The effect of exposure to nitrogen dioxide, a gas present mostly in diesel fumes, on ones wellbeing could be compared with the distress from losing a job, the end of a relationship or the death of a partner, according to research.
According to the study, a ''significant and negative association'' existed between life satisfaction and levels of the pollutant, which causes lung problems. These effects were ''substantive and comparable to that of many 'big-hitting' life events,'' according to the researchers behind Can Clean Air Make You Happy?
Sarah J Knight and Peter Howley of York University gathered life satisfaction data from the British Household Panel Survey and UK Household Longitudinal Survey and compared it with detailed air quality records from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
In view of the fact that far more people were exposed to nitrogen dioxide than suffered unemployment or end a relationship, Knight and Howley suggest that the benefits to society from cutting such emissions would be substantive.
The Press Association reported that the researchers wrote: ''Our results suggest a significant and negative association between mean annual ambient NO2 and life satisfaction, and moreover that these effects are substantive and comparable to that of many 'big hitting' life events.''
The paper says: ''We find that NO2 is significantly related with subjective wellbeing, albeit much smaller in magnitude than previous estimates after controlling for a variety of important spatial controls.
''That being said, the effect size is substantive and comparable to that of many other widely studied determinants of subjective wellbeing.
''For example, our standardised coefficients suggest that the effect of NO2 on life satisfaction is equivalent to approximately half that of unemployment, and equivalent to that of marital separation and widowhood, factors commonly associated with some of the largest wellbeing reductions in the literature to date.''
''Given that the effect of NO2 is, to some extent, experienced by everyone (ie not everyone is unemployed but everyone is subject to a certain level of NO2 exposure) this suggests that the welfare gains to society from reductions in exposure to NO2 can be substantive.''