Babies born to mothers exposed to air pollution from traffic during pregnancy, have an increased risk of developing asthma during their first five years, scientists say.
In a study published in the European Respiratory Journal on Tuesday, it is worse in children born with a low birth weight as they are “more inclined to the respiratory effects of air pollution.”
Lead author of the study, Dr Hind Sbihi, from the University of British Columbia in Canada said: “Air pollution from traffic sources increased the risk of developing asthma during early years before children reach school age, even in an urban area with relatively low levels of air pollution.”
The research analysed 65,000 Canadian children who were followed up from birth until they were 10 years.
Their mothers’ postcodes were analysed and their exposure to air pollutants determined by several factors, including the presence of major roads and monitored levels of pollution.
HIGHWAYS AND PREGNANCY
The study further highlights that one in four children, whose mothers lived close to highways during pregnancy, were likely to develop asthma.
This is because highways have an increased level of pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide, as well as black carbon, fine particulate matter.
Asthma is a chronic disease characterised by recurrent attacks of breathlessness and wheezing.
The risk or trigger factors for developing asthma include allergens (a substance that causes an allergic reaction), tobacco smoke and chemical irritants.
National chairman of the Kenya Pediatric Association David Githanga said some of the pollutants “may even lead to cancer”
“Children’s and babies’ respiratory systems are developing. Therefore pollution greatly affects them. As such, they breathe more air than adults. This and they are also closer to the ground, and in this case exhaust pipes, such exposure is detrimental,” said Dr Githanga.
Last year August, Unep carried out a five-day study of major roads in Nairobi where areas around Kariokor Market, Baba Dogo, Donholm and parts of Gachie were among the most air polluted (by traffic) areas in Nairobi. Incidentally, residential homes line up these major roads.
The research said cities can take up measures such as installing air filters to “reduce this risk.”