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Pollution harmful to babies ' brains

06 December 2017

Unicef said breathing particulate air pollution could damage brain tissue and undermine cognitive development.

The findings come at a time when India, particularly in the north, is facing a serious crisis due to rising levels of pollution. Excessive air pollution could put brain development at risk.

Almost 17 million babies under the age of one are living in places where air pollution is "at least six times higher" than global limits, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Though few places top six times the recommended pollution density, UNICEF reported in 2016 that overall 2 billion children breathed bad air.

Another 4.3 million babies in the East Asia and Pacific region live in areas with pollution levels at least six times higher than the worldwide recommendation.

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Any air pollution above the World Health Organization's recommended limit is potentially harmful for children, and risks grow as pollution worsens, UNICEF said.

The report highlighted links found between pollution and brain functions "including verbal and nonverbal IQ and memory, reduced test scores, grade point averages among school children, as well as other neurological behavioural problems".

Pollutants inhaled by pregnant women may pass through the placenta and disturb the development of the brain of the foetus.

"Air pollution affects millions of Indias children, but there are all practical solutions that can make a big difference", Westerbeek said. The variety of types of pollutants that are in the air across different environments make it hard to determine the full impact of air pollution.

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UNICEF urged more efforts to cut pollution, and also to reduce children's exposure to the poisonous smog which has frequently reached hazardous levels in Indian cities in recent weeks.

India tops the list of countries with the highest number of babies exposed, followed by China, says Unicef in a report entitled "Danger In The Air" made public Wednesday.

The united Nations is calling on governments to intensify the fight against pollution as well as to strengthen the protection of children, including through the use of facial masks and filtration systems of the air.

"A lot of focus goes on making sure children have good quality education - but also important is the development of the brain itself", Rees added.

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