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Researchers make troubling finding after studying air quality in Rome: 'These are crucial'

"Our discovery underscores the critical importance of implementing stringent measures …"

“Our discovery underscores the critical importance of implementing stringent measures ..."

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The effects of air pollution on human respiratory health is well-documented. But a new study from researchers in Rome has found evidence that air pollution also has a negative effect on mental health.

What is happening?

"Recent studies have linked air pollution to the development of psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety, and psychotic episodes. However, all these associations have been mainly investigated in small groups, making their results challenging to generalise," Dr. Federica Nobile, an epidemiologist who led the research, told the Guardian.

To get more concrete results, Dr. Nobile and her team analyzed the census data of 1.7 million people living in Rome in 2011 and cross-referenced their public health records with area-specific air pollution and traffic noise data.

Their findings indicated that people living in areas with high particle pollution were at higher risk of developing depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders. 

Why is this concerning?

Residents of Rome are, on average, exposed to three times as much air pollution as the World Health Organization recommends is safe. And Rome is far from the only city with air pollution concerns. 

In the United States, an EPA study found that residents of Phoenix, Arizona, enjoyed good air quality only 3% of the time. California cities such as Los Angeles, Riverside, and Bakersfield also experienced consistently bad air quality.

The conclusions from the Rome study echo those of other studies seeking to draw a connection between air quality and mental health. One study in Mexico found a link between air pollution and dementia, while another in the U.K. linked air quality with psychotic and mood disorders.

What is being done about it?

"Our discovery underscores the critical importance of implementing stringent measures to reduce human exposure to air pollutants. These are crucial not only for safeguarding against physical ailments but also for preserving mental wellbeing," Professor Francesco Forastiere of Italy's National Research Council and Imperial College London said.

One major way of reducing air pollution is to reduce the number of cars on the road by redesigning urban areas to be more walkable and bikeable, and expanding public transit infrastructure so that people don't have to rely on driving to get around.

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