New York City has always been a magnet for the best and brightest. But a new study, done in China but relevant to New York City – in fact, relevant to 95% of the world – indicates that being a part of the city that never sleeps means paying a price in, of all things, intelligence.

The study, undertaken as part of the China Panel Family Studies done over four years, is the first to take men and women of all ages into account with regard to the physical and mental damage done by air pollution.

According to, air pollution is a problem for all populations, but especially so for New York City residents. A publication “Air Pollution and the Health of New Yorkers:

The Impact of Fine Particles and Ozone” states that as air pollution is never listed as a cause for hospitalization, statistical methods had to be used for their conclusions.

The report analyzed fine particles from on and off-road vehicles, fossil fuel combustion and heating commercial and residential buildings, commercial cooking, road dust, demolition and construction. Ozone was analyzed from April 1st – September 30th as ozone levels greatly increase during warmer months.

The conclusion: “Current exposures…cause more than 3,000 premature deaths, more than 2,000 hospitalizations due to respiratory and cardiovascular causes, and approximately 6,000 emergency department visits for asthma in New York City annually.” A 2016 MIT Senseable City Lab study concluded much more generally that our air is toxic.

Lest you are feeling disheartened by our current air quality, back in the mid-1960s, New York had the filthiest air of any big city in the country. On Thanksgiving weekend in 1966, 200 people died because of the haze of warm temperature smog.

The up note is: we have come a very long way from those noxious, sulfurous days including achievable goals for the PlaNYC goal of “cleanest air of any big city” by 2030.

Meanwhile, back in China, their study showed that toxic air produces a significant reduction in intelligence equal to losing a year of education. The effects are worse for anyone age 64 and older, for men more than women (I know this comes as shock to you, but male and female brains work differently), and for those with lower education levels.

All we can say to all this is stay smart, my friends. Support the City’s efforts to reduce air pollution through their reduce and retrofit programs, monitoring, new codes, emissions control and conversion to alternative, cleaner fuels. Intelligent life depends on it.

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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

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