50 years ago, air pollution was linked to more reports of animal bites

Excerpt from the March 31, 1973 issue of Science News

A sepia tone photo of someone walking their dog on the beach at sunset.

Air pollution has been linked to a higher risk of aggressive behavior in people and other animals, which may help explain why reports of dog bites rise on smoggy days.

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What pollution does to youScience News, March 31, 1973

Scientists described the results of their attempts to correlate pollution levels with various complaints of patients…. As expected, when smog increased, so did incidence of eye irritation, pulmonary disorders and nosebleeds…. Finally, for reasons not yet understood, more patients complained of animal bites on days when the air contained more suspended particulate matter.


The harms of air pollution go beyond irritated eyes, lungs and noses. Researchers have linked exposure to dirty air with an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, and dementia (SN: 9/19/17), and have found associations with violent behavior.

Air pollution appears to lead to more aggressive behavior in other animals too. For example, the risk of dogs biting people goes up on smoggy days, an analysis of nearly 70,000 U.S. cases found. More bites occurred with increasing ground-level ozone, which occurs when pollutants chemically react in sunlight (SN: 12/8/21), scientists reported in December on the preprint server Research Square. The dogs’ aggression may be due to a stress response or brain impacts from the ozone exposure, the researchers suggest.

Aimee Cunningham is the biomedical writer. She has a master’s degree in science journalism from New York University.

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