Sandra Zaragoza

Major and Classification


Faculty Mentor

Genevieve Dunton, Ph.D.


Keck School of Medicine, Preventative Medicine

McNair Project

“Analyzing the Effects of Air Pollution on Cognition and Behavior on Elementary School Aged Children Residing in East Los Angeles”

Project Abstract

A growing body of research points to air pollution as being much more toxic and harmful to the brain than previously thought. Studies have linked chronic exposure to high levels of air pollution with accelerated cognitive decline, increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and increased risk for neurodevelopmental problems and lower IQ scores in children. Children remain among the most vulnerable population to air pollution, as they are still undergoing brain development. With Los Angeles continuously ranking among the worst cities in the United States in terms of air quality, it is clear that children living in this area are potentially being exposed to damaging levels of pollution. The purpose of this study was to develop and evaluate a comprehensive survey that measures possible effects of air pollution on cognition and behavior in children living in Los Angeles County using questions associated with risk factors identified in recent literature. A total of 22 parents with children between the ages of 6-12 years old residing in Boyle Heights or East Los Angeles were interviewed. Questions included proximity of child’s home and school from a busy road or freeway, time living at current address, diet, physical activity, tobacco exposure, behavior at home and at school, and respiratory health, as well as socioeconomic status, marital status and highest educational attainment of parents. Ninety-one percent of children (n=21) were reported to be living near a freeway or busy road and 91% of the children in the sample attended a school near a freeway or busy road. Among the study sample, it was clear that a large percentage of children were reported to have problems with attention and/or hyperactivity; however, the relationship between proximity to a freeway and attention and/or hyperactivity problems was not investigated. Future research should administer a cognition test to children in addition to this questionnaire to better gauge the association between air pollution and cognition.