More than 90 percent of the world’s population breathes polluted air, with particulate matter concentrations above the World Health Organization (WHO) safety threshold. An increasing number of studies have shown that exposure to air pollution can affect brain development. A research team led by Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Canada has now explored the benefits of using air filters to reduce the negative impact of air pollution on brain development in children.
As of 2014, the scientists recruited 540 pregnant women in Ulaanbaattar, Mongolia (one of the worst air quality cities in the world) to participate in the Ulaanbaatar Gestation and Air Pollution Research (UGAAR) study. The women — who were randomly assigned to either a control or an intervention group — were less than 18 weeks pregnant, did not smoke, and had not used air-filtering equipment before. Those in the intervention group were given one or two HEPA filter air purifiers and encouraged to use them continuously throughout their pregnancy.
By measuring the full intelligent quotient (FSIQ) of children when they were four years old, the scientists found that those of mothers who had used the air purifiers had an average FSIQ that was 2.8 points higher than the children of mothers in the control group. .
“These results, combined with evidence from previous studies, strongly imply that air pollution poses a threat to brain development,” said senior author Ryan Allen, a professor of environmental health at SFU. “But the good news is that reducing exposure had clear benefits.”
Children whose mothers had used the air filters were also found to have significantly higher mean scores on the verbal comprehension index — a result consistent with previous observational studies. These findings suggest that children’s verbal skills may be particularly sensitive to exposure to air pollution. Thus, reducing pollution during pregnancy could be an efficient way to improve the cognitive development of children around the world.
“Air pollution is everywhere, and it prevents children from reaching their full potential. Air purifiers can provide some protection, but ultimately the only way to protect all children is to reduce emissions,” concluded Professor Allen.
The study is published in the journal Environmental health perspectives†
Through Andrei Ionescu† Earth.com Staff Writer