Pollution breeds CHAOS: Scientists find link between dirty air and violent crime
09/02/2020 // Michael Alexander // Views

The deadly and devastating effects that air pollution has on one’s health such as sickness, malaise, lowered immunity and depression are all well-known. However, it is worth noting that the phenomenon has one other, far more insidious effect that many may not be familiar with: it could induce violent behavior in some people.

According to a team of researchers from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and Colorado State University, more violent crimes are committed in places where the air is dirtier and lower in quality – a phenomenon that is especially concerning, given that according to the World Health Organization (WHO), nine out of 10 people worldwide are breathing in toxic air. This is because airborne particles and noxious gases are likely to interfere with the proper functioning of the brain, making people more likely to lash out and act aggressively.

This, the researchers said, has led to an uptick in aggressive behavior, mostly in the form of aggravated assaults and domestic violence. Even more alarming, the researchers noted, is that the risk of aggressive behavior was seen to have increased even at air pollution levels that are deemed below the regulatory standards for breathability that have been set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (Related: The depressing connection between air pollution and happiness.)

As described in the academic journal Epidemiology, the researchers looked at how recorded offenses rose and fell over a period of 13 years in 301 counties across the United States and whether or not these were linked to air pollution.


They examined datasets from the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) National Incident-Based Reporting System, air pollution data tracked by the EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and weather data from the PRISM Climate Group at Oregon State University.

Upon evaluation of the gathered data, what they found was that instances of violent crime went up when the air was more polluted – a phenomenon that they said happened in both poor and rich areas.

“What our study really found was that day-to-day changes in air pollution levels will actually increase the risk of violent behavior,” said Jesse Berman, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

As noted by the researchers, instances of violent crime such as assaults went up by 1.17 percent in areas with a 10-microgram-per-cubic-meter increase in their daily fine particulate matter levels. An increase of 0.59 percent in violent crimes, meanwhile, was seen in areas that had a 10-parts-per-billion increase in their daily ozone concentration.

This uptick in violence, the researchers said, could be linked to air pollution, citing previous studies in mice and dogs which found that animals exposed to high levels of fine particulate matter – such as those from diesel fumes – often exhibit increased aggressiveness and territorial behavior, as well as bias toward immediate rewards.

The researchers also pointed out that previous studies have linked metallic constituents of particulate matter, notably, manganese and mercury to more aggressive and violent behavior.

“One of the hypotheses, or ways that we think this is affecting us, is that by breathing these particles, it’s actually impacting our neurological systems and that might affect our fight or flight type of behavior. Where people will become more impulsive or aggressive as a result of the harm that the air pollution is causing,” Berman explained, adding that their findings need to be further investigated in order to find the exact mechanism behind air pollution’s effects on human behavior.

For more stories about air pollution and its effects on humans and other organisms, head over to Pollution.news.

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