Exposure to Pollution Affects Brain Development


In 2016, the University of Colorado Boulder conducted a study that showed how air pollution at higher levels can negatively impact toddlers whose mothers were exposed to dirty air during their pregnancy. Evidence indicated low scores on language skills, motor coordination, and cognition abilities.

The research, which was published in the Environmental Health journal last January, studied Latino mother-and-child pairs. It is the first study to focus on the link between infants’ brain development and prenatal air pollution. The mid to late pregnancy phase is an important period and whatever happens during the said stage can have lasting effects on children – from infancy to childhood, particularly on their health.

During the study, researchers followed 161 pairs of healthy mothers and infants who lived in Southern California and were part of the Mother’s Milk Study focused on the health of infants. They took down relevant information, including their detailed histories. 

Next, the researchers used the Air Quality System of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to collect data provided by monitoring stations located throughout the country. This was used to compute the amount of exposure mothers have during the middle and late phases of their pregnancy, particularly to wildfire smoke, industry, and roadside traffic. 

At two years old, the children went through several neurodevelopmental tests that allowed the researchers to analyse language, motor, and cognitive skills. 

Keeping in mind the mothers’ socioeconomic status and weight, the breastfeeding frequency, the baby’s weight at birth, and when the baby came out (early or late), researchers discovered that two-year-olds who were exposed to air pollutants prenatally, specifically particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), had lower cognitive tests results.  As such, approximately 16% of the respondents showed composite cognitive scores that were equivalent to a certain degree of impairment. If all respondents were exposed to the same amount of particle pollution, cognitive impairment prevalence at the age of two would be around 22%.

Zach Morgan, the study’s first author and an integrative physiology graduate, said that it is important to determine when the exposure possibly happened. According to Zach, brain development is different for every pregnancy stage.

Additional research has to be conducted to determine and understand how pollution exactly how toxic air negatively impacts the human brain.

Since the study was focused on mothers with Latino babies, a separate study can determine the effects of air pollution on the general population.

Road transport emissions

Particulate matter is emitted from road transport or vehicles. Diesel vehicles are particularly dangerous, especially since they emit nitrogen oxide or NOx.

NOx has nitric oxide or NO and NO2 or nitrogen dioxide. When it reacts with other elements, NOx forms acid rain, smog, and ground-level ozone, a pollutant that is responsible for weakening and damaging vegetation. 

NOx emissions also trigger depression, anxiety, and other mental health-related issues. Additionally, if a person regularly breathes in NOx, their cognitive skills weaken and they can develop dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease.

Exposure to NOx emissions can result in life-changing health impacts, the most common of which are: asthma, respiratory diseases such as bronchitis and emphysema, pulmonary oedema, and chronic lung function reduction.

Serious impacts include cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and premature death. Hundreds of thousands of early deaths due to air pollution are recorded every year. The first case of this kind was recorded in the UK after Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah died following a severe bout of asthma. She walked to school every day in the South Circular Road area, one of London’s most polluted places.

Ella’s case prompted the UK government to come up with stricter air pollution regulations. 

Dieselgate emissions

Emissions have been around for years but became quite popular after the Dieselgate diesel emissions scandal first broke out in 2015.

In September 2015, the Volkswagen Group received a Notice of Violation for their alleged use of illegal defeat devices in their diesel vehicles. The US Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board found the devices in hundreds of thousands of Audi and Volkswagen vehicles sold in the American market. 

VW ended up recalling the affected vehicles from their consumers in the US. The carmaker also had to pay fines, fees, and compensation. VW has spent billions on the payoffs that they continue to pay nowadays.

A defeat device is illegal because it manipulates emissions testing. It senses when a vehicle is in testing and when this happens, it immediately brings down emissions levels to within the limits of the World Health Organization (WHO). As such, in testing conditions, the vehicle is environment-friendly and emissions-compliant.

However, when the vehicle is driven on real roads, it starts to emit unlawful volumes of NOx. So, in reality, VW sold high-polluting vehicles and they did not tell their customers about it. Instead, they mis-sold the vehicles as emissions-compliant. 

Volkswagen is not the only carmaker involved in the diesel emissions scandal; many other manufacturers are allegedly involved in it as well: Mercedes-Benz, Vauxhall, and BMW.

The best way to hold these carmakers responsible for their illegal actions is to bring them to court through a diesel claim.

Why file my diesel claim?

Filing a diesel claim will allow you to receive compensation for the inconveniences your carmaker subjected you to. First off, though, you’ll have to verify your eligibility to file a claim through ClaimExperts.co.uk. You can get all the information you need from them before starting your claim.