European children and teenagers particularly vulnerable to pollution

According to the European Environment Agency, at least 1,200 European children and adolescents die prematurely every year due to air © pollution AP - Peter Dejong

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In Europe, at least 1,200 children and adolescents die prematurely each year because of air pollution, according to a report by the European Environment Agency, published on Monday 24 April. This pollution also significantly increases the risk of disease later in life. The situation is particularly bad in Italy's Po Valley, near coal-fired power plants and in the major cities of Central and Eastern Europe.


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Air pollution is the main environmental risk to health, regardless of age, according to the European Environment Agency study. The cause: fine particles, dust and microscopic pollutants that penetrate deep into the lungs. Then come nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ozone (O3), toxic gases from industry and exhaust gases.

Their deleterious effects begin even before birth. Maternal exposure to air pollution is "linked to low birth weight and premature births," notes the environmental agency. After birth, environmental pollution increases the risk of several health problems, such as asthma – which affects 9% of children and adolescents in Europe – respiratory failure and lung infections.

Smaller, and therefore closer to car exhausts, but also more active than adults, children are particularly targeted. The agency therefore recommends focusing efforts on air quality around schools and nurseries, as well as sports facilities and public transport.

New EEA assessments out today: #Airpollution still a #health risk in #Europe and #children are particularly vulnerable. Check also which European #cities have the cleanest air: #airquality #cleanair

— EU EnvironmentAgency (@EUEnvironment) April 24, 2023

► Also listen: Pollution: the way of life of Europeans singled out

The European situation is still improving.

In a previous report in November 2022, however, the European Environment Agency estimated that the European Union is on track to reduce premature deaths related to these fumes and to achieve its target of halving premature deaths in 2030 compared to 2005.

In the early 1990s, fine particulate matter caused nearly one million premature deaths in the European Union of all ages. They were still close to 240,000 in 2020, according to the agency's data.

The European situation remains generally better than elsewhere in the world: according to the World Health Organization, air pollution is responsible for seven million premature deaths per year worldwide. A balance close to that caused by smoking or poor diet.

► Read also: Air pollution killed 238,000 people in Europe in 2020

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  • Health and medicine
  • Environment