Neighborhoods downwind from tailpipe exhaust or industrial activity are more likely to experience higher rates of violent crime like homicide, rape, or assault, argue a team of researchers from the Harvard University Center for the Environment and the University of California–Davis in a new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The researchers found that crime was often driven by the presence of nitrous oxides, a group of chemical compounds and air pollutants emitted primarily by cars, industrial power plant boilers, iron and steel mills, and petroleum refineries. When particulate matter containing pollutants like ozone reaches the brain, these pollutants can interact with the body’s brain chemistry directly by reacting with the body to create toxins that affect the central nervous system. Psychologically speaking, air pollution can also trigger pain and discomfort, which can in turn lead to aggressive behavior.

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