A few years ago, a UNICEF paper, “Danger in the Air: How air pollution can affect brain development in young children,” laid out how air pollution could impact brain development by damaging developing brain tissue. It underscored the risks – and emphasized the negative consequences.
A group of new studies from various researchers around the world has recently been released. They all point to one thing: Air pollution is detrimental to children’s health.
Here’s some notable new research:
Four million children worldwide develop asthma as a result of breathing in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) air pollution. Researchers at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health published their findings in The Lancet Planetary Health. Using stats from 2010 through 2015, it estimated that 64 percent of new asthma cases are situated in urban locations. The key source of NO2 pollution is motor vehicle exhaust. 3 percent of annual pediatric asthma comes from NO2. The top five American cities which have the greatest amount of pediatric asthma linked to this type of air pollution are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Las Vegas. The United States came in third for asthma-related air pollution (behind China and India), with 236,000 cases per year.
- The 2019 State of Global Air (SOGA) report found that air pollution will shorten a child’s life expectancy by twenty months on average. Risks are worse for those children living in Africa and Asia. This comparison is to if there were no air pollution risks.
- Kings College London presented research that points to the first potential evidence between psychotic episodes in adolescents and air pollution. Their analysis was published in JAMA Psychiatry. They examined and correlated in-depth geographical air pollution data with samples of teens across the United Kingdom. The results showed that those with the highest exposure to NO2 and NOx (nitrogen oxides) combined, accounted for 60 percent of the links between urban living and adolescent psychotic episodes. Although not definitive as a causal component, it is now being looked at as a possible contributing factor.
- A study released by the John Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, published in Hypertension, looked at blood pressure and pregnancy. A top takeaway was if a pregnant mother were exposed to fine-particulate matter pollution, toxins “may also cross the placental barrier in pregnancy.” This in turn, could affect the growth of the fetus and add to a future threat for high blood pressure in the child. Fetuses exposed to the highest level of air pollution during the third trimester are 61 percent more likely to have an elevated blood pressure in childhood, compared to those exposed to the lowest level.
- Scientists at the University of Aberdeen used over ten years of global data to determine impacts upon fetal growth by mothers’ exposure to a range of factors from alcohol to air pollution. It concluded that exposure to nitrogen dioxides brought about “smaller fetal head size” and “reduced fetal growth,” especially if exposure occurred in the last three months of pregnancy.” Ultrasounds were used to determine fetal measurements.
- A Rutgers study published in Cardiovascular Toxicology determined that “early in the first trimester and late in the third trimester” were critical “windows” during which pollutants most impact the mother’s and fetus’ cardiovascular systems. It advised that women not to go outside during “high-smog” alerts, and to monitor their indoor air quality.
- A study in Southwest Ontario by a team at the Lawson Health Research Institute turned up a strong association between exposure to sulfur dioxides (SO2) during pregnancy and unfavorable birth outcomes. It showed that women were 30 percent more likely to have a low birth weight baby and 20 percent more likely to deliver preterm if they experienced a “high exposure to sulfur dioxide,” compared to those with a typically low exposure. Most of the woman lived in areas with a dense grouping of smelters and industrial plants.
And now for the good news!!
A just-released USC study, followed the health trajectories of kids from the polluted areas of Southern California for two decades, and found that a reduction in air pollution has meant a fall in asthma rates. One of the study’s contributing authors, Kiros Berhane, stated: “This is very likely a direct result of the science-based environmental policies that have been put in place.”
Let’s make sure our elected officials are made aware of the facts.