Bengaluru's air affecting foetus, cognitive development

Bengaluru's air affecting foetus, cognitive development

Air pollution - prenatal exposure

By Kapil Kajal
As the increasing air pollution in Bengaluru threatens to disrupt the usual way of life, even foetuses are affected by air pollution. There is a rise in the number of cases where the cognitive development of the infants is impacted owing to rising air pollution, highlight experts.

Dr H Paramesh, a paediatric pulmonologist and a professor with the Divecha Center for Climate Change at the Indian Institute of Science, stated that automobile exhaust emissions increase the levels of atmospheric lead by around 86%, and that causes lead poisoning. 

He mentioned that during the course of testing blood samples of 863 children, which included 25 infants, it was found that there was a 4.6% increase in the presence of lead in blood. He added that the increase of lead in the blood was due to the prenatal exposure to air pollutants and it has shown a decrease in the cognitive abilities of the infant.

According to a report by the World Health Organization, “Mercury is characterised as a developmental neurotoxicant, indicating its potent effects on the developing brain in the foetus and young child. Exposure(s) to environmental contaminants during these critical periods of development may result in irreversible damage to the nervous system and other systems in which prolonged developmental processes are required such as the immune system and reproduction, behavioural and cognitive patterns, and motor skills.”

Dr Shashidhara Gangaiah, a paediatrician with the Center for Science Spirituality, stated that prenatal exposure to heavy metals like lead, zinc, mercury, arsenic and chromium can affect the baby’s growth in the womb on the genetic and epigenetic level. 

In Bengaluru, the industrial areas like Bidadi, Rajaji Nagar, Peenya, Nelamangla and Whitefield have a high concentration of heavy metals in the air. Dr Gangaiah added that the burning of garbage can also release toxic gases if the heavy metals are burnt. 

Infant mortality affected

Apart from impacting cognitive abilities, exposure to air pollution can cause deaths in infants as well. A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information has shown that a significant association between prenatal exposure to ambient air pollution and adverse birth outcomes, especially exposure to particulate matter (PM), sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, ozone and carbon monoxide. 

“There is strong evidence that exposure to ambient PM is associated with low birth weight. There is also growing evidence that maternal exposure, especially to fine PM, increases the risk of preterm birth. There is emerging evidence for associations between exposure to air pollution and other outcomes, such as stillbirth and infants born small for gestational age. Infant mortality, neurodevelopment, childhood obesity, lung function and ALRIs (Acute Lower Respiratory Infections) are also increasing due to air pollution,” the study added. 

According to a study by Dr Parmesh, over 77% of children below five years of age and over 26% of children below the age of one suffer from wheezing owing to prenatal exposure to particulate matter. 

Immature deaths are common in children who have inhaled particulate matter as they cause oxidative diseases, mentioned Gangaiah. The oxidative process releases stress on the body and since the lung capacity of adults is 120 times of children, blockages in the respiratory tubes of children are prevalent, he added. 

“The respiratory tube in children is extremely small, in adults, it is 20mm and in children, it is six to eight millimetres, if there is any air pollution, it blocks four millimetres of the tube in both adults and children, so it is extra congestion for the children. Children are more exposed to the vehicular emission because their height is small, where the emission from the different vehicles is more, and the ozone is also a bit more on the surface level. Owing to these reasons, children are at a higher risk,” Dr Gangaiah asserted.

An environmentalist Sandeep Anirudhan suggested that curbing pollution is crucial in preventing the prevalence of respiratory diseases. He mentioned that while improving different modes of public transport—suburban railway, Metro expansion, dedicated lanes for buses—private vehicles on the road should also decrease.

 

(Author is Mumbai - based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)