Children Exposed to Air Pollution Are More Likely to Use Academic Support Services

Children Exposed to Air Pollution Are More Likely to Use Academic Support Services
Jeanette A. Stingone, Katharine H. McVeigh and Luz Claudio
Publication Date:
Find Full Text

Early-life exposure to air pollution can harm children’s neurodevelopment, and zoning and land-use policies can heighten or lessen children’s exposure risks. For example, children in dense urban areas with considerable vehicle traffic are highly exposed to benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (collectively known as BTEX), which are common urban air toxics produced by crude oil. This study expanded upon previous research to understand the association between living in areas with high-density vehicle traffic and urban children’s use of academic support services in elementary school.

Researchers used administrative data from the Longitudinal Study of Early Development, which links five public records systems relating to health and education, to profile the 200,000 children born in New York City between 1994 and 1998 who attended third grade in a New York City public school. Researchers estimated exposure to BTEX through the US Environmental Protection Agency’s National Air Toxics Assessment and linked residential census tracts from children’s birth records. Children with high exposure (greater than 90th percentile) made up 14.8 percent of the population, and 18.3 percent of children received academic support services between birth and the end of third grade.

Key findings

  • Children with greater exposure to either one or multiple BTEX pollutants were more likely to use academic support services than children with lower levels of exposure.
  • The likelihood of use of academic services was slightly larger in magnitude when the population was restricted to children who did not move between birth and third grade.
  • The majority of children receiving early intervention services received speech therapy and/or special instruction services.
  • Results were the same when isolating children’s gender or maternal race/ethnicity.

Policy implications

The link between air pollution and the need for academic support services suggests an added value for children and cost savings for schools if land-use or transportation decisions reduce residential exposure to air pollution. The findings show additional ways zoning has important policy and public health implications for children. The solution could generate substantial cost savings; the authors note that academic support services for young children with disabilities cost New York City $482 million in 2010. The authors also suggest that public health data systems could inform further research on the health impacts of environmental hazards.

Photo by ESB Professional/Shutterstock