Air pollution causes over 1,200 premature deaths per year in people under the age of 18 across 32 European countries and significantly increases the risk of disease later in life, according to European Environment Agency’s (EEA) air quality assessments.
Despite improvements over the past years, the level of key air pollutants in many European countries remains stubbornly above the World Health Organization’s (WHO) health-based guidelines, especially in central-eastern Europe and Italy, the EEA said.
The agency noted that while emissions of key air pollutants have declined over recent decades, air pollution levels in Europe are still not safe.
The worst situation is in central-eastern Europe and Italy
“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’s ‘Air pollution and children’s health’ briefing’.
The most dangerous pollutants for children’s lungs are ozone (O3) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the short term, and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the long term, the document adds.
The briefing’s authors pointed out that air pollution increases the risk of asthma, reduced lung function, respiratory infections, and allergies and that it can aggravate chronic conditions like asthma, which afflicts 9% of children and adolescents in Europe. They said it increases the risk of chronic diseases later in adulthood.
Children are the most vulnerable to the health impacts of air pollution
EEA advises that 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.
EEA Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx said children are the most vulnerable to the health impacts of air pollution.
It is urgent to continue to step up measures at the EU, national and local levels to protect our children, who cannot protect themselves, Bruyninckx added.