Chronic air pollution is more than just a nuisance. It is an acute health hazard.
Chronic air pollution is more than just a nuisance. It is an acute health hazard and the more we learn about its insidious effects on our bodies, the worse the picture gets.
Adding to the already large corpus on research about medical conditions airborne pollutants can cause or worsen from pulmonary ailments to mental ones, scientists have found that neurotoxic particles in polluted air can impact the nervous system, especially in children, including unborn ones.
Children living in urban areas with high levels of air pollution are more prone to develop cognitive disorders, which has been linked to their long-term exposure to neurotoxicants found in exhaust fumes and other traffic-related pollution.
Importantly, both the verbal and nonverbal mental abilities of children exposed to these toxins in the air are affected as a result. Alarmingly, even unborn children who are exposed to these chemicals in utero are at risk of developing mental disorders such as autism, the scientists say.
The findings of this research are in line with earlier findings that indicate that air pollution is responsible for worsening a whole host of mental conditions from learning disabilities in children to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in adults.
Meanwhile, researchers in Singapore have found that tiny airborne pollutants known as PM2.5 can trigger cardiac arrests, adding to the already robust evidence base on the harmful effects of air pollution on cardiovascular health.
During a period lasting nearly a decade between 2010 and 2018 the scientists tracked pollution levels in Singapore and compared them with over 18,000 reported cases of cardiac arrests that took place outside hospital settings. They found that nearly 500 of these cases of cardiac arrests, which often lead to death, could be attributed to increases in PM2.5 concentrations.
The average concentration of PM2.5 particles during the study period was 18.44 micrograms per cubic metre and a decrease of just 1 microgram resulted in an 8% reduction in the number of reported cardiac arrests whereas a decrease of 3 micrograms resulted in a 30% reduction, according to the scientists.
This means that even these relatively small reductions in airborne pollutants can lead to 39 and 149 fewer cardiac arrests, respectively, which highlights the need for drastic measures to reduce pollution and save lives.
“These results make it clear that efforts to reduce the levels of air pollution particles in the 2.5 micrograms or lower range, and steps to protect against exposure to these particles, could play a part in reducing sudden cardiac arrests,” stresses Joel Aik, an adjunct assistant professor at Duke-NUS’ Pre-Hospital & Emergency Research Centre (PERC) who led the research.
Worldwide, around 2.5 billion people, or 86% of those who live in cities, suffer from varying degrees of air pollution, which puts them at risk of various diseases and ailments, experts say.