Study Suggests Air Pollution Linked to Poor Mental Health

Mental health is a critical issue; it has been for years. However, it has become more than just a topic for conversation nowadays. It now plays an essential role in the fulfilment of global development goals. 

Our World in Data lists anxiety as one of the world’s most common mental health conditions. In 2018, it affected around 284 million individuals. It is also one of the primary causes of disability among Americans. 

Mental health issues are typically caused by childhood trauma or abuse, long-term or severe stress, drug and alcohol abuse or misuse, domestic abuse, and other forms of adult abuse. There are physical causes as well, such as a neurological condition (ex. epilepsy) or head injuries. Of late, however, several studies have shown that exposure to air pollution can also lead to mental health problems.

A study conducted in London among around 13,000 individuals showed that even a slight increase in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels in the air can lead to a 32% increase in the possibility of community-based treatments and an 18% risk of requiring hospital admission. 

Even in cases where the increase in air pollution is minimal, there is still an increase in the cases of anxiety and depression. Additionally, dirty air also increases incidences of suicide, while in other cases, exposure to air pollution affects one’s cognitive abilities and raises the risk of developing dementia. 

Air pollution can impair all the organs in the human body according to the study, which the British Journal of Psychiatry published. 

Researchers used data showing the frequency of hospital admissions or doctor visits to determine the severity of toxic air’s effects on a person’s mental health. This also helped determine if lowering air pollution levels can significantly reduce mental health illness. 

Although the study involved mostly London residents, the findings are appropriate for most of the cities in highly industrialised countries. 

Important data

The research summed up important data discoveries into the following:

  • The average levels of NO2 in the area the group studied changed between 18 and 96µg/m³ (or micrograms per cubic metre)
  • Individuals who were exposed to elevated levels of toxic air (at least 15µg/m³) are 18% most likely to get admitted to the hospital and 32% most likely to benefit from outpatient treatment
  • The strongest link was with nitrogen dioxide, which primarily comes from diesel vehicles
  • A significant link with fine particle pollution, produced through the burning of fossil fuels, was also noted
  • The fine particles noted in the study measured from 9 to 25µg/m³ – hospital admissions risk increased by 11% even with only a 3-unit rise in air pollution exposure while outpatient treatments risk went up by around 7%

Seven years after the first round of treatment, patient data was re-assessed and researchers discovered that the link and risks were still present. 

Diesel emissions

As mentioned earlier, toxic air (NO2) comes from diesel vehicles. This is the main reason the diesel emissions scandal that broke out in 2015 negatively affected the automotive industry. Authorities were also quick to act on manufacturers involved in the scandal.

More commonly known as the Dieselgate scandal, the scam had US authorities calling on the attention of the Volkswagen Group with a Notice of Violation. They had found defeat devices in the manufacturer’s Audi and VW diesel vehicles sold in the American market. These devices are used to cheat on emissions so vehicles would pass regulatory testing.

Defeat devices can sense when a vehicle is being tested and automatically reduces emissions to within the limits set by the World Health Organization (WHO). These devices make the vehicle appear clean, safe, fuel-efficient, and environmentally friendly but only when it is under testing conditions. 

When the vehicle is taken out of the lab and driven on real roads, the vehicle releases excessive amounts of nitrogen oxide (NOx). NOx is a group of gases with adverse effects on human health and the environment. As such, manufacturers lied to their customers. Drivers, on the other hand, unknowingly expose themselves and the people around them to dangerous emissions.

The Volkswagen Group is not the only carmaker caught using defeat devices – Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Vauxhall, and Renault also received Notices of Violation for cheating on emissions and their customers. Authorities ordered a recall of all affected vehicles and VW has been paying off fines, legal fees, and compensation for years. Other manufacturers have had to go through the same path. 

The dangers of NOx and your right to claim

Aside from increasing risks to mental health conditions and dementia, exposure to NOx emissions also poses the following health impacts:

  • Asthma
  • Emphysema and other respiratory illnesses
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Premature death

Manufacturers should be held responsible for exposing their customers to these health impacts. You can do this by bringing forward a diesel claim against them.

How should I file my diesel claim?

All you have to do is join a group legal action (similar to a class-action lawsuit) against your manufacturer and you’ll get the compensation you deserve. Sounds easy, right? Except for the fact that you need to first find out that you are qualified to make an emissions claim before starting the process.

Do this by visiting; they have all the information you need to verify your eligibility and start your claim.