Vehicle emissions may be fuelling teenage delinquency, study finds

Scientists have found a link between exposure to traffic pollution and teenage offending including arson, drug abuse, theft and vandalism.

Dec 15, 2017

Scientists have found a link between exposure to traffic pollution and teenage offending including arson, drug abuse, theft and vandalism. Higher levels of sooty particles from vehicle exhaust emissions may impact on bad behaviours, new research reveals. The US study tracked 682 children in Greater Los Angeles from the age of nine until the age of 18 while their parents completed a “rule-breaking” check list. At the same time, 25 air quality monitors were used to estimate concentrations of tiny toxic particles called PM2.5s outside each participant`s home. Three-quarters of the children were found to be breathing in levels of the particles that exceeded the US government safety limit of 12 micrograms per cubic metre of air. PM2.5s are 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair and small enough to enter the blood stream through the lungs. Lead researcher Dr Diana Younan, from the University of Southern California`s Keck School of Medicine, said: “These tiny, toxic particles creep into your body, affecting your lungs and your heart. “Studies are beginning to show exposure to various air pollutants also causes inflammation in the brain. “PM2.5 is particularly harmful to developing brains because it can damage brain structure and neural networks and, as our study suggests, influence adolescent behaviours.” Up to four assessments were recorded for each child. The list of delinquent behaviours on the check-list included lying and cheating, truancy, stealing, vandalism, arson, and substance abuse. The study, published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, identified higher PM2.5 pollution levels near major roads and in neighbourhoods with limited green space and few trees. More delinquent behaviour was seen from boys, African-Americans, and teenagers from poorer socio-economic backgrounds, and who had little access to city parks. Levels of bad behaviour were magnified when children did not have good relationships with their parents, lived with depressed mothers, or came from stress-ridden homes. The researchers noted the fact that poorer members of the community were the most likely to be exposed to harmful air pollution. “Poor people, unfortunately, are more likely to live in urban areas in less than ideal neighbourhoods,” said Dr Younan. “Many affordable housing developments are built near freeways. “Living so close to freeways causes health problems such as asthma and, perhaps, alters teenagers` brain structures so that they are more likely to engage in delinquent behaviour.” The same team has previously found that teenagers in urban areas that lack green spaces tend to be more aggressive.

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