When wildfire smoke pollutes the air in schoolyards and classrooms, it hurts not only children’s health but also their ability to learn and possibly their future earning power, according to a new study.

The analysis, published in Nature Sustainability, draws on eight years of standardized test scores from nearly 11,700 public school districts across six grades, as well as estimates of daily smoke exposure derived from satellite measurements.

The researchers found test scores in English language arts and math dropped significantly during school years even at low levels of smoke exposure, and that test-score impacts grew as students’ smoke exposure worsened.

The impact on test scores nearly doubled when students were exposed to heavy smoke during the school day compared to the weekend. Underscoring previous studies suggesting that air pollution impacts are particularly harmful for younger students, the study also revealed greater impacts for third to fifth graders compared to sixth to eighth graders.

“Previous research suggests that the natural barriers in their lungs are still developing and they have a higher rate of breathing relative to their body size,” says lead study author Jeff Wen, a PhD student in Earth system science at the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability.

“This means that younger children may be more prone to smoke impacting their cognition in direct and indirect ways, such as increased asthma attacks that disrupt learning and lead to more school absences.”

Read the full article about wildfire smoke by Josie Garthwaite at Futurity.