Air pollution can damage children’s brains: Unicef report

Satellite imagery shows South Asia has the largest proportion of babies at risk: Unicef report

GN Bureau | December 6, 2017


#environment   #South Asia   #health   #children   #brain   #air pollution   #Unicef  



Air pollution potentially affects children’s brains, according to a new Unicef report which also points out that the majority of children at risk are in South Asia.

The Unicef analysis focusing on very young children under the age of one has found that nearly 17 million babies live in areas where outdoor air pollution is at least six times higher than international limits – potentially putting their brain development at risk simply because of the air they breathe. The vast majority of these babies – over 12 million – are in South Asia.

Many of these children are already among the most disadvantaged. Children growing up in urban slums are already at great risk of multiple environmental threats – from lack of clean water and sanitation to risk of infectious disease. Adding high levels of air pollution compounds the risks these children face.

The report, titled ‘Danger in the Air: How air pollution can affect brain development in young children’, notes that breathing in particulate air pollution can damage brain tissue and undermine cognitive development – with lifelong implications and setbacks.

Air pollution potentially affects children’s brains through several mechanisms. First, particulate matter can cause neuro-inflammation by damaging the blood-brain barrier – a thin, delicate membrane that protects the brain from toxic substances. Ultrafine pollution particles (particulate matter that is equal or less than 2.5 microns in diameter) pose an especially high risk because they can more easily enter the blood stream and travel through the body to the brain. In older people, the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier has been strongly linked with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. The dosage of toxic chemicals required to damage the growing brain in the first stages of life is much lower than that which would cause damage to an adult brain.

Second, specific air pollution particles, such as magnetite, are so small that they can enter the body through the olfactory nerve and the gut. Magnetite is very common in urban outdoor air pollution, and a recent study found that it was considerably more present in brains of people living in areas where urban air pollution is high. Magnetite nanoparticles are highly toxic to the brain due to their magnetic charge and their ability to help create oxidative stress – which is often the cause of neurodegenerative diseases.
 
Third, several studies also show that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a specific class of pollutants formed from fossil fuel combustion and commonly found in areas of high automobile traffic, contribute to a loss of or damage to white matter in the brain. White matter contains nerve fibres that are critical in helping neurons communicate across different parts of the brain. As children grow and experience the world around them, well-functioning neural connections provide the foundation for continued learning and development.

“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.  “Protecting children from air pollution not only benefits children. It is also benefits their societies – realized in reduced health care costs, increased productivity and a safer, cleaner environment for everyone.”

Satellite imagery reveals that South Asia has the largest proportion of babies living in the worst-affected areas, with 12.2 million babies residing where outdoor air pollution exceeds six times international limits set by the World Health Organization. The East Asia and Pacific region is home to some 4.3 million babies living in areas that exceed six times the limit.

The paper shows that air pollution, like inadequate nutrition and stimulation, and exposure to violence during the critical first 1,000 days of life, can impact children’s early childhood development by affecting their growing brains.
 

Comments

 

Other News

On a personal note: DIVINE

An underground rapper who grew up on Mumbai streets, Divine spins his music around his environment and poverty. His breakout single, ‘Meri Gully Mein’, along with fellow rapper Naezy caught Bollywood’s attention. The Hindi film ‘Gully Boy’ is inspired by their lives and gr

The role model for an IAS officer

Anil Swarup, an IAS officer of Uttar Pradesh cadre who retired in 2018, is a model bureaucrat who retained his optimism right till the end of service and exemplified dedication and commitment. His excitement at the opportunities that a job in the IAS provided is evident on every page of his new book publis

Reform of the civil services: At home and away

The question of reform of the civil services has been debated extensively at all levels at least over the last five to six decades after independence. Indeed, it was soon perceived that the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) may not be well equipped to deal with the problems of an emerging developing coun

The greatest challenge for any government

Shouting vengeance at all and sundry while wriggling out of holes of our own making seems to be our very special national characteristic. Some recent instances are illustrative of this attribute. A number of business tycoons with thousands of crores of unresolved debts have fled abroad with the government

The mysterious case of CBI’s legality

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) came into existence, based on a Resolution of the home ministry, dated April 1, 1963 – a sheer coincidence that it also happens to be April Fool’s day. Over the past few months, we have seen the CBI live up to its founding day with great zeal, being i

The Evolution of Modi

Gujarat was passing through a turbulent phase in the 1980s. The decade began middle class agitations against new reservation policies, and the caste friction turned communal under the watch of chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki, alienating majority of urban population on both counts. The ground was ripe for

Current Issue

Current Issue

Video

CM Nitish’s convoy attacked in Buxar

Opinion

Facebook    Twitter    Google Plus    Linkedin    Subscribe Newsletter

Twitter