December 17, 2017

Air Pollution harms Infants’ Brains

Air Pollution harms Infants’ Brains

Newborns and young children are especially vulnerable to air pollution. Photo Credit: Pixabay

Pollution kills and debilitates. And of all forms of pollution, air pollution is perhaps the most insidious, for breathe air we must throughout our lives and if the air is polluted we have no choice but to breathe in all that invisible pollution along with the oxygen that we need to survive.

Being exposed to high levels of airborne pollutants has an adverse effect on our lives from cradle to the grave. Literally from the cradle. According to UNICEF, an agency of the United Nations, toxic smog in overpopulated metropolises with persistent miasmas of bad air can harm the developing brain of newborns and infants. In countries like India and China, where air pollution tends to be especially acute in certain cities, millions of infants are affected.

“Not only do pollutants harm babies’ developing lungs – they can permanently damage their developing brains – and, thus, their futures,” said UNICEF’s executive director Anthony Lake. “As more and more of the world urbanises, and without adequate protection and pollution reduction measures, more children will be at risk in the years to come,” he added.

A child tries to protect himself against air pollution. Photo Credit: News Nation

Scientists say that the ultrafine particles from vehicle exhaust fumes and industrial discharges can damage the fine membrane that protects the surface of the brain from toxins. This can cause Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s in older people, while in the young it can impair cognitive functions, harming verbal and non-verbal intelligence and reducing the memory of young children exposed to high levels on air pollutants on a constant basis. In addition, an estimated 1.7 million children die from air pollution-related causes, including childhood asthma and other respiratory ailments.

Should parents be worried in Malaysia? Certainly. Whereas levels of air pollution in Kuala Lumpur and other Malaysian cities are relatively low, as compared to cities like Beijing and New Delhi, they are often higher than what is deemed safe by experts. According to Nielsen, Malaysia has the third highest per capita rate of car ownership with around 93% of households owning at least one car. Then of course periodically vast clouds of toxic fumes from burning forests in Indonesia cover much of the country in a thick soup of airborne pollutants.

So what to do? You should keep children safe by closing doors and windows when pollution levels are high outdoors. You can install window mesh screens that can help filter out particles and pollens. And you take children regularly to city parks, leafy streets and trips in the countryside for breaths of fresh air.

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