Medical

Millions of babies are breathing in toxic air, UNICEF report says

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UNICEF  UNI172848/Singh


Village Kuniya Mainpat Block Dist Surguja Chhattisgarh India. 2013

A young child's brain is vulnerable: by a smaller dosage of toxic chemicals, as compared to an adult's; as they breathe more rapidly; and because their physical defences and immunities are not fully developed.

The Unicef report also said that South Asia had the largest proportion of babies living in areas where air pollution is at least six times higher than worldwide limits (10 micrograms per cubic metre).

UNICEF has suggested that immediate action must be taken to reduce air pollution amid emerging evidence.

One study reports a four-point drop in IQ by the age of 5 among a sample of children exposed in utero to toxic air pollution, it said. Contamination above that limit could prove potentially harmful for children, with risks growing as exposure does.

The report notes that breathing in particulate air pollution can damage brain tissue and undermine cognitive development - with lifelong implications and setbacks.

Of these 17 million babies, about 12.2 million live in South Asia while 4.3 million babies live in East Asia and the Pacific.

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The links of pollution with asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory diseases in the long course are known for a long time.

It also urged public authorities to invest in cleaner, renewable energy, and to make it feasible for children to travel at times of day when pollution is lower, as well as to make sure major sources of pollution are not located near schools, clinics or hospitals.

The paper shows that air pollution, like inadequate nutrition and stimulation, and exposure to violence during the critical first 1,000 days of life, can affect the development of their growing brains. Though few places top six times the recommended pollution density, UNICEF reported in 2016 that overall 2 billion children breathed bad air.

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.

Rees said masks help "but very importantly they have to have good filters and they also have to fit children's faces well".

The European Environment Agency has found that polluted air kills half a million EU residents per year.

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