Solve pollution. Save lives. Protect the planet.

February 3, 2010

Does pollution plague a country because it is poor? Or does pollution make a country poor?

While the case for the former can be easily made — poorer nations have less resources for cleanup and regulations; the case for the latter is often ignored. But the fact is, pollution destroys economies, triggering an endless cycle of poverty.

Here is a vivid example of how this happens:

Under normal circumstances, in a population of 100 million, if average IQ is 100, there are 6 million gifted people (IQ above 130) who can be expected to drive the economy forward, and 6 million cognitively impaired (IQ below 70) who will likely depend on social or government welfare.

If the average IQ in that population is driven down 5 points to 95 as a consequence of widespread exposure to lead, the number of gifted individuals falls by more than half to 2.4 million, while the number of cognitively disabled persons rises to 9.4 million.  This decimates the future leadership of entire countries and further increases disparities between rich and poor nations.

It is a little ironic but the growing worldwide focus on global warming issues and the environment has, in a way, made the problem of toxic pollution more widespread.  All the increased scrutiny on industry has given rise to a sad legacy in many developing countries — legacy pollution, which refers to pollution left behind when a factory is closed or abandoned, or if the polluter has gone bankrupt.  At many of these “orphaned” sites, the pollution…and the population remain.  Here, people are routinely exposed to levels of toxins simply unacceptable in the West.

So what’s the lesson? Toxic pollution does more than just cripple and kill.  It traps and engulfs.

Here’s a one-page summary, The Effects of Toxic Pollution in the Developing World, looking at how health, education, economic development, and the ecology are all affected.

4 responses to “Pollution, Poverty and the I.Q. Connection”

  1. I appreciate this discussion and my first thought was-how many people even know about this and how can more become informed?
    However, I also have some doubts about one of the main points raised.I do not doubt that pollution is destructive to us all-probably more so than even the writer is fully aware.
    My uncertainty lies with the theory that IQs reduced by pollution even by 5 points changes the abilities of those people who we can expect to improve our economy.
    While that is a very interesting point in proving the seriousness and fanger of pollution, I’m interested to know what average was used in ‘taking an average’–there are 3 different ways to find an average and not all indicate what most expect an average to inofrm us of–that of the most typical IQ in the American population.
    More importantly, while I agree that an IQ of 130 is an indication of high intelligence, it is not an indication of mental and physical health.
    There are many many people with IQs of 130 and above that are functioning at *below* average in everyday ability because of serious mental health disorders.
    In the same vein, if the constant pollution lowersIQs by 5 or even 10 points, are the bright, capable people that are affected, going to be stupid and non-functioning now? logically no.
    Their IQs would be a little lower.
    I agree it isn’t something we want to have happen!
    But it wouldn’t indicate destruction of the economy’s functioning in this country.
    And that wasn’t the point made by the writer anyway.
    Now if pollution contributed to mental disorders and/or affected one’s ability to function, we might be able to gather some real interest amongst the population in solving the problem.
    Or, if in future generations we can expect to have even lower IQs due to pollution, then that is another reason this study may gain more interest and may contribute to finding a solution to both pollution and the “dulling” of America.

    • Thank you for your insightful comments. Our work is all in countries in the developing world, where toxic pollution is a much greater problem than in the United States. We are pointing out that endemic lead poisoning will lower IQ across the board by about 5 points. This results in a lower than expected average. This 5 point loss has a
      greater impact in those struggling already to function. Toxic pollution, for example mercury, also causes mood and mental changes such as irritability, shyness and memory problems. We agree that these negatively impact a person’s capacity to lead. We can all help by spreading the word and supporting causes that fight pollution. Learn more at

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