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Air pollution impact on children revealed

Posted on the 9th May 2023

Air Pollution health impact

At least 1,200 children across Europe die prematurely each year because of dirty air.

New research by the European Environment Agency (EEA) has revealed that nearly all children on the continent are exposed to air that falls below healthy standards.

The EEA’s publication, entitled Europe’s Air Quality Status 2023, covers 37 countries, including all EU member states and countries such as Turkey, Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro, and examines air pollutants including particulates, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and sulphur dioxide.

Eastern European states came out worst, largely owing to the burning of coal for domestic heating, along with Italy, where industrial pollution in the Po Valley was identified as a key problem.

Across Europe, 97 per cent of the population, of all ages, were exposed to levels of air pollution higher than those deemed safe by the World Health Organization, according to the EEA.

The UK was not included in the EEA’s assessment, as the UK government has opted out of EEA membership post-Brexit, even though several other non-EU countries – including Norway, Switzerland and Iceland – are members.

Children are particularly susceptible to dirty air, as pollutants can have a permanent impact on their development. The impacts begin before birth, with studies linking pollution to low birth weight and premature birth.

Exposure to high levels of pollutants in childhood has been shown to inhibit lung capacity, cause asthma, lead to higher levels of respiratory disease and ear infections, and increase the risk of allergies – and they may also affect brain development.

Children have greater exposure to dirty air than adults because they have a faster breathing rate, are closer to the ground, and are outdoors more. About 110,000 disability-adjusted life years are lost across Europe each year in people under the age of 18, according to the study.

Hans Bruyninckx, Executive Director of the EEA, has urged countries to do more.

“Air pollution levels across Europe are still unsafe and European air quality policies should aim to protect all citizens, but especially our children, who are most vulnerable to the health impacts of air pollution,” he said.

“It is urgent that we continue to step up measures at the EU, at national and local level, to protect our children, who cannot protect themselves.

“The surest way to keep them safe is by making the air we all breathe cleaner.”

The EEA has set out several proposals aimed at reducing the sources of air pollution specific to children.

These include the creation of clean air zones around schools, where traffic would be restrained, and idling engines prohibited and the planting of trees and hedge fences around playgrounds.

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