TENDR: Air Pollution Profile

What is air pollution?

Most air pollution is the result of burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, natural gas, and gasoline to produce electricity and power cars, buses and trucks. Wood and other materials burned for cooking or heating also emit air pollutants. Combustion-related air pollutants can include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter (a mixture of small solid particles and liquid droplets), and many other toxic chemicals including formaldehyde and benzene. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that two million worldwide people die prematurely from exposure to air pollution every year.

What are the main ways that air pollution gets into people’s bodies, including pregnant women and children?

Living near a major air pollution source, such as a coal-burning power plant or a busy highway, increases people’s risk of exposure to air pollution. Cook stoves that use wood and other biomass, such as animal dung, can also be a significant source of exposure. Because children breathe more air pound per pound than adults and their biological systems are still developing, they are more vulnerable to the health impacts of air pollution. When women are exposed during pregnancy, air pollutants can cross the placenta and impact their babies’ health and development.

What are the effects of air pollution on children’s brain development?

Prenatal and early childhood exposure to certain air pollutants is associated with developmental delays, reduced IQ, symptoms of anxiety, depression and inattention. Some emerging evidence suggests that prenatal exposure to traffic-related air pollutants may be risk factors for autism spectrum disorder. Research has linked air pollution with preterm birth and low birth weight, which are known risk factors for an array of neurodevelopmental disorders in children.  Exposure to air pollution in early life may affect brain function across the lifespan.