Air pollution, smog may permanently damage children's brain, warns UNICEF report

An Indian child throws materials into the polluted Yamuna river in New Delhi India

An Indian child throws materials into the polluted Yamuna river in New Delhi India

Babies are also more susceptible to the effects of air pollution because they breathe more rapidly and their immune defenses are not fully developed. A further four million are at risk in East Asia and the Pacific.

Air pollution is closely associated with asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis and other respiratory infections, it said.

"Not only do pollutants harm babies' developing lungs - they can permanently damage their developing brains - and, thus, their futures", UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in a press release.

The report finds a possible link between prenatal exposures and delayed development of an infant's brain, along with psychological and behavioural problems that may occur later in childhood. The variety of types of pollutants that are in the air across different environments make it hard to determine the full impact of air pollution.

The fine particles of urban pollution can damage the blood-brain barrier, the membrane that protects the brain from toxic substances, exacerbating the risk of Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease in the elderly.

UNICEF also highlighted the growing risk from minute particles of the iron ore magnetite which is increasingly found in urban pollution.

The pollution " will impact the learning of the children, their memories, their language skills and motor", said to AFP Nicholas Rees, author of the report.

The nanoparticles, which easily get into the blood stream, are highly risky to the brain due to their magnetic charge and have also been linked to degenerative diseases.

In China, where air pollution has cut life expectancy in the industrial north by three years, the government has imposed production curbs on industry to counter a smog crisis that rivals India's - but progress has been patchy.

The first and foremost step that each one of us should take is towards reducing air pollution as much as possible.

The air pollution level has been consistently 10 points above the safe zone.

"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. "A mask that does not fit the face well won't work".

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