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Devon Payne-Sturges on air pollution and child health

Absent federal policy, the state of Maryland can implement policies to protect children’s health

Children exposed to air pollution show harmful effects to development: autism, ADHD, memory deficits, and lowered intelligence, among others. Faculty Associate Devon Payne-Sturges, along with the Maryland Institute of Applied Environmental Health, formed Project TENDR (Targeting Environmental Neurodevelopmental Risks) to expand children’s health research. As an effort to propose solutions to environmental health threats, Payne-Sturges led a group in publishing a commentary in the American Journal of Public Health that highlights policy recommendations for reducing children’s exposure to air pollutants such as combustion and burning fossil fuels. These actions not only will improve children’s brain development but also contribute to climate change mitigation and further advances in other health conditions. “When there’s no action at the federal level, that doesn’t mean states can’t act on their own. We wanted to give examples of what states can do in light of this growing evidence for the neurodevelopmental effects of pollution,” said Paynes-Sturges.

The specific actions suggested by the research team include; restricting existing and future sources of combustion-related emissions; relying on renewable energy sources for public transportation; and building electric vehicle charging stations as well as other facilities to assist citizens reduce pollution levels. Further research should focus on expanding air quality monitoring and analyzing the health effects of airborne particulates on brain development, especially among low-income and minority populations who are more likely to live close to highways in high-polluted areas, the researchers said.

“These conditions can have incredible costs not only to children and families but to society as a whole. If we can equip ourselves with information on how to prevent these issues, we should do so,” Payne-Sturges concluded.

See the "Healthy air, healthy brains: Advancing air pollution policy to protect children's health" article published in the American Journal of Public Health