insured, and face greater financial barriers to affording deductibles, co-payments, and the costs of medicines and other health care expenses.”

What this looks like is that wealthy individuals are more likely to get take time off, be covered by a given procedure, and address a potential health issue before it manifests into something more significant and expensive. Whereas more impoverished communities might be putting their job at risk if taking medical leave, opt out of medical treatment in the hopes an ailment subsides due to insufficient coverage, and could eventually lead to a more expensive and less healthy life style. 

The issues of air quality became even more dramatic when a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed the impact of exposure to air pollution on cognitive performance. The study gives indication that not only can these vulnerable population, that are both unhealthy and impoverished, may also be affected in their cognitive abilities. This could have determining effects on their ability to perform well in their careers or children in academics. This performance would then therefore have effects on their ability to earn academic scholarships, earn better paying jobs, or maintain strong wages because of detrimental effects in work performance.

Based on this new information, we could find impoverished and colored communities trapped in an even deeper cycle of poor health, poor work and academic performance, greater inequality, and less accumulated wealth.

It’s past time to recognize the effects of poor environmental quality on our lives and to natural disasters, but also its dramatic impacts on society that are not always intuitive. It adds to the argument that we need to take the quality of our environment more seriously, and hold leaders accountable to public needs and health over corporations and business that gain wealth without regard or consequence for their impacts.

Joe MelisiComment