Millions of babies are breathing in toxic air, UNICEF report says

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The UNICEF report also states that South Asia has the largest proportion of babies living in areas where air pollution is at least six times higher than global limits (10 micrograms per cubic metre).

There are 136 million children under the age of 1 globally, which means one in eight are being exposed to toxic air, the United Nations children's fund said.

The report sets out a range of ways that the impact of air pollution on babies' brains could be lowered. The variety of types of pollutants that are in the air across different environments make it hard to determine the full impact of air pollution. Contamination above that limit could prove potentially harmful for children, with risks growing as exposure does.

The links of pollution with asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory diseases in the long course are known for a long time.

The report notes that breathing in particulate air pollution can damage brain tissue and undermine cognitive development - with lifelong implications and setbacks.

Scientists have not conclusively proved findings about air pollution's effects on brain development, but a rapidly growing body of evidence creates "reason for concern", UNICEF's Nicholas Rees, the report's author, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Babies in South Asia are worst affected, with more than 12 million living in areas with pollution six times higher than safe levels.

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"A lot of focus goes on making sure children have good quality education - but also important is the development of the brain itself", Rees added.

The brains of developing children are especially vulnerable because they can be harmed by smaller doses of toxic chemicals compared to adults' brains, the report states. A further four million are at risk in East Asia and the Pacific.

"Protecting children from air pollution not only benefits children".

For their part, parents can reduce children's exposure in the home to harmful fumes produced by tobacco products, cook stoves and heating fires.

UNICEF warns that as more countries grow into modern, urban societies, governments have failed to provide "adequate protection and pollution reduction measures" to protect young children.

The European Environment Agency has found that polluted air kills half a million EU residents per year.

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