Pollution splitting families, children can get clean air only in the steppes

Children are more at risk than adults because they breathe faster and take in more air in their lungs. The fine particles are also absorbed by the blood and the placenta, damaging foetuses.

Ulaan Baatar (AsiaNews) – More and more children are being sent to live in the steppes with their grandparents whilst the parents remain to work in Ulaan Baatar, the capital of Mongolia, because air pollution has become so unbearable for them that they are developing serious breathing problems that put their health at risk.

Children are the most affected by smog-related diseases since they breathe faster than adults. As they are smaller, they are also closer to the ground, where some pollutants concentrate.

For this reason, many parents have started to leave their children with relatives and friends in the countryside, where the air is cleaner. They are thus willing not to see them grow – except for a few hours a week - in order to save their lives.

According to the latest air quality data, Mongolia’s capital is among the most polluted cities in the world, along with Delhi, Dhaka and Beijing.

The levels of PM2.5 in Ulaanbaatar reached 3,320 in January, 133 times what the World Health Organisation (WHO) considers safe.

The main culprit for this is smog produced by coal burning to heat houses and ger (the typical Mongolian tent).

For children, excessive pollution causes not only difficulty in breathing, but also permanent damage to their still-developing organs, like kidneys and lungs.

The risks apply in utero too because gases and fine particles can enter a mother's bloodstream and placenta, causing miscarriage, birth defects and low birth weights.

Research suggests that dirty air can also put children at greater risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life. The WHO links it to leukaemia and behavioural disorders.