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Study Links Air-Pollution Exposure to Violent Crime

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Researchers have found a correlation between exposure to air pollution and aggressive behavior or violent crime.

The health effects of air pollution might be noticeable to most Tennesseans, especially those suffering from asthma or other respiratory conditions, but the study’s lead author Jesse Burkhardt, assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at Colorado State University, said the correlation between poor air quality and violent crime would be difficult to suss out on an individual or community level.

“Again, the effects are small,” Burkhardt said. “But, if you aggregate them across the entire U.S. or across the counties in our sample, at least, the costs end up being somewhat large.”

Results of the study, which merged FBI crime statistics with a map of air pollution in counties across the U.S., will be published in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management.

The state Division of Air Pollution Control is responsible for air monitoring in all of Tennessee’s 91 counties. Several counties, including Davidson, Hamilton, Knox and Shelby have established their own local air pollution control programs.

Burkhardt said this type of data could be useful for policymakers trying to improve the quality of life in their communities.

“This study basically adds a little more to that benefit side, saying that if you reduce pollution, you might see a reduction in crime as well,” he said.

He also pointed out that when it’s not feasible to perform a controlled experiment, scientists often rely on identifying connections in aggregate data sets.

“As follow-up research, we try to explore the mechanisms that we think might be underlying these relationships,” Burkhardt said. “So, as an example, one of our next papers is we’re going to look for a relationship between online test performance and pollution exposure.”

According to the American Lung Association, the Knoxville metro region ranks 25th in the nation for year-round particle pollution, while Nashville and Memphis fare slightly better, showing improvements in cleaning up both ozone and particle pollution.

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