Protecting Kids: Take Air Pollution Seriously!


A study published in Translational Neuroscience shows how air pollution affects the health of children.

The paper by Sam Brockmeyer from the Carleton University I Canada, examines the current state of research in this topic and comes to some startling conclusions. Air pollution is generally measured by exposure to seven dangerous substances including particulate mass (things floating in the air), and ozone. In the United States, 103 million people are exposed yearly to dangerous levels of particulate matter, while more than 123 million people a year are exposed to dangerous ozone levels.

The paper compares current air pollutant standards with experimental, clinical, epidemiologic and pathology studies on how air pollution affects children’s brains.

Air pollution has been linked to brain development problems, breathing problems (of course), but also to heart disease and nervous system diseases.

Children are especially vulnerable to air pollution due to their unique physiology: they breathe more than adults. The natural barriers in the body that protect them, such as the blood-brain barrier and the nasal, gut and lung linings develop as we grow older. Children, naturally, spend much more time outdoors, having more opportunities to be exposed to dangerous air.

The paper cites experimental studies where animals exposed to air pollution displayed neurological problems, RNA and DNA damages or even showed the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. These studies also demonstrate that mice exposed to pollutants in the womb have long lasting memory problems.

The air pollutants cause, among other things, problems with blood circulation which affects a child’s development. The brains of healthy children who died in accidents in Mexico City, were examined and the proteins responsible for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s were at a much higher level than children living in less polluted areas.

In another study mentioned in the paper, two groups of children with similar backgrounds were compared. One group lived in a higher pollution area, and the other in an area with less. The children with less exposure did better on cognitive tests. This effect has been observed in kids aged 2-14, in cities throughout North America, Europe and Asia.

The paper calls for more research to be done especially long lasting studies to show how pollution impacts cognitive, spatial and motor skills. We don’t also know, yet, how air pollution can be linked to birth defects in children born to individuals who were exposed to dangerous amounts.

Research, and intervention can go hand in hand. As the health risks of air pollution become better known and defined, this information can be spread to doctors and health care professionals and the public at large. This would also allow doctors to recommend the right treatments, and improve the quality of life for kids who live in such environments. This research is a powerful tool to show the public, and decision makers what unchecked air pollution can really do to future generations.


The paper can be accessed, for free on De Gruyter Online