Longitudinal association between air pollution exposure at school and cognitive development in school children over a period of 3.5 years

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Abstract

Introduction:

Recently, we showed that exposure to traffic-related air pollutants (TRAPs) at school was negatively associated with cognitive development, specifically working memory and inattentiveness, in primary schoolchildren during a course of 12 months. The persistence of such associations over longer periods remains as an open question.

Objective:

To study the longitudinal association between TRAPs at school and cognitive development over a period of 3.5 years.

Methods:

Indoor and outdoor levels of TRAPs (elemental carbon (EC), dioxide nitrogen (NO2), particulate matter (PM2.5) from traffic sources and ultrafine particles (UFP)) were measured at 39 schools across Barcelona during 2012/2013. Working memory, as a measure of cognitive development, was evaluated 4 times in 2012/2013 assessment and was re-evaluated one more time in 2015 using computerized n-back test (3-back d′ as main outcome). Linear mixed effects models were used to test the association between TRAPs and 3-back d′, adding child and school as random effects to account for the multilevel nature of the data, and school air pollutants levels (one at a time) as predictor.

Results:

We found detrimental associations between all TRAPs and annual change in 3-back d′ (working memory) (i.e. slower development of working memory in children attending schools with higher levels of air pollution). The associations (per one interquartile range increase in exposure) were strongest for outdoor NO2 (Coefficient (Coef) = − 4.22, 95% confidence interval (CI), − 6.22, − 2.22) and indoor UFP (Coef = − 4.12, 95%CI, − 5.68, − 1.83). These reductions were equivalent to − 20% (95%CI, − 30.1, − 10.7) and − 19.9% (95%CI, − 31.5, − 8.4) change in annual working memory development associated with one interquartile range increase in outdoor NO2 and indoor UFP, respectively.

Conclusion:

Our findings suggest the persistence of the negative association between TRAPs exposure at school and cognitive trajectory measured by n-back test over a period of 3.5 years.

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