• Ed Flattau

Dangerous Air

Respiratory health is reason enough to sound the alarm against exposure to air pollution. But it just so happens that elevated air pollution levels can also addle the brain in a way that leads to an outburst of criminal behavior.

Atmospheric conditions other than air pollution can certainly have a bearing on the crime rate. Data show that crime declines in periods of precipitation. Criminals are evidently not immune to the lassitude that is a common by-product of rainy days.

But air pollution plays a negative psychic role that has long been overlooked. Recent studies in Chicago and Los Angeles have suggested a correlation between bad air and increased violent crime, especially assault and battery.

It should thus come as no surprise that cities with the worst particulate and ozone pollutants have the highest crime rates.

Identifying pollution as a catalyst for violence is actually not new. Researchers have long established a propensity for adult aberrant behavior as a result of excessive childhood lead exposure.

The good news, if you want to call it that, is that there has been no matching uptick detected between high air pollution episodes and homicide. Perhaps that is because murder often is premeditated rather than a matter of impulse. That said, two-thirds of the recorded air-pollution-related assaults took place during domestic disputes, which can be susceptible to violent eruptions culminating in loss of life of the participants and/or would-be police peacekeepers.

If it is any consolation, increased air pollution does not seem to spark an outbreak in property-related crimes. Maybe that is because such larceny typically involves calculation, whereas bodily harm triggered by contaminated air usually borders on spontaneity.

Reduction in crime-related air pollution pays off not only in safety but in economics. One estimate is that pollution-related crime costs the nation $178 million annually.

A surge in air pollution can now alert police of a possible increase in violence and allow authorities to marshal their resources accordingly.

What is becoming ever more apparent is that air pollution is an assault on the senses in more ways than one.


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