Around 17 million babies globally stay in areas where outdoor air pollution is about six times the recommended limits and that their brain development is at risk, says the United Nations Agency for Children (UNICEF). A majority of the babies, over 12 million, are living in South Asia, UNICEF said. The UN Agency conducted a study of children under the age of one year by using satellite imagery in order to identify the worst affected areas and how toxic air pollution affects children, particularly infants.

“Not only do pollutants harm babies’ developing lungs, they can permanently damage their developing brains, thus, their futures,” says Anthony Lake, UNICEF executive director. Air quality lower than the recommended limit by the World Health Organization is potentially hazardous for kids, and risks increase as air pollution worsens, the UNICEF says. Air pollution leads to several respiratory ailments and diseases such as pneumonia, asthma, bronchitis and others.

Scientific research is trying to find links between air toxicity and brain development, but it is not yet conclusive. However, there increasing evidence that it is ‘definitely a reason for concern,’ Nicholas Rees, the author of the UNICEF report says. He added that brain development in the first 1000 days of an infant’s life is critical for learning, growth and for them to be “able to do everything that they want and aspire to in life.

“A lot of focus goes on making sure children have good quality education, but also important is the development of the brain itself,” he added.

Massive air pollution in India kills millions of people every year: The Lancet

India has been facing environmental issues, particularly Delhi. Air quality index has dipped and stayed low for the last month. There is a medical emergency in NCR, national capital region. Delhi Smog is akin to smoking 50 cigarettes. Particulate matter (PM) is unacceptably high; the number of people fighting respiratory diseases rose by three times or roughly 300%, leading to bronchitis and asthma. The Supreme Court intervened, calling the situation life threatening.

Delhi has the distinction of being the most polluted city in the whole world. Toxic air reigns supreme. Air pollution kills millions of people every year in India, says the journal The Lancet. In fact, the Supreme Court banned the sale of firecrackers in Delhi to combat low air quality index.

Toxic air: How pollution affects brain development

Breathing particulate air pollution damages brain tissue as well as undermines their cognitive development. This can have lifelong implications as well as disadvantages.
• Ultrafine particles are very small and can enter the blood, travel to the brain and can damage the blood-brain barrier. This can cause neuro inflammation.
• Some pollutants and particles, like ultrafine magnetite, can get inside the body through olfactory nerve as well as the gut. This can create oxidative stress, also known to cause neuro degenerative disease.
• Other pollution particles, like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, damage areas of the brain which are critical to help neurons communicate, which are, in turn, the foundation stone for children’s development and learning.
• An infant’s brain is particularly vulnerable as it can get damaged by a small dose of toxic chemicals, as compared to an adult human being’s brain. Children are vulnerable to air pollution as they breathe rapidly and their immunity is not fully developed.

The UNICEF study also lays out steps to cut the impact of air pollution on children’s brains, including urgent steps parents may consider in order to reduce children’s exposure inside homes to toxic fumes that is produced by tobacco, cooking stoves as well as fires for heating.