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We’ve all heard it before: air pollution is bad for the environment. Smog, which carries greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, travels up into the atmosphere and traps solar radiation. Global warming ensues, polar ice caps melt, and Mother Nature shakes her head in disapproval. Yet many of us seem to be indifferent. We reason that there just isn’t enough time in our days to concern ourselves with Earth–or we may not even feel obligated to reason at all. Let’s face it, we’re selfish creatures. Plain and simple.

 Air pollution in Shanghai

Image source: xPACIFICA

So let me start again.

Air pollution is bad for us. Though it has long been known to cause lung disease and other respiratory problems, a recent study has revealed that air pollution has the ability to cause even more damage to us. Exposure during fetal development to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which are produced by burning gasoline, diesel fuel, and home heating and incorporated in air pollution, has been found to cause childhood behavioral and cognitive deficits.

The study followed 40 pregnant women living in an urban community over a period of 7 to 9 years. Researchers measured the air pollution in the region and collected blood and urine samples from both the mothers and their newborns. While these samples confirmed a high presence of PAH, MRIs taken annually of the children’s brains indicated the correlation between high PAH concentrations with reduced development or inherent damage of the brain. The study found that increased prenatal PAH exposure was associated with a reduction in white brain matter in the left hemisphere.

White matter, considered to be the subway of the brain, connects different regions of the brain and allows for communication between regions. The study found that children exposed to PAH during fetal development had ADHD tendencies and processed information more slowly due to the damage or under-development of white matter. Damage to white matter in the left hemisphere, which serves as the logical side in the brain, thus caused the deficits apparent in the study’s subjects.

With this new-found information, the issue of air pollution should not be treated with complacency. Help to clean the air for yourself and your future offspring, if not for Mother Nature. She doesn’t have to know. It can be our little secret.

Feature Image Source: Air Pollution in Toronto by United Nations Photo

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