Extreme Child Air Pollution Exposure

According to recent data, hundreds of millions of children live in areas with extreme air pollution.

Three hundred million of the world’s children live in areas with extreme air pollution, where toxic fumes are more than six times international guidelines, according to new research by Unicef.

The study, using satellite data, is the first to make a global estimate of exposure and indicates that almost 90% of the world’s children – 2 billion – live in places where outdoor air pollution exceeds World Health Organisation (WHO) limits.

Unicef warned the levels of global air pollution contributed to 600,000 child deaths a year more than are caused by malaria and HIV/Aids combined. Children are far more vulnerable to air pollution, Unicef warned, pointing to enduring damage to health and the development of children’s brain and urging nations attending a global climate summit next month to cut fossil fuel burning rapidly.

Air pollution is world’s single biggest environmental health risk, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), and is getting worse, with levels of toxic air rising 8% in the last five years. More than 3 million people a year die as a result of outdoor air pollution six every minute on average and this is set to double by 2050 as fast growing cities expand. Indoor air pollution, mainly from wood or dung stoves, causes another 3 million deaths a year.

Children are especially at risk, the Unicef report says, because they breathe more rapidly than adults and the cell layer in their lungs is more permeable to pollutant particles. The tiny particles can also cross the blood-brain barrier, which is less resistant in children, permanently harming cognitive development and their future prospects.