Exposure to air pollution on the way to school can have damaging effects on growth of children’s working memory, according to a new study. Air pollution harm children more due to their small lung size.
The study aimed to evaluate the impact of air pollution exposure during the home-to-school walking commute. The study has revealed that air pollution exposure on home-to-school routes can have harmful effects on cognitive development in children.
The findings of an earlier study had shown that 20 percent of a child’s daily dose of black carbon, a pollutant directly associated with traffic, is inhaled during urban commutes.
“The results of earlier toxicological and experimental studies have shown that these short exposures to very high concentrations of pollutants can have a disproportionately high impact on health” said first author of the study Mar Alvarez-Pedrerol, researcher at Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) in Spain.
“The detrimental effects may be particularly marked in children because of their smaller lung capacity and higher respiratory rate,” she added. The study was carried out in Barcelona and enrolled over 1,200 children aged from 7 to 10, from 39 schools, all of whom walked to school on a daily basis.
The child’s working memory and attention capacity were assessed several times during the 12-month study. Their exposure to air pollution over the same period was calculated on the basis of estimated levels on the shortest walking route to their school.
The study found an association between a reduction in working memory and exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5), fine inhalable particles that have diameters of 2.5 micrometers or less and black carbon, during the walking commute to and from school.
“The fact that children who walk to school may be more exposed to pollution does not mean that children who commute by car or on public transport are not also exposed to high levels,” said Jordi Sunyer, head of ISGlobal’s Child Health Programme and co-author of the study.
According to Álvarez-Pedrerol, reduction in private vehicle use for the school run will create safer and less polluted home-to-school routes. The study was published in the journal Environmental Pollution.