Babies' brains damaged by pollution, Unicef says

Air Pollution May Permanently Damage Your Child's Brain says UNICEF

UNICEF report says that air pollution can permanently damage a child's brain: All about it and solutions to combat air pollution

Nearly 17 million babies across the world are breathing toxic air, which could be damaging the development of their brains, a report released by UNICEF on Wednesday claims.

The majority of these babies - more than 12 million - are in South Asia, it said, in a study of children under one-year-old, using satellite imagery to identify worst-affected regions.

Satellite imagery reveals that South Asia has the largest proportion of babies under the age of one living in the worst-affected areas, with 12.2 million babies residing where outdoor air pollution exceeds six times worldwide limits set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Its report, "Danger in the air: How air pollution can affect brain development in young children", states that breathing in particulate air pollution can both undermine cognitive development and damage brain tissue. "It also benefits their societies - realized in reduced health care costs, increased productivity and a safer, cleaner environment for everyone", he stressed.

Air pollutants inhaled during pregnancy can affect the developing brain of a foetus, with potential lifelong effects, says the report. Some particles, such as ultra-fine magnetite, can also enter through the olfactory nerve and the gut and can disrupt how the body metabolizes oxygen, which has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases.

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The report explains how the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in areas of high automobile traffic could result in loss of or damage to white matter in the brain.

California was found to have the most polluted air in the country, with Los Angeles ranking highest for ozone pollution and Visalia the top city for year-round particle pollution.

It further recommends improving children's overall health to bolster their resilience, and promotes exclusive breastfeeding and good nutrition.

The paper urges parents to take steps to reduce children's exposure to harmful chemicals, including from tobacco products and cooking stoves.

The author of the "Danger In The Air" report, Nicholas Rees, told AFP that toxic pollution is "impacting children's learning, their memories, linguistic and motor skills".

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