Does indoor pollution affect my children?
Air pollution – both indoors and outdoors – affects everyone. But some groups of people such as children are particularly affected.
Children are still growing, and their environment can greatly impact their development. The quality of the air children breathe is one key factor, because polluted air can cause problems with lung development, poor concentration, and even lower IQs.
Breathing Polluted Air Can Reduce A Child’s IQ
Both indoor and outdoor air pollution also negatively affects children’s intellectual development and reduces their IQs. 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.1
Air Pollution Affects Lung Development
The largest portion of a child’s lungs grow after they are born, including the development of up to 80% of alveoli (air sacs that transfer oxygen into the blood). This means children’s lungs are very vulnerable to poor air quality.
Children spend as much as 90% of their time indoors2 – at home, at childcare, and at school – so it is important we pay attention to not just outdoor air quality but also indoor air quality.
Asthma Is Triggered By Air Pollution
Studies have found that PM2.5 originating from indoor sources can lead to even worse lung function than outdoor sources of PM2.5.3 Asthma is particularly impacted by indoor air pollution. Among children with asthma, every 10 micrograms/m3 increase in PM2.5 concentration leads to a 6% increase in the number of days children coughed, wheezed, or experienced chest tightness. 4
In addition, because they are still growing, children are more susceptible to lung infections. As air quality worsens, the more lung infections children experience. The WHO estimated in 2016, approximately 600,000 children died from acute lower respiratory infections caused by polluted air.5
Children’s Studies Are Impacted By Bad Air Quality
Children’s concentration is also affected by air quality, particularly at school. Schools often have poor indoor air quality due to poor ventilation and the large number of people inside each room. Poor air quality at school makes it harder for children to focus and remember what they learn. 6
Students taking exams even perform worse on days with high levels of air pollution. One study found that students scored on average 2.3% lower if the air quality was bad.7 A different study showed that students sitting in classrooms with good ventilation scored 14-15 points higher than those in classrooms with poor ventilation.8
Improving Air Quality Reduces Risk Of Health Issues
The good news is that indoor air pollution can be easily improved. The most common sources of indoor pollution are cookstoves, smoking, and sweeping. All of these activities can be modified to improve air quality. For example, an American study showed that if children live in areas where air quality improved during their childhood, they experienced less coughing, congestion and phlegm.9
1Wang 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
2Breysse PN, Diette GB, Matsui EC, Butz AM, Hansel NN, McCormack MC. 2010. ‘Indoor air pollution and asthma in children’. Proc Am Thorac Soc. 7(2):102-106. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3266016/
3Koenig JQ, Mar TF, Allen RW, Jansen K, Lumley T, Sullivan JH, Trenga CA, Larson T, Liu LJ. 2005. ‘Pulmonary effects of indoor- and outdoor-generated particles in children with asthma’, Environ Health Perspect. Apr; 113(4):499-503.
4Breysse PN, Diette GB, Matsui EC, Butz AM, Hansel NN, McCormack MC. 2010. Op. cit.
6UNICEF. 2017. Danger in the Air: How air pollution can affect brain development in young children.
7Ebenstein A, Lavy V, Roth S. 2016. ‘The Long-Run economic consequences of High-Stakes examinations: evidence from transitory variation in pollution’, Am Econ J Appl Econ 8:36–65.
8Shaughnessy RJ, Haverinen-Shaughnessy U, Nevalainen A, Moschandreas D. 2006. ‘A preliminary study on the association between ventilation rates in classrooms and student performance’, Indoor Air. 16(6):465-8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17100667/
9Gauderman 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