Air pollution now linked to development delays in children

New Delhi, April 14, 2019 :

Young children who live near a major roadway are at greater risk of developmental delays because of traffic-related pollutants, concluded a new study published in the journal Environmental Research. They were twice as likely to score lower on tests of communications skills, compared to those who live farther away from a major roadway.

An additional finding from the study was that the offspring of women who were exposed to high levels of ultra-fine airborne particles and ozone (traffic-related pollutants) during pregnancy were also at risk of developmental delays during infancy and early childhood.

Data from the Upstate KIDS Study was analyzed. The addresses of 5,825 study participants to a roadway data set were matched, calculating the distance of each address to the nearest major roadway. The home address, mother’s work address during pregnancy and address of the child’s day care location were matched to an Environmental Protection Agency data set to estimate the levels of air pollution.

Fine motor skills, large motor skills, communication, personal social functioning and problem-solving ability were evaluated for each child.

  • Compared to children living more than half a mile from a major roadway, children living from roughly 164 feet to .3 miles from a major roadway were twice as likely to have failed at least one screen of the communications domain.
  • Prenatal exposure to raised PM2.5 was also associated with a 1.6 to 2.7% higher risk of failing any developmental domain, while higher ozone exposure resulted in a .7 to 1.7% higher risk of failing a developmental domain.
  • Higher postnatal exposure to ozone was linked to a 3.3% higher risk of failing most domains of the developmental screen at 8 months, a 17.7% higher risk of overall screening failure at 24 months, and a 7.6% higher risk of overall screening failure at 30 months.

Exposure to pollution during pregnancy has been shown to be associated with low birthweight, preterm birth and stillbirth in earlier studies.

What this study has shown is that exposure to air pollutants during early childhood is associated with a higher risk for developmental delay, compared to similar exposures in the womb.

While the study has only demonstrated an association and not a causal relationship, these findings do bring out one more aspect of the harmful effects of air pollution and highlight the need to control the rising levels of air pollution.

The author of this article is Dr KK Aggarwal, Padma Shri Awardee

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