“Any environmental toxin that is present in the mother’s body
or that the mother may be exposed to during pregnancy
can travel through her placenta directly into the developing baby.”
– Dr. Murray Clarke, ND., D.Hom., L.Ac.
How The Unborn And Young Children Are Affected
The World Health Organization (WHO) shows that billions of people are now being exposed to dangerous air with pollution increasing at an alarming rate of 8% in five years globally.
And, a major new study released yesterday in The Lancet medical journal reveals just how devastating environmental pollution has become: “Environmental pollution — from filthy air to contaminated water — is killing more people every year than all war and violence in the world. More than smoking, hunger or natural disasters. More than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. One out of every six premature deaths in the world in 2015 — about 9 million — could be attributed to disease from toxic exposure.”
The health impacts from air pollution are well-documented and are known to have negative effects on the brain, immune system, hormonal system and, in particular, the growth and development of the fetus.
UCLA’s Beate Ritz, M.D., Ph.D. research study found that an increase in traffic pollutant exposures is also related to an increase in asthmatic wheeze, impaired lung function and respiratory illnesses such as chronic coughs and bronchitis. For asthmatic children under age 6, their chance of emergency room visits and hospitalizations for asthma tripled.
There is also ample evidence that exposure to and accumulation of toxins during pregnancy affect the health, development and intelligence of a child.
For a landmark study in New York, mothers wore personal air monitors during pregnancy to measure their exposure to urban air pollutants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Conclusive data showed that the children of mothers exposed to pollution before birth scored on average four to five IQ points lower than those with less exposure. (Pediatrics, August 2009).
Better Air Quality Changes Everything
Dr. Jim Zhang, professor of global environmental health at Duke University, has measured the effect that temporary reductions in air pollution levels have on cardiovascular and respiratory health indicators in young healthy people. When these interventions to reduce air pollution took place, all those indicators significantly improved.
“Women whose pregnancy was during those eight weeks of improved air quality got babies with a significantly higher birth weight, and we have a large database to show that in general if your birth weight is higher, your later life is healthier.”
Impact On Health And Life
To give you some perspective of the scope of the health impacts pollution brings with it: “Even the conservative estimate of 9 million pollution-related deaths is one-and-a-half times higher than the number of people killed by smoking, three times the number killed by AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined, more than six times the number killed in road accidents, and 15 times the number killed in war or other forms of violence, according to GBD (The Global Burden of Disease) data.
According to the EPA, “short- and/or long-term exposure to air pollution has been associated with a wide range of human health effects including for heart or lung .”
In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) found sufficient evidence to conclude that outdoor air pollution and the particulate matter it contains is carcinogenic to humans.
In addition, the IARC study revealed that continued exposures are “associated with increases in genetic damage that have been shown to be predictive of cancer in humans.”
Strikingly, the report acknowledged that while the “composition of air pollution and levels of exposure can vary dramatically between locations, the … [study’s] conclusions apply to all regions of the world.”
The Most Hazardous Pollution: Particulate Matter 2.5
Fine particles in the air that are 2.5 micrometers in diameter or less are known as particulate matter 2.5 or PM2.5. These particles are of great concern as they can penetrate the lungs and even enter the bloodstream. PM2.5 particles are also very “sticky” and irregular in shape such that hundreds of other tiny, toxic chemicals pile on top of them.
A March 2017 study led by Dr. Jin X. Kang at Masschusetts General Hospital, part of Harvard Medical School in the U.S. reports that these toxins ”accumulate in the lungs and can also penetrate the pulmonary barrier and travel into other organs, including the brain, liver, spleen, kidney and testis.”.
Women are especially at risk of strokes and death from strokes from PM2.5. A report by Physicians for Social Responsibility notes that: “Data from the Women’s Health Initiative show that for each increase of 10μg/m3 in the PM2.5 concentration, women faced a 35% increase in the risk of a cerebrovascular event and an 83% increase in the risk of death from a cerebrovascular event.”
PM2.5 particles are all man-made. The major sources of PM2.5 particles are from burning fossil fuels including coal plants, gas-fired plants, car engines, heating, cooking and gas leaf blowers.
There is no safe level of PM2.5.
Pollution Travels – What Are You Breathing?
Are you breathing in pollutants right now that may have come from another country?
“Air pollution does not recognize national borders; the atmosphere connects distant regions of our planet,” says Charles Kolb, CEO of Aerodyne Research Inc. “Emissions within any one country can affect human and ecosystem health in countries far downwind.”
Watch this eye-opening NASA video to see how air particles move. (Red dots indicate wildfires and yellow dots are human-initiated burning). You’ll see how pollution levels change during seasons and are affected not only by winds but by plant life.
Beijing Red Alerts
In December 2015, Beijing closed or suspended 2,100 factories with the highest level smog warnings lasting four days. Schools and nurseries were closed and half of the cars were taken off the roads. The PM2.5 level was at 172 which is almost seven times the WHO’s recommended maximum exposure of 25 within 24 hours. The air pollution in Beijing is so extreme and the attempts at reducing it so inadequate that its citizens have created a word that translates to “human air cleaner” – a reflection of their belief that it’s as if their lungs are being used as virtual filters.
To find some relief, Chinese people who can afford it have resorted to buying bottled air from Canada! Vitality Air sells oxygen in a can with the slogan: “As we continue to live in highly polluted areas, we are your solution to pollution.”
Pollution from China travels to the US
Willem Verstraeten of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute said “In a manner of speaking, China is exporting its air pollution to the West Coast of America.”
Pollution from China travels to Japan and South Korea
Toshihiko Takemura, an associate professor of Japan’s Kyushu University says that the level of air pollution has been detectable for a few years. “People in eastern and northern Japan are now belatedly noticing the cross-border air pollution.”
An annual autumn haze hangs over Seoul, Korea with discharges from their coal power plants in addition to pollution coming from China. But this year, it came earlier and for four days, warnings were issued to residents urging them to stay indoors.
For all of these reasons, it is vital to become more aware of air pollution and take the steps necessary to reduce exposure for yourself and your family.
Ten Air Pollution Solutions
1. Reduce exposure where you live, where your child goes to school, where they play and when you’re in the car. For instance, during heavy traffic jams, pollutants from outside can seep into your car, making the air inside 10 times more polluted than typical city air. Find out if your car has a filter that you can turn on to shut out fumes.
2. Take charge of your home environment. According to Safe Baby Healthy Child Healthy Building and Indoor Environmental Expert Mary Cordaro, “homes can contain 50 times more contaminants than the outdoor environment.” But, you have much more control over this area! Choose to have only the safest, non-toxic materials and products in and around your home. Mary Cordaro has exceptionally helpful articles about how to go about doing this on her blog.
3. Consider an indoor air filtration system which can start bringing improvement to indoor air and health right away. More details about the benefits of this and what to look for are on Mary Cordaro’s website.
4. Identify toxins in your body and detox. Did you know that you can identify the amount and kinds of harmful substances that have accumulated in your body by testing hair, urine, blood, breastmilk and semen? A naturopathic doctor, osteopathic doctor or holistically-oriented medical doctor can help you zero in on the toxins of greatest concern and determine an effective detoxification program. According to Dr. Murray Clarke, “The beauty of testing is that you can retest to monitor the effectiveness of the detoxification and ensure that these substances have been successfully eliminated for future health, or prior to conception if you are planning to become pregnant.” Dr. Clarke’s book, “Natural Baby-Healthy Child” provides more information about detoxification methods for pre-conception, infants and children.
5. Supplement with Omega-3 fatty acids. New research is showing the benefits of supplementing with healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids. The study on mice showed that omega-3 fatty acids (OFAs), found in flax, hemp and fishoil “can effectively suppress fine particle-induced chronic inflammation, whether as an interventional or preventative measure.” Cod Liver Oil and Essential Fatty Acids are available in The Safe Baby Healthy Child Shop.
6. Give thoughtful consideration to what products you buy such as those that last longer and take less energy and natural resources to produce. For example, so many parents purchase inexpensive favors for their child’s birthday party. These typically fall apart or are discarded at the end of the day. All those gifts are made in factories that create pollution and end up in landfills. Consider giving gifts such as organic heirloom seeds that children will enjoy growing. These solutions are creative and more meaningful.
7. Conserve energy. Turn off lights, unplug appliances, wash clothes in warm or cold water rather than hot water.
8. Plant trees. Rake leaves and use them to make compost. Eliminate the use of gas blowers which only displace dirt into the air and emit toxic gas emissions.
9. Buy organic food at a farmer’s market.
1o, Walk, ride a bike or use public transportation when possible.
Do you know what the air quality level is where you live?
Real-time monitors can now alert you to unhealthy air pollution. These are also becoming important in gathering data to present to public officials who are then put on notice to do something about the pollution sources.
Global Monitoring Tools
United States – AirNow
China – Berkeley Earth
This post has been updated to reflect the most current information on pollution.