Air pollution poses major health risks to very young brains

Seattle, Washington - Air pollution does more than make sunsets better for your glowing selfies. There's also a strong link between the gunk we put in the environment and our brains.

Exhaust from industry and cars contribute to damaging air pollution. Thanks, traffic.
Exhaust from industry and cars contribute to damaging air pollution. Thanks, traffic.  © Unsplash/Alan Carrillo

New research from the University of Washington, seen by Inside Climate News, draws a damaging connection between the amount of air pollution toddlers inhale and their brain development.

The UW researchers found that if unborn babies and toddlers between the ages of two and four were exposed to more air pollution, they were more likely to develop behavior problems and have lower IQ scores.

The revelation comes after years of scientific understanding that air pollution leads to worse asthma and other respiratory problems in children, and follows another study showing how industrial and car exhaust increase the likelihood of kids having behavioral problems.

Since kids are so short, and tend to breathe faster than adults, they are actually inhaling more pollutants than taller, older people around them.

Yu Ni, a UW epidemiologist and the newer study’s lead author, said, "Air pollutants are something that everybody is exposed to every day of our lives. It is cumulative, and it is indoor and outdoor. You just cannot avoid it at all."

Unfortunately, the studies show children in lower-income families are exposed to the most air pollution, but Ni is hopeful for changes to air quality. She pointed to the Clean Air Act, which has helped draw down air pollution, and acts as a baseline for more improvements.

Solving the root cause of damaging particles in our air would also be a boon for the fight against climate change, since doing so would drop greenhouse gas emissions at the same time.

Cover photo: Unsplash/Alan Carrillo

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