Air pollution can cause brain damage in children

As more progress in research is made, new possible causes of several diseases, from tumors to mental illnesses, have emerged. It has always been known that air pollution is harmful to human health, but a recent study published in the Journal of Intellectual Disability Research by a research team at the University of Sydney has highlighted that children who are born and raised in polluted areas have a higher risk of brain damage. 

Several studies confirm the correlation between air pollution and mental disability 

The analysis is based on data gathered by the Millennium Cohort Study. According to the study, from a sample of 18,000 UK children born between 2000-2002, children with intellectual disabilities were 33% more likely to live in areas with high levels of diesel particulate matter, 30% more likely to live in areas with high levels of nitrogen dioxide, 30% more likely to live in areas with high levels of carbon monoxide and 17% more likely to live in areas with high levels of sulfur dioxide. Another study conducted in Sweden seems to support the hypothesis that there is a link between air pollution and brain damage in children. Umeà University examined the pollution exposure of more than 500,000 children under the age of 18 in Sweden and compared the results with medications that had been prescribed for mental illnesses. The results showed that the lower the levels of air pollution, especially traffic-induced air pollution, the lower the percentage of psychiatric disorders in children and adolescents. According to the same study, even low levels of pollution can cause brain damage. Sweden is the least polluted country in the world with PM10 levels equal to 16.6 mg/m3, half of those present in Italy. 

Traffic pollution is the most dangerous for children 

The mental health of children is jeopardized foremost by traffic pollution, as demonstrated by a study conducted by a research team at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. According to the data gathered, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), produced by vehicle emissions, heating systems and from burning wood and coal, increase the risk of developing attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and reduce the speed in which the brain processes information. Dr. Peterson, leader of the research team, explains that PAHs are even harmful to the brain of a fetus since they are able to travel through the mother and into the placenta. Peterson’s research team examined the correlation between fetal brain damage and PAH exposure in 40 children and their mothers, monitoring PAHs during pregnancy. An alarming correlation was found between prenatal PAH exposure and a reduction of left hemisphere white matter, which results in slower information processing speeds and the development of behavioral problems. Further studies on a larger scale must be carried out to more clearly define the connection between air pollution and brain damage in children. If these results are confirmed, important steps must be taken within the national health system given that PAHs are some of the most common and widespread air pollutants. Several disorders are caused by the environment. If we look towards the future and intervene now, we can limit the damage. 

© Domedica s.r.l.

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