More needs to be done to protect the health of children and adolescents from the negative impacts of air pollution, according to European Environment Agency (EEA) air quality assessments published today. Air pollution causes over 1,200 premature deaths per year in people under the age of 18 in Europe and significantly increases the risk of disease later in life. Despite improvements over past years, the level of key air pollutants in many European countries remain stubbornly above World Health Organization health-based guidelines, especially in central-eastern Europe and Italy.
While emissions of key air pollutants have declined over recent decades, air pollution levels in Europe are still not safe. Children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to air pollution because their bodies, organs and immune systems are still developing. Air pollution damages health during childhood and increases the risk of disease in later life, according to the EEA ‘Air pollution and children’s health’ briefing.
Air pollution is estimated to cause over 1,200 premature deaths every year among those under the age of 18 across the EEA’s 32 member countries. Although the number of premature deaths in this age group is low relative to the total for the European population estimated by EEA each year, deaths early in life represent a loss of future potential and come with a significant burden of chronic illness, both in childhood and later in life.
Air pollution and children’s health
Children’s lung function and lung development are affected by air pollution, especially by ozone and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the short term, and by fine particles (PM2.5) in the long term. Maternal exposure to air pollution during pregnancy is linked to low birth weight and risk of pre-term birth. After birth, ambient air pollution increases the risk of several health problems, including asthma, reduced lung function, respiratory infections and allergies. It also can aggravate chronic conditions like asthma, which afflicts 9% of children and adolescents in Europe, as well as increasing the risk of some chronic diseases later in adulthood.
Until air pollution is reduced to safe levels overall, improving air quality around settings like schools and kindergartens and during activities like school commutes and sports, can help reduce children’s exposure.
Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director:
“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. It is urgent that we continue to step up measures at EU, 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.”
This Commentary was originally published by European Environment Agency at www.eea.europa.eu/en/newsroom/news/air-pollution-levels-across-europe