Air pollution affects millions, and the weakest are our weakest: children and the elderly. It is easy to see why the elderly suffer because their bodies can not repair as fast as those of the young. But why are children among the most vulnerable?
The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) explains:
The immune systems of young children are still developing and their lungs are still growing. With each breath, children take more air per unit of body weight than adults. By extension, when the air is toxic, they absorb more toxic air per unit of body weight than adults. In addition, the impacts have dominant effects on other critical aspects of children's lives. For example, when children get sick, they can lose school, further limiting their learning and development potential.
Now, a new Unicef study (pdf) shows that even if pollution does not kill, children under 1 year old are likely to suffer brain damage. It means that in the capital of New Delhi, congested by smog, More than 300,000 children born each year are at risk.
Air pollution can affect brain development in many ways. Pollution of particulate matter, created by the inefficient combustion of fossil fuels in cars and power plants, easily enters our bloodstream through our lungs. Worse still, part of it is so small that it can even cross the blood-brain barrier that protects the brain. There, these particles can slow the development of a young brain and are even known to cause neurodegenerative diseases in adults such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. It has been shown that other types of pollutants, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, affect the growth of white matter in the brain. White matter is crucial for neurons in the brain to communicate, and their loss can lead to learning difficulties.
And not only the Delhi babies breathe toxic air. More than 17 million children worldwide, including 12 million in Asia, live in regions affected by severe air pollution.
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