Caution! Air Pollution affects Brain Development in Children
Posted on: March 18, 2015. Comments ( 1 )

Air pollution is that invisible yet very solid and very much alive killer which slowly poisons any living being that inhales polluted air and dust. This killer is ubiquitous majorly as residential and industrial construction dust, household dead skin (75-85% of total household dust is dead skin flakes), industrial exhaust, vehicular exhaust and—of lesser volume yet equally deadly—collective smoking. Agents that cause pollution are called “pollutants”.

As far as vehicular traffic-related air pollution—arguably, the most hazardous form of air pollution around the world—is concerned, the United States federal government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has grouped six common air pollutants under “criteria pollutants”—ground level ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, lead and particulate matter.

Epidemiological studies have revealed that a child’s brain and respiratory health and well-being are linked to clean breathable air. If the amount of air pollutants in toxic air increases and exceeds accepted toxic concentration levels, it can have detrimental effects on early- and middle-childhood stages of brain development.

Working memory and cognitive abilities in middle childhood is especially damaged by exposure to particulate matter (PM) in traffic-related air pollution, apart from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. In the United States alone—a country with a total population of nearly just 32 crore (against nearly 127 crore in India)—10.3 crore people are exposed to PM and 12.3 crore are exposed to ozone, both above accepted toxic concentration levels.

Two fractions of particulate matter—PM2.5 (diameter lesser than 2.5 microns) and ultrafine particulate matter or UFPM (diameter lesser than 100 nanometers)—specifically affects the child’s Central Nervous System (CNS) by the breakdown of what is called the blood-brain-barrier (BBB).

Other damages and risks associated with exposure to PM include:

  • Neuro-inflammation
  • Formation of free radicals and oxidative stress resulting in tissue damage
  • Dopamine-related neuronal damage
  • RNA and DNA damage
  • Early hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Parkinson’s disease (PD)

PM exposure is also linked with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). While ADHD is relatively more common, ASD is a serious neurobehavioral/neurodevelopmental childhood disorder that impairs speech, socializing or interacting with fellow human beings and forming relationships.

In children chronically exposed to high levels of vehicular pollution, the neurons—biological units of which the brain is made—of the medial superior olive (MSO) were found to be significantly affected. The MSO is a neuronal body that measures the time difference of arrival of sounds between the ears and has clear roles in localization of sound sources, encoding temporal features of sound and likely plays an important role in brainstem encoding of speech. The average adult human brain has 100 billion neurons and 1,000 trillion (a quadrillion) synaptic connections.

Asthma—the most common chronic childhood illness in developed countries (like India)—is linked to traffic-related air pollution. Furthermore, psychosocial stress is linked with air pollution-related onset of childhood asthma. Boys and girls are equally affected, likely because of longer daily outdoor activities.

Indoor air quality in schools is a major issue as the presence of mold, poor air quality, close proximity to major highways, and contaminated playgrounds can result in serious health problems.

Comments (1)


    Amruta Bhushan Kulkarni says:

    Unfortunately no one is thinking to plant more trees, this is the only way to survival.

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