COPENHAGEN, 24th April, 2023 (WAM) -- Breathing dirty air causes the premature death of at least 1,200 children across Europe each year, and many thousands more are afflicted with physical and mental health problems that could have lifelong impacts, according to the latest assessment of air pollution by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Gerardo Sanchez Martinez, an expert in environment and health at the EEA, said, “You can’t think about children as little adults when it comes to air pollution. They receive more pollution, and it starts in the womb and continues in kindergarten and onwards. We are failing our children on air pollution.”

According to the study published on Monday by the EEA, children are particularly susceptible to dirty air, as pollutants can have an impact on their development that is permanent. The impacts begin before birth, with studies linking pollution to low birth weight and premature birth.

Exposure to high levels of pollutants in childhood have 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 are more exposed to filthy 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.

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

Rola AlGhoul/ Esraa Esmail

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