When people talk about the dangers of pollution, they often worry about future generations – our children’s children – that will have to deal with the dirty air we are currently creating. While that’s a valid concern, the damage that pollution inflicts on children is actually more immediate. Already, there are plenty of kids in the world suffering from the existing levels of pollution. Here are a handful of ways – backed by scientific studies – that kids are especially harmed by exposure to pollutants:
1. Weakening Lungs
In China, where air pollution is notoriously out of control, the harmful effects are becoming increasingly clear. A study by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University examined young students who walk to and from school in areas with high levels of air pollution. It turns out that a short trip outside is enough to take a toll on the kids’ lungs.
Though young bodies are often thought of as “resilient,” the truth is that they’re more susceptible to environmental factors. As a result, kids in these areas had measurably weaker lungs than those who live in less polluted areas. Unfortunately, the solution is not as easy as not allowing kids to walk to school. Subsequent investigation found that kids who ride the bus wind up being exposed to even more pollution.
2. Enabling Debilitating Muscular Disease
According to a study in Brazil, kids who were exposed to high levels of air pollution during their third trimester were 12 times more likely to have juvenile dermatomyositis, a disease which inflames and weakens muscles throughout the body, as well as irritates the skin.
Though scientists still believe that dermatomyositis is influenced largely by genes, they blame “environmental triggers” like pollution for pushing the disease to manifest in children. In addition to typical air pollution, researchers identified contact with cigarette smoke as another leading contributing factor.
3. Boosting Asthma
While scientists have long noticed a correlation between kids with asthma and those who are exposed to air pollution, a team at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine found an even more telling link of kids who face pollution both inside and outside of their homes. Evidently, a combination of exposure to traffic pollution and indoor pollutants puts kids at extra risk of developing asthma.
Researchers noted that 36 percent of young kids who lived in environments where both types of pollutants were present showed early signs of asthma. On the other hand, only 11 percent of kids with limited pollution exposure had similar asthmatic wheezing.
4. Decreasing Intelligence
Kids don’t just suffer physically from pollution – the mental repercussions can be just as harsh. Looking at local kids who lived in areas where pollution is the worst, researchers at NYU noticed decreased brain functionality. Babies exposed to this amount of pollution in the womb demonstrated developmental delays as toddlers and significantly lower IQ scores by the age of 5.
The researchers then took their findings a step further by calculating how these kids’ lower intellectual capabilities would hinder them later in life. They estimated that if NYC were able to cut its pollution by even 25 percent, all of the tens of thousands of kids impacted would make $215 million more in their lifetimes due to better jobs and opportunities.