By Biodun Busari
About 1,200 under-18 children died prematurely in a year across Europe as a result of air pollution, according to European Environmental Agency (EEA) on Monday.
Air pollution also increases the risk of chronic disease later in life, particularly in central-eastern Europe and Italy, and over 30 countries including the 27 member countries of the European Union as studied in the report.
According to VOA, despite recent improvements, “The level of key air pollutants in many European countries remain stubbornly above World Health Organisation.”
The report excluded the major industrial nations of Russia, Ukraine and the United Kingdom, suggesting the overall death tolls for the continent could be higher.
The EEA announced last November that 238,000 people died prematurely because of air pollution in 2020 in the EU, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey.
“Air pollution causes over 1,200 premature deaths per year in people under the age of 18 in Europe and significantly increases the risk of disease later in life,” the agency said.
The study was the agency’s first to concentrate explicitly on children.
“Although the number of premature deaths in this age group is low relative to the total for the European population estimated by 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,” the agency said.
It urged authorities to focus on improving air quality around schools and nurseries as well as sports facilities and mass transport hubs.
“After birth, ambient air pollution increases the risk of several health problems, including asthma, reduced lung function, respiratory infections and allergies,” the report noted.
Poor air quality can also “aggravate chronic conditions like asthma, which afflicts nine per cent of children and adolescents in Europe, as well as increasing the risk of some chronic diseases later in adulthood.”
VOA also said ninety-seven per cent of the urban population in 2021 was exposed to air that did not meet WHO recommendations, according to figures released Monday.
The EEA had last year underlined that the EU was on track to meet its target of reducing premature deaths by 50% by 2030 compared with 2005.
In the early 1990s, fine particulates caused nearly a million premature deaths a year in the 27 EU nations. That fell to 431,000 in 2005.