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Air pollution killing 1,200 young people in Europe each year

April 24, 2023

Children are exposed to air pollution levels far higher than WHO recommendations, the European Environmental Agency has found in a new report that did not even include major polluters like the United Kingdom and Russia.

Smog over Paris, with the Eiffel Tower barely visible in the skyline
European countries are exposed to high levels of air pollutionImage: Vincent Isore/IP3press/IMAGO

Air pollution causes the death of more than 1,200 children and adolescents every year in Europe, according to a report released by the European Environmental Agency (EEA) on Monday.

"Children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution, from when they are in the womb to when they reach adulthood," the Copenhagen-based agency said in its report. 

"Although the number of premature deaths in this age group is low relative to the total for the European population estimated by the 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," it added. 

Exposure to high air pollution also causes higher rates of asthma, which already afflicts 9% of children and adolescents in Europe, as well as reduced lung function, respiratory infections and allergies.

The study looked at 30 countries, including the 27 members of the European Union, but did not cover major industrial nations like Russia, Ukraine and the United Kingdom, suggesting the overall death toll from air pollution could be even higher.

Air pollution exceeding WHO guidelines

The EEA said the levels of several key air pollutants "remain stubbornly above" World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines in many European countries, particularly in central-eastern Europe and Italy.

It estimated that 97% of the urban population among the surveyed countries were exposed to air that did not meet WHO recommendations last year.

The EEA said emissions from transport, industry and heating must be reduced.

One practical solution that was floated to benefit children in the short term is to improve air quality around schools by increasing green space.

zc/jsi (AFP, dpa)