The effects of air pollution not only damage the body, but also the psyche. This is what a Belgian study has found. More people go to the doctor or take sick leave when there is increased air pollution.
The study suggests that there is a link not only between pollution and chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, but also chronic conditions such as depression. An increase in pollution was found to have a direct impact on mental well-being. Psychological ailments are triggered 3.5 percent more often when the particulate matter level is increased by only 0.5 per microgram. If the nitrogen dioxide content is increased by five micrograms per cubic metre, sickness reports increase by 4.2 percent.
However, it cannot be deduced from the results that pollution is the cause of depression or burnout, but air pollution can still be considered a trigger for such illnesses. Surprisingly, the phenomenon is less pronounced in winter, when air pollution is particularly high. This is because people are much less exposed to pollution during this time, as they spend most of their time indoors. Of all those studied who took sick leave, a quarter did so because of mental health problems.
No significant difference was found between urban and rural dwellers either. However, this could be due to the fact that Belgium is very sparsely populated and the differences between urban and rural areas are less pronounced here than in other countries. If we use the World Health Organisation's (WHO) benchmark for pollutants, as many as 80 per cent of Belgians are exposed to elevated levels.
Christian Horemans of the Independent Health Insurance Funds in Belgium sees in the results of the study a reason for those politically responsible to finally take active steps against air pollution. The population must be informed and warned, and the WHO limits should finally be heeded.
Clean air is, of course, also partly achieved through environmental zones. They can help to reduce pollutant emissions in regions that suffer from heavy pollution. In this way, they ultimately ensure better well-being among the working population and thus more labour productivity, as fewer people take sick leave.