We've long known that kids exposed to lead are more likely to engage in delinquent behavior. Research from the University of Southern California reports this is also true of juveniles who are chronically exposed to a type of particulate matter found in polluted air.
A team led by Diana Younan measured the concentration of PM, extremely fine particles produced by everything from motor vehicles to wood-burning fires, in the air near the homes of 682 youngsters in Greater Los Angeles. The kids were followed from age nine to 18, and their parents periodically recorded whether they had engaged in 13 types of rule-breaking, including truancy, vandalism, and substance use. Those who were, on average, exposed to higher levels of PM, including youngsters raised in freeway-adjacent and low-rent housing, were significantly more likely than their counterparts to engage in those behaviors.
Underprivileged kids growing up in congested cities must overcome many handicaps; this suggests one of them is the very air they breathe.
A version of this story originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Pacific Standard. Subscribe now and get eight issues/year or purchase a single copy of the magazine. It was first published online on April 19th, 2018, exclusively for PS Premium members.