High levels of fine particles (PM2.5) in the air can have a devastating effect on the brain development of unborn children. During pregnancy, those exposed to PM 2.5 have an increased risk of experiencing shorter pregnancies and fetal growth restriction. This in turn impairs the normal development of the infant’s brain and can potentially result in lifelong disability. Unfortunately, more than 90% of the world’s population breathes air with high concentrations of PM2.5, well above the guidelines of the World Health Organization.
In a new study published in the journal Environmental health perspectivesResearchers found that air purifiers using high-efficiency particulate air filters (HEPA) could help mitigate the negative effects of PM2.5 on infants’ brain development.
Researchers have in previous studies observed that HEPA filters reduce PM2.5 concentrations by 29% to 82% when used indoors in rooms where individuals tend to spend the most time. Most of the particles inside buildings and homes come from outdoor sources.
The group of researchers based in Mongolia and Canada set out to investigate whether reducing particle exposure during pregnancy can help improve children’s neurodevelopment. They recruited 540 pregnant women living in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia from January 2014 to May 2015. As the capital, Ulaanbaatar is home to half of the country’s total population of around 3 million citizens. In winter, the daily average of PM2.5 concentration levels rises to 687 micrograms per day. cubic meters, which is 27 times higher than the WHO limit.
More than 60% of the city’s residents live in traditional Mongolian houses that rely on coal – fired heaters. It is estimated that these neighborhoods account for at least 45% of the outdoor PM2.5 concentrations in the city.
The researchers recruited non-smokers whose gestational age was 13 weeks to 18 weeks when the study began. The researchers then deployed either one or two HEPA air purifiers in the homes of 268 pregnant women. They instructed them to keep the air purifier in the living room. For those with larger apartments, the researchers gave them two air purifiers. Whereas 272 pregnant women in the control group did not receive any HEPA air purifiers.
When the women in the intervention group had their babies, the researchers took back the HEPA air purifiers. Four years later, the researchers assessed the cognitive development of the children in both groups based on their full-scale intelligence quotient (FSIQ).
They observed that children of mothers receiving HEPA air purifiers scored an average FSIQ that was 2.8 points higher than the 4-year-old children in the control group. The children whose mothers had access to HEPA air filters had far better verbal comprehension scores.
In a press release, lead author of the study Ryan Allen, a professor at Simon Fraser University in Canada, said “Air pollution is everywhere and it prevents children from reaching their full potential. Air purifiers can provide some protection, but in the end it is the only way to protect all children by reducing emissions. “