How Pollution is Affecting our Children’s Health

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Allergies are caused by substances in the environment known as allergens. Some children may inherit the tendency to develop an allergy from their parents but not all children in the same family will be affected. One child for instance might have eczema while another may have hay fever or may not be allergic to anything at all.

Allergies are extremely common and affect approximately one in four of the population of the United Kingdom at some time in their life.

Children can show allergic reactions to various forms of pollution including:

Pollution in the environment ~ often caused by chemical substances or energy, smog and carbon dioxide emissions. In fact the main air pollutant in urban areas is carbon monoxide and this can cause mild symptoms in some people and serious health problems in others. Children are especially vulnerable to environmental pollution due to their physiology and growth characteristics. They differ from adults in how contaminants are absorbed and distributed in the body.

In a recent study, Professor Jonathan Grigg, an honorary consultant at the Royal London Hospital found that children living near a main road are in greater danger of catching pneumonia because the pollution from passing traffic damages their lungs.

Air pollution ~ caused by carbon monoxide nitrogen oxides and sulphur oxides. Toxic chemicals can also be found in the home; these can come from electrical and telephone cables, mould, cleaning fluids, cigarette smoke, building materials and furniture. Poor ventilation can contribute to indoor air pollution problems and this is likely to increase symptoms in children who are asthmatic or who have eczema.  

Water pollution ~ Sewage and agricultural wastes can contaminate streams, lakes and rivers causing an allergic reaction in children. Springs that are used as a source of drinking water should be checked regularly as should they ever be contaminated with heavy metals such as lead or cadmium from industrial discharges, the water will no longer be healthy to drink. As well as being likely to intensify symptoms in children with allergies, chlorinated solvents can also cause damage to the liver and kidneys.

Soil contamination ~ Soil can become polluted by various means including pesticides, herbicides, excess fertiliser, solvents, heavy metals and other chemicals, waste seepage or seepage from a landfill. Also pollution can come from discharge of industrial waste into the soil or rupture of underground pipes or storage tanks.

Children living in residential areas or attending schools where they may have direct contact with soil that is contaminated are at risk of developmental damage to the brain and nervous system and damage to their kidneys. The above mentioned pollutions can also cause headaches, nausea, fatigue, skin rashes and eye irritation in children.

Noise pollution ~ although noise pollution may not effect a child’s allergies other than to increase existing headaches, it has been found that children who are repeatedly exposed to loud environmental noises learn to read more slowly than their peers. Noise pollution also has a negative impact on their learning ability and their long-term memory.

Lead pollution ~ although our bodies need a small amount of metals such as iron, zinc and copper, lead is a toxic metal which can cause children a lot of harm. There has been a reduction in the amount of lead used in industry but lead can still be found in the environment. Sources of lead contamination include:

~ Traffic exhaust fumes and industrial output from lead smelters, cigarette ash, tobacco, coal burning and leaded paint

~ Water from lead pipes and tanks

~ Some canned foods

~ Milk from animals grazing on contaminated land

~ Fruit and vegetables grown or sold by roadsides

Lead poisoning can cause fatigue, drowsiness, pains, cramping and muscle-weakness, anaemia and sometimes convulsions. The most common symptoms of lead toxicity in children are inability to concentrate, unusual irritable and aggressive outbursts, headaches, disturbed sleep and hyperactivity. Children up to the age of eight years are most at risk because they absorb lead dust more easily. Experiments using monkeys suggest that traffic pollution doesn’t just trigger asthma attacks but could actually be the cause of asthma in children.

Risks from pollution, whether in atmosphere, air, water or soil on existing allergies is particularly high in kids because they are still growing. A child’s immune system and detoxification mechanisms aren’t yet fully developed and therefore toxic substances can have a more serious impact on children than on adults.

Repeated exposure to toxic compounds or to high levels of lead at an early age can, for instance, cause low intellectual development in children as well as long-term health problems.

Sources

Noise pollution and children

Pollution and Health

bbc.co.uk health and pollution

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