Crime: The Hidden Cost of Air Pollution

By Amelia Harris

Staff Writer for Wake Up World

When someone says, ‘air pollution’ the first thing that comes to mind in terms of health concerns is typically not behavior modification. However, a research study from Colorado State University has found a correlation between air pollution and aggressive behavior. (1)

The team compared daily crime counts from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with daily monitoring data of ozone and breathable particulate matter, referred to as PM2.5, from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They used this data to estimate the change in the risk of both violent and nonviolent criminal behavior linked to short-term air pollution. (2)

Increased Pollution = Increased Aggression

The study found that short-term air pollution may cause an increase in violent crime. In FBI databases, 81% of violent crimes are listed as assaults. Assaults can occur both inside and outside of the home. Researchers found that 56% of violent crimes and 60% of assaults happen inside the home and may be connected to domestic violence. (2, 3)

Researchers discovered that a 10 microgram-per-cubic-meter increase in same-day exposure to PM2.5 correlated with a 1.4% increase in the rate of violent crimes. And a 0.01 parts-per-million increase in same-day exposure to ozone is related to a 0.97% increase in violent crime and a 1.15% increase in assaults. Changes in these air pollution measures did not have a statistically significant effect on any other type of crime. (3, 4)

“We’re talking about crimes that might not even be physical – you can assault someone verbally,” co-author Jude Bayham told Source, CSU’s news site. “The story is, when you’re exposed to more pollution, you become marginally more aggressive, so those altercations – some things that may not have escalated – do escalate.” (3)

This analysis included 301 counties and 34 states. The research team also zeroed in on specific communities represented in the data and assessed differences in risk by characteristics of poverty, urbanicity, race, and age. They found that the risk for violent crime rose with greater exposure to air pollution, regardless of community. (2)

While their results show a strong correlation between increased air pollution and violent crime, researchers have not made any claims about how being exposed to pollution can lead someone to act aggressively. They also corrected for other explanations for violent behavior, such as heatwaves, precipitation, and other weather. (3)

The Hidden Cost of Pollution

Study co-author Jesse Burkhardt became interested in the connection between pollution exposure and aggression after his own pollution experience. “Several years ago, Fort Collins experienced a fairly severe wildfire season,” Burkhardt told Source. “The smoke was so bad that after a few days, I started to get frustrated, and I wondered if frustration and aggression would show up in aggregate crime data.” (3)

He partnered with Jeff Pierce, who helped design the tool that allowed the CSU team to compare crime and pollution data. Previously, the tool was used to study health effects caused by air pollution. (3)

“The results are fascinating, and also scary,” Pierce said to Source. “When you have more air pollution, this specific type of crime, domestic violent crime in particular, increases quite significantly.” (3)

Economists on the research team estimated that reducing daily PM2.5 by 10% could save $1.4 billion in crime costs annually. They called this a “previously overlooked cost associated with pollution.” (3)

Article sources:


About the author:

Amelia Harris is a writer and eco-activist, interested in health and all things esoteric, with a passion for sharing good news and inspiring stories. She is a staff writer for Wake Up World.

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