Cities with traffic congestion have prompted attention of scientists, who are now studying the impact of traffic fumes on our mental health.
A recent study claims that being stuck in one queue or traffic jam too many could spark more than simply a foul mood – it can lead to severe mental disorder.
Here are some of the health impacts of traffic congestion:
Everyday irritations such as waiting in traffic can build up over time and cause mental problems later in life, psychologists found.
The researchers’ advice people to learn keeping a cool head in the face of modern life’s daily stresses is as essential as a healthy diet and an exercise routine.
According to California-based professor of psychology and social behaviour, Susan Charles, led the study to find out whether everyday irritations add up to make the straw that breaks the camel’s back, or whether they make us stronger.
Using data from two national surveys, researchers found negative responses to daily stresses such as arguments with a partner, conflicts at work, standing in long queues or sitting in traffic led to psychological distress or anxiety and mood disorders ten years later.
The findings echo the premise of the 1993 Michael Douglas film Falling Down, in which his character ‘snaps’ while waiting in LA traffic.
The Wall Street Journal cites recent studies as showing that breathing street-level fumes for just 30 minutes can intensify electrical activity in brain regions responsible for behavior, personality and decision-making, changes that are suggestive of stress. It was discovered by scientists in the Netherlands.
Breathing normal city air with high levels of traffic exhaust for 90 days can change the way that genes turn on or off among the elderly; it can also leave a molecular mark on the genome of a newborn for life, separate research teams at Columbia University and Harvard University reported this year.
Effect on children’s mental growth
Children in areas affected by high levels of emissions, on average, scored more poorly on intelligence tests and were more prone to depression, anxiety and attention problems than children growing up in cleaner air, separate research teams in New York, Boston, Beijing, and Krakow, Poland, found.
And older men and women long exposed to higher levels of traffic-related particles and ozone had memory and reasoning problems that effectively added five years to their mental age, other university researchers in Boston reported this year.
The emissions may also heighten the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and speed the effects of Parkinson’s disease.
Is there a cancer risk too? researchers say Yes!
Long traffic jams potentially increase various health risks, including cancer, say researchers.
Exposure to outdoor air pollution is among the top ten health risks faced by humans and is especially pronounced in urban concentrations, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). In October 2013, WHO classified outdoor air pollution as being carcinogenic to humans.
The findings showed that when vehicles stop at red lights, they go through different driving cycles such as idling, acceleration and deceleration and emission of toxic fumes.
These emissions take more time to disperse, especially in built-up areas and end up accumulating in the air at traffic signals.
Thus, the people sitting inside cars, with closed windows but with fans switched on, can be at an increased risk of exposure to the outdoor pollutants, the researchers said.