Air pollution may affect babies even before birth and reduce lung size for life

The Sunday Times (Jonathan Leake) reports that a study has indicated that air pollution in Britain’s cities is stunting the growth of children’s lungs, and could reduce their lung capacity by 5% or more. It appears that toxic particles and gases emitted mainly by diesel vehicles disrupt lung growth, with damage starting to be inflicted in the womb. There is also separate research that indicates that babies gestated in areas with high air pollution levels are born with smaller heads, with the reduction in circumference directly related to air pollution levels. Dr Ian Mudway, of King’s College London, who has been involved in a 6-year study into how air pollution affects children in east London in Tower Hamlets and Hackney, said the evidence indicates the effect of air pollution start in the earliest years of life. Children’s lungs by the age nine are already smaller than they ought to be and their lung impairment continues throughout life. Air pollution gases and particles damage the linings of the lung, which is not good at mending itself, and retains the deficit for life. “Children are vulnerable because their lungs are developing so fast and their defences are not evolved. They also spend more time outside.



Polluted city air stunts babies’ lungs in womb

Children born in areas of high air pollution have smaller heads – and grow up with reduced lung function, say scientists

Jonathan Leake, Science Editor  (Sunday Times)
29 June 2014

SCIENTISTS have warned that air pollution in Britain’s cities is stunting the growth of children’s lungs, reducing capacity by 5% or more.

They found that the toxic particles and gases emitted mainly by diesel vehicles disrupt lung growth, with damage starting to be inflicted in the womb.

Full Times article at 





From PLOS one:

In Utero Exposure to Diesel Exhaust Air Pollution Promotes Adverse Intrauterine Conditions, Resulting in Weight Gain, Altered Blood Pressure, and Increased Susceptibility to Heart Failure in Adult Mice

  • Chad S. Weldy, Yonggang Liu, H. Denny Liggitt, Michael T. Chin mail 
  • Published: February 12, 2014
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0088582



Exposure to fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) is strongly associated with cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Exposure to PM2.5 during pregnancy promotes reduced birthweight, and the associated adverse intrauterine conditions may also promote adult risk of cardiovascular disease. Here, we investigated the potential for in utero exposure to diesel exhaust (DE) air pollution, a major source of urban PM2.5, to promote adverse intrauterine conditions and influence adult susceptibility to disease. We exposed pregnant female C57Bl/6J mice to DE (≈300 µg/m3 PM2.5, 6 hrs/day, 5 days/week) from embryonic day (E) 0.5 to 17.5. At E17.5 embryos were collected for gravimetric analysis and assessed for evidence of resorption. Placental tissues underwent pathological examination to assess the extent of injury, inflammatory cell infiltration, and oxidative stress. In addition, some dams that were exposed to DE were allowed to give birth to pups and raise offspring in filtered air (FA) conditions. At 10-weeks of age, body weight and blood pressure were measured. At 12-weeks of age, cardiac function was assessed by echocardiography. Susceptibility to pressure overload-induced heart failure was then determined after transverse aortic constriction surgery. We found that in utero exposure to DE increases embryo resorption, and promotes placental hemorrhage, focal necrosis, compaction of labyrinth vascular spaces, inflammatory cell infiltration and oxidative stress. In addition, we observed that in utero DE exposure increased body weight, but counterintuitively reduced blood pressure without any changes in baseline cardiac function in adult male mice. Importantly, we observed these mice to have increased susceptibility to pressure-overload induced heart failure, suggesting this in utero exposure to DE ‘reprograms’ the heart to a heightened susceptibility to failure. These observations provide important data to suggest that developmental exposure to air pollution may strongly influence adult susceptibility to cardiovascular disease.

….. with full research report at



PLOS ONE (originally PLoS ONE) is an open access peer-reviewed scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science since 2006. It covers primary research from any discipline within science and medicine. All submissions go through an internal and external pre-publication peer review, but are not excluded on the basis of lack of perceived importance or adherence to a scientific field. The PLOS ONE online platform employs a “publish first, judge later” methodology, with post-publication user discussion and rating features.



NRDC on air pollution and children

There is a lot on air pollution and children from the NRDC in the USA at


One section on children is copied below:

Special Vulnerability of Children

During the last decade, hundreds of published reports have documented the effects of air pollutants on children, who are more susceptible than adults to the adverse effects of air pollution. Children’s greater sensitivity is a function of both greater exposure to air pollutants and unique physiological susceptibility.

Greater Exposure and Susceptibility

Children breathe more air relative to their body weight and lung surface area than do adults; consequently, they also receive proportionately higher doses of air pollutants.[43] Children spend more time outdoors, often during midday and afternoons when pollutant levels are generally highest.[44] Children are three times more active than adults while outdoors, significantly increasing their oxygen demand and consequently raising their breathing rates.[45]

Young children generally spend more time low to the ground by virtue of both their shorter stature and the nature of their typical physical activity. Children, therefore, experience greater exposure to pollutants emitted close to the ground, such as automobile exhaust and high-density pollutants brought downward by gravity.[46] In addition, when the sources of air pollutants such as automobiles are close to playgrounds and other areas where children play, children and infants in strollers may be heavily exposed.

Children often fail to recognize the significance of respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath, and they frequently fail to move indoors or curtail exercise during air pollution episodes. Children tend to breathe more through the mouth than through the nose due to their increased physical exertion, thus reducing the effectiveness of one level of filtration. In addition, young children’s small noses are easily blocked by congestion, constriction, or other illnesses.

Children’s airways have small diameters. Environmental irritants capable of obstructing air passages are more likely to do so in children than in adults.[47] Early in life, children have far fewer alveoli than adults, creating less “reserve volume” from which to draw oxygen. They also have relatively less reserve surface area in their lungs available for times of stress or increased metabolic demand.[48] In adults, air moves from one alveolus to another through holes in the alveoli and channels between the small airways and the alveoli, allowing air to be distributed deeply throughout the lung, circumventing obstructed areas. Infants and young children have few such pathways that provide for this restorative air drift.[49]

Children at greatest risk from the effects of air pollution include: children with sensitized respiratory systems, such as allergic or asthmatic children, children who live near industrial pollution sources, areas of heavy traffic, or in homes with cigarette smokers, and children who lack adequate medical attention, nourishment, or sanitary living conditions.

Adverse Health Effects in Children

Data gathered by a researcher from a variety of recent studies[50] reveals that air pollutants are associated with a wide variety of adverse health effects in children, including:

  • increased death rates in very severe pollution episodes and increased mortality risks for those living in highly polluted areas,
  • increased risk of acute respiratory illness,
  • aggravation of asthma, increased respiratory symptoms, and increased sickness rates (as indicated by kindergarten and school absences), and
  • decreases in lung function.
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  • and there is much more at
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