Published: Wed, December 06, 2017
Health | By Jay Jacobs

Babies' brains at risk from toxic pollution

Babies' brains at risk from toxic pollution

The global limits relating to air pollution are set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

A Unicef report states that toxic air severely affects children's brain development and may cause a permanent damage to their brains.

The report comes at a time when north India, particularly Delhi and adjoining areas, battle high pollution levels with air quality swaying from "very poor" to "emergency" levels, restricting physical activity and forcing closure of schools.

Almost 17 million babies under the age of one are living in places where air pollution is "at least six times higher" than global limits, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

“Not only do pollutants harm babies' developing lungs – they can permanently damage their developing brains – and, thus, their futures, ” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.

The pollution " will impact the learning of the children, their memories, their language skills and motor", said to AFP Nicholas Rees, author of the report. Air pollution has known links to asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis and other respiratory infections.

Satellite imagery used to assess pollution levels around the world found that South Asian countries accounted for 12.2 million of the total number of affected children but that there is also a growing problem in African cities.

Pollutants inhaled by pregnant women may pass through the placenta and disturb the development of the brain of the foetus.

The report highlights the relationship between pollution and brain functions " like memory and verbal IQ and non-verbal, test results, lower scores among schoolchildren, as well as other neurological problems ". With 136 million children under the age of one globally, that equates to about one in eight worldwide.

The World Health Organization describes air pollution as a "major environmental risk to health". Though few places top six times the recommended pollution density, UNICEF reported in 2016 that overall 2 billion children breathed bad air.

The paper urges parents to take steps to reduce children's exposure to harmful chemicals, including from tobacco products and cooking stoves.

The air pollution level has been consistently 10 points above the safe zone.

Rees said masks help "but very importantly they have to have good filters and they also have to fit children's faces well".

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