Air pollution still kills 1,200 children and adolescents per year in Europe
Sylvie Claire / April 24, 2023
Even if the situation is improving, air pollution still kills 1,200 children and adolescents per year in Europe, concludes a report by the European Environment Agency (EEA).
As for adults, this pollution is the main environmental risk for the health of minors and reduces their life expectancy, according to this study of some thirty countries on the continent, including the 27 EU member states.
"Air pollution causes more than 1,200 premature deaths per year in Europe's under-18s and significantly increases the risk of disease later in life," the EEA wrote in its report.
"Despite progress over the past years, the level of several of the main air pollutants continues to remain above the recommendations of the World Health Organization, especially in central and eastern Europe, as well as in Italy, "said the organization dependent on the European Union. The plain of the Po in Italy, the zones close to the big coal power stations as well as the big cities of the center and the east of the continent are regularly pinned for the bad quality of their air.
Several European countries - including the United Kingdom and Ukraine - were not included in the study, suggesting that the continental picture is actually bleaker.
According to another report published by the EEA in November, at least 238,000 people - of all ages - died prematurely in 2020 in Europe due to air pollution in the agency's member countries (the European Union, Turkey, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein).
Although the share of children and adolescents impacted by air pollution is "relatively small" compared to the overall population, dying so early "represents a loss of potential future as well as a significant burden of chronic disease both in childhood and later in life," the EEA says. The agency recommends focusing on air quality around schools and day care centers, as well as sports facilities and public transportation.
Its effects begin before birth, with maternal exposure to air pollution "linked to low birth weights and premature births," the environmental agency said.
After birth, ambient pollution increases the risk of several health problems, including asthma - which affects 9% of children and adolescents in Europe - or respiratory insufficiency and infections, the agency also stresses. These effects are aggravated by the fact that children are physically more active than adults and that their small size brings them closer to pollution, especially car exhaust fumes.
All ages combined, 97% of the urban population were exposed in 2021 to air that did not meet WHO guidelines, according to the latest data released Monday.
In its November report, however, the EEA noted that the European Union was on track to meet its target of reducing premature deaths by more than 50% by 2030 compared to 2005.
In the early 1990s, fine particles caused nearly one million premature deaths in the 27 EU countries. In 2005, 431,000 people were still dying, according to the agency's data.
However, the European situation remains better than elsewhere on the planet: according to the WHO, air pollution is the cause of seven million premature deaths per year in the world, a toll close to that caused by smoking or poor nutrition. Several hundreds of thousands of these deaths concern children under 15 years old, according to the UN organization.
These heavy assessments had led it in September 2021 to establish more binding limits for the main air pollutants, for the first time since 2005.
The most serious air pollution comes first from fine particles, which penetrate deep into the lungs. This is followed by nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ozone (O3), according to health agencies.