Air pollution may be the new tobacco.
A World Health Organization (WHO) study says bad air kills seven million people a year and harms billions of others.
The researchers say children at particular risk. As many as 1.8 billion children are affected by poisonous air creating a public health crisis in terms of brain development and health problems resulting in early death.
[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom. “This is inexcusable—every child should be able to breathe clean air so they can grow and fulfil their potential.”[/perfectpullquote]
One reason children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution is that they breathe more rapidly than adults, absorbing more pollutants. They are also closer to the ground, where some pollutants reach peak concentrations.
Study authors say the damage begins before birth. Premature birth rates and underweight children linked to pregnant women exposed to polluted air. Those children, they say, are also at risk of chronic disease in their adult years. Some of the serious health issues related to air pollution include low weight at birth, poor neurological development, asthma and heart disease.
The report cited both indoor and outdoor pollutants that add to the toxic air. In poorer nations, dirty fuel solutions like wood and paraffin fuel are spewing pollutants into the atmosphere.
- Air pollution affects neurodevelopment, leading to lower cognitive test outcomes, negatively affecting mental and motor development.
- Air pollution is damaging children’s lung function, even at lower levels of exposures
- Globally, 93% of the world’s children under 15 years of age are exposed to ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5) levels above WHO air quality guidelines, which include the 630 million of children under 5 years of age, and 1.8 billion of children under 15 years
- In low- and middle-income countries around the world, 98% of all children under 5 are exposed to PM2.5 levels above WHO air quality guidelines. In comparison, in high-income countries, 52% of children under 5 are exposed to levels above WHO air quality guidelines.
- More than 40% of the world’s population – which includes 1 billion children under 15 – is exposed to high levels of household air pollution from mainly cooking with polluting technologies and fuels.
- About 600’000 deaths in children under 15 years of age were attributed to the joint effects of ambient and household air pollution in 2016.
- Together, household air pollution from cooking and ambient (outside) air pollution cause more than 50% of acute lower respiratory infections in children under 5 years of age in low- and middle-income countries.
- Air pollution is one of the leading threats to child health, accounting for almost 1 in 10 deaths in children under five years of age.
The study recommends the following actions:
- Action by the health sector to inform, educate, provide resources to health professionals, and engage in inter-sectoral policymaking.
- Implementation of policies to reduce air pollution: All countries should work towards meeting WHO global air quality guidelines to enhance the health and safety of children. To achieve this, governments should adopt such measures as reducing the over-dependence on fossil fuels in the global energy mix, investing in improvements in energy efficiency and facilitating the uptake of renewable energy sources. Better waste management can reduce the amount of waste that is burned within communities and thereby reducing ‘community air pollution’. The exclusive use of clean technologies and fuels for household cooking, heating and lighting activities can drastically improve the air quality within homes and in the surrounding community.
- Steps to minimize children’s exposure to polluted air: Schools and playgrounds should be located away from major sources of air pollution like busy roads, factories and power plants.