Air pollution may negatively affect children’s standardized test scores, a new study shows.

For the study, researchers used data from the North Carolina Education Research Data Center to track 2.8 million public school students in North Carolina from 2001 to 2018 and measured their exposure to PM2.5, also known as fine particulate matter, found in polluted air.

While previous research has shown an association with adverse outcomes on academic performance in children, it has relied on relatively small or less representative samples and faced challenges in accounting for unobserved confounders.

“The biggest strength of this study is that we [tracked] every student in North Carolina in those years, for the whole time period that they were in the public schools,” says Emma Zang, an assistant professor of sociology, biostatistics, and global affairs at Yale University and coauthor of the study published in JAMA Network Open.

“I think it is really incredible because it’s actually the first study that uses this kind of population data, covering everybody. Air pollution has been shown to affect a lot of things, but the effect of air pollution on students’ academic performance is still relatively new.”

The study also found that PM2.5 levels disproportionately affected test scores of ethnic minorities and girls.

“Females and racial ethnic minorities face structural sexism and structural racism,” says Zang. “There are a lot of policies that are not friendly towards females and ethnic minorities. So, when they’re exposed to the same level of air pollution, they don’t have the resources to buffer the negative influences.”

More privileged populations, Zang says, may have more resources that allow them to live in a better environment, such as in houses with air purifiers.

Read the full article about air pollution at Futurity.