With every breath, children take in more air per unit of body weight than adults. By extension, when air is toxic, they take in more toxic air per unit of body weight than adults.
‘Particulate matter pollution, created by the inefficient burning of fossil fuels in cars and power plants are sometimes small enough to cross the blood-brain barrier.’
A new study done by UNICEF shows that even if pollution doesn't kill, children under the age of one are likely to suffer brain damage. It means, in India's smog-choked capital of New Delhi, more than 300,000 children born each year are at risk.
How Does Air Pollution Affect the Brain?
Air pollution can affect brain development in many ways. Particulate matter pollution, created by the inefficient burning of fossil fuels in cars and power plants, easily enters our blood stream via our lungs.
Some of it is so small it can even cross the blood-brain barrier that protects the brain. There these particles can slow down the development of a young brain and are even known to cause neurodegenerative diseases in adults like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Other types of pollutants, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, have been shown to affect the growth of white matter in the brain. White matter is crucial for the brain's neurons to communicate, and its loss can lead to learning difficulties.
How Delhi's air got so toxic
Berkeley Earth, an independent research consortium has released a live map that indicates the rate of pollution in various regions.
The map shows airborne concentrations of particles with diameters of 2.5 microns or PM2.5. Diesel exhaust, natural dust, wildfire emit these particles which can lead to heart attacks, strokes, breathing difficulties, and cancer.
According to the US Embassy's measurements, air in New Delhi reached PM2.5 concentrations of more than 1,200 micrograms per cubic meter, 48 times the guideline value established by the World Health Organization
Consequences of Delhi's Air Pollution
- The Lancet Commission on pollution and health reported 9 million premature deaths stemming from air pollution in 2015. More than 2.5 million of these deaths were in India, the most in any single country.
- Hospitals reported a 20 percent surge in patients with pollution-related illnesses, and doctors have declared a public health emergency.
- Air pollutants inhaled during pregnancy can cross the placenta and affect the developing brain of a fetus, with potential lifelong effects.