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Can poor air quality cause crime and suicide?

A lot of research has shown that poor air quality and higher levels of air pollution can make you physically sick. But there’s an increasing amount of evidence pointing to another conclusion: Poor air quality may affect our behavior, including criminal activity and suicide.

The research

Several studies have looked at the correlation between crime and air pollution levels. UK researchers recently studied 1.8 million crimes over two years and compared that to pollution data in London.

An earlier study examined air pollution and crime levels over a nine-year period in 9,360 US cities. Yet another compared environmental data with crime records from Los Angeles between 2005 and 2013, to analyze the impact of short-term changes in ozone levels on the aggregate daily number of criminal assaults.

As for suicide, researchers in Utah, a part of the country associated with a greater-than-usual number of self-inflicted deaths, studied 1,546 suicides in Salt Lake County between 2000 and 2010 and compared that data to fine and coarse particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide from Environmental Protection Agency monitors.

The results

The studies focused on crime all discovered a connection between higher levels of air pollution and crime. The UK researchers found that a 10 point increase in the air quality index correlated with a nine percent boost in the rate of petty crimes such as shoplifting and pickpocketing. Both wealthy and less-affluent areas were affected.

In Los Angeles, higher levels of particulate matter in the air were connected to increased teenage delinquency in urban areas—specifically, a 17 percent increase in assaults for a 10 parts per billion increase in daily fine particulate pollution. And the Utah researchers? They found that the suicide risk increased two to three days after levels of fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide rose.

The reasons

Researchers point to the connection between polluted air and higher levels of stress and anxiety that, in turn, can lead to increases in criminal behavior. Specifically, poor air quality can boost the stress hormone cortisol, impacting risk perception and causing a rise in criminal activity.

Further, physical inflammation caused by increases in particulate matter can cause the immune system to overreact and release compounds such as quinolinic acid, which has been linked to suicidal thoughts.

Taking action

One way to improve your home air quality is with a smart air purifier with a HEPA filter, like the Coway Airmega. It can help eliminate particulate matter and other pollutants in the air, keeping you healthier and the air in your home safer.