Effects of short-term exposure to particulate matter air pollution on cognitive performance

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Authors

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • School of Geography Earth, and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK.
  • School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK. Electronic address: f.pope@bham.ac.uk.

Abstract

This paper assesses the effect of short-term exposure to particulate matter (PM) air pollution on human cognitive performance via a double cross over experimental design. Two distinct experiments were performed, both of which exposed subjects to low and high concentrations of PM. Firstly, subjects completed a series of cognitive tests after being exposed to low ambient indoor PM concentrations and elevated PM concentrations generated via candle burning, which is a well-known source of PM. Secondly, a different cohort underwent cognitive tests after being exposed to low ambient indoor PM concentrations and elevated ambient outdoor PM concentrations via commuting on or next to roads. Three tests were used to assess cognitive performance: Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), the Stroop Color and Word test, and Ruff 2 & 7 test. The results from the MMSE test showed a statistically robust decline in cognitive function after exposure to both the candle burning and outdoor commuting compared to ambient indoor conditions. The similarity in the results between the two experiments suggests that PM exposure is the cause of the short-term cognitive decline observed in both. The outdoor commuting experiment also showed a statistically significant short-term cognitive decline in automatic detection speed from the Ruff 2 and 7 selective attention test. The other cognitive tests, for both the candle and commuting experiments, showed no statistically significant difference between the high and low PM exposure conditions. The findings from this study are potentially far reaching; they suggest that elevated PM pollution levels significantly affect short term cognition. This implies average human cognitive ability will vary from city to city and country to country as a function of PM air pollution exposure.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Article number8237
JournalScientific Reports
Volume9
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2019