Some of the country’s leading experts on healthy brain development have come together to warn the public that President Donald Trump’s efforts to roll back science-based air pollution standards will come at a high cost to our children.
Published in the American Journal of Public Health this week, these scientists and doctors cite “mounting evidence linking air pollution to neurodevelopmental disorders in children, like autism, ADHD, memory deficiencies and reduced IQ.”
The article makes several specific recommendations for how the government can protect children, one of the most important being to “strengthen and enforce federal fuel efficiency standards.” As the article explains, “Increasing evidence links prenatal exposure to traffic-related air pollutants and PM2.5 [tiny particulates] to autism spectrum disorder.”
But that’s in sharp contrast to the work being done by Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has started the process of weakening existing standards.
Co-author Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, director of the University of California Davis Environmental Health Sciences Center funded by the National Institutes of Health, told ThinkProgress that starting with the Clean Air Act of 1970 — and for decades after — the EPA used the growing scientific evidence connecting serious health effects to air pollution as the basis for stronger and stronger air pollution rules.
“But under our current administration, many of these rules are being rolled back,” she warned. This is despite the overwhelming evidence, she said, that “energy produced from fossil fuels has really caused a lot of premature death and illness in people for decades.”
She explained that the reason she and her colleagues came together to write this article is that “we now have yet another reason besides the cardiovascular and respiratory impacts” to tighten air pollution standards: the impact on children’s brains.
Hertz-Picciotto, who is also director of the Program in Environmental Epidemiology of Autism at UC Davis, has been researching the environmental causes of autism for many years. She points out that there is increasing evidence that the very small particles (PM2.5) associated with fossil fuel combustion can “travel directly from nasal passages to the brain.”
PM2.5 is particulate matter (PM) smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. In comparison, a strand of human hair is more than 20 times wider than PM2.5.
Scientist have previously noted that the link between PM2.5 exposure and Alzheimer’s may also be due to the fact that tiny air pollution particles can travel from the nose to the brain.
Hertz-Picciotto explained that cutting carbon pollution is a double win because not only does it reduce the harmful particles, it also reduces the risk of global warming — which comes with a slew of other impacts that endanger children’s brains.
“Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of wildfires, which cause short-term, high-level exposure to combustion-related pollutants,” the study notes. Also, simply exposing pregnant women to higher and higher temperatures “increases risk for premature delivery, itself a risk factor for developmental delay.”
Since even low levels of the smallest particles are dangerous to humans, Trump’s plans to roll back EPA air pollution rules are even more cruel and immoral than they first appeared.
As the authors conclude, if their recommendations to tighten air pollution standards are taken seriously, “fewer children will face the challenge of living with neurodevelopmental disorders and more people will be able to fully participate in society across their life span.”