Even as the National Capital and adjoining regions are grappling smog and air pollution for over a month now, the issue has been raised at the highest international level as United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has taken a serious view of the situation.
Air pollution for long has been known to cause several ailments related to breathing and general health and according to the United Nations Children's Fund report titled ‘Danger In the Air’ air pollution can also permanently damage a child's brain.
The UNICEF report also states that South Asia has the largest proportion of babies living in areas where air pollution is at least six times higher than international limits (10 micrograms per cubic metre).
The report further says that around the world, 17 million babies under the age of one year live in heavily polluted areas due to which their immune systems are severely affected.
Of these 17 million babies, about 12.2 million live in South Asia while 4.3 million babies live in East Asia and the Pacific.
The particulate matters could trigger neuro-inflammation by damaging the blood-brain barrier, a membrane that protects the brain from toxic substances. Then, specific air pollutant particles such as magnetite can lead to oxidative stress which is often the cause of neurodegenerative diseases.
The report explains how the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in areas of high automobile traffic could result in loss of or damage to white matter in the brain.
Thus, it is not only the lungs which are most prone to the dangers of toxins and harmful pollutants the child's brain is equally affected.
Pollutants inhaled by pregnant women may pass through the placenta and disturb the development of the brain of the foetus.
The report finds a possible link between prenatal exposures and delayed development of an infant's brain, along with psychological and behavioural problems that may occur later in childhood.