Is PM2.5 dangerous for children?

Air pollution can have a significant impact on children’s development and health, particularly among infants and toddlers. Every day around 93% of the world’s children under the age of 15 years (1.8 billion children) breathe polluted air.


Children breathe in more air than adults

Clean air is important for children because many children spend a lot of time outdoors and are very physically active. Consequently, children breathe more air than adults. If this air is polluted, it can have serious health and development effects.


Children are still at the developmental stage

Children are very vulnerable to air pollution because their lungs are still growing. Most of the air sacs in child’s lungs develop after they are born, and their lungs won’t be fully developed until they are adults. An American study conducted between 1993 and 2001 found that children who grew up in areas with bad air quality suffered from reduced lung growth. The impact from air pollution was similar to the impact of growing up in a home with parents who smoked.


PM2.5 leads to allergies and asthma in kids

PM2.5 is particularly bad for children’s lung health. Children with chronic conditions such as allergies and asthma are extremely sensitive to PM2.5. When they inhale these pollutants, their illnesses can become worse much more quickly than in other children. The WHO estimated that in 2016, 600,000 children died from acute lower respiratory infections caused by polluted air.


PM2.5 negatively affects intellectual development and lowers IQ points

PM2.5 can also negatively affect children’s intellectual development, especially if they were already affected before they were born. A 2018 study in China found that exposure to PM2.5 during infancy can lead to reduced cognitive skills. Meanwhile a US study estimated that an increase of PM2.5 concentration of just 5 micrograms/m3 resulted in the loss of two IQ points, which is approximately the amount gained from one year of education.


As air quality improves, so does lung function

The good news is that as air quality improves, children’s lung function also improves. A follow-up to the above American study showed that among children living in areas where air quality improved during their childhood, they experienced less coughing, congestion and phlegm.

If possible, children should stay inside on high pollution days, including at school. Houses should be well-sealed (no gaps around windows and doors, for example) and air filtration products can be used to help improve air quality.

If your child is experiencing any difficulties breathing on a bad air pollution day, you should take them to see a doctor as soon as possible.

PM2.5 isn’t just dangerous for children. It is also dangerous for pregnant women and the elderly, plus it has a negative impact on our skin and can affect us more if we exercise outside.


References

Chen Yulong. 2018. Air Pollution and Academic Performance: Evidence from China. https://www.econ.iastate.edu/files/events/files/ychen_nov2018.pdf

Gauderman WJ, Urman R, Avol E, Berhane K, McConnell R, Rapport E, Chang R, Lurmann F, Gilliland F. 2015. ‘Association of improved air quality with lung development in children’, New England Journal of Medicine 372: 905-913. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1414123

Wang Pan, Catherine Tuvblad, Diane Younan, Meredith Franklin, Fred Lurmann, Jun Wu, Laura A. Baker, and Jiu-Chiuan Chen. 2017. ‘Socioeconomic disparities and sexual dimorphism in neurotoxic effects of ambient fine particles on youth IQ: A longitudinal analysis’, PLOS ONE 12(12). https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0188731

WHO. https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/29-10-2018-more-than-90-of-the-worlds-children-breathe-toxic-air-every-day