Air pollution impacts every stage of human life from foetal development and the cognitive abilities of teenagers to adult mental health, according to a report that synthesises the findings of more than 35,000 studies from around the world.
The Environmental Research Group at Imperial College London published the review on Monday of a decade of scientific studies into air pollution.
The London university team looked at findings from the World Health Organization (WHO), the UK Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution, the Royal College of Physicians, the Health Effects Institute and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
“The most important new finding is evidence related to both the impact of air pollution on brain health, including mental health and dementia, and early life impacts that could lead to future health burdens within the population,” the report said.
“Both represent significant, but currently unquantified costs to society and the economy,” it added.
The review found links between air pollution and the health of newborns in the first weeks of life, birth weight, miscarriages and stillbirths.
The fetus could be vulnerable because a mother might inhale air pollution particles, leading to adverse effects on development, the report read.
Chemicals associated with pollution can enter a pregnant woman’s blood, altering its flow, which could potentially slow or delay foetal growth.
More than 20 million babies with low birth weights are born every year and more than 15 million are born prematurely, according to the WHO.
But the impact of air pollution on reproductive health is not restricted to the mother. Lower volumes of sperm are also seen in men exposed to air pollution.
Meanwhile, another study mentioned in the report suggests “exposure to particle pollution” increases the risk of developing dementia and accelerates cognitive decline.