Merrit Kennedy / National Public Radio – 2016-11-03 00:50:02
300 Million Children Are Breathing
‘Extremely Toxic’ Air, UNICEF Says
Merrit Kennedy / National Public Radio
(October 31, 2016) — Some 300 million children around the world are breathing highly toxic air, according to a new report from UNICEF.
The report, which uses satellite imagery to determine the impacted areas, says these children live in places “where outdoor air pollution exceeds international guidelines by at least six times.” Altogether, it states, some 2 billion children are breathing air that has been deemed a “long term hazard,” exceeding minimum standards set by the World Health Organization.
“Air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600,000 children under five every year — and it threatens the lives and futures of millions more every day,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in a statement. “Pollutants don’t only harm children’s developing lungs — they can actually cross the blood-brain barrier and permanently damage their developing brains — and, thus, their futures. No society can afford to ignore air pollution.”
The report says poor air quality can have an outsize impact on children: Their lungs are still developing; their respiratory airways are more prone to blockages; they “breathe twice as fast, taking in more air per unit of body weight, compared to adults.”
The impact of living in a place with poor air quality extends far beyond childhood. As the report states, “studies have shown that the lung capacity of children living in polluted environments can be reduced by 20 per cent — similar to the effect of growing up in a home with secondhand cigarette smoke.”
Here’s more from the report on the impact:
“The combination of respiratory, cardiovascular, cognitive, morbidity and reproductive health effects of air pollution have biological as well as social and economic effects that last a lifetime.
“These include health conditions, school attendance, school performance, health costs and productivity, which affect income, poverty and inequalities. Air pollution, through its massive and cumulative impact on the overall health and well-being of children and parents, can perpetuate intergenerational cycles of inequality.”
Both outdoor air pollution (such as pollution from a factory) and indoor air pollution (such as smoke from solid fuels used in cooking) are causing damage to children’s health, the report finds. Outdoor air pollution is worse in “lower-income, urban communities,” while indoor air pollution is more prolific in “lower-income, rural areas.”
At the same time, the report states that it can be difficult to tease out the impact of each, because individuals are constantly moving between the two environments.
The problem is getting worse because of industrialization, based on current projections. “Unless action is taken to control outdoor air pollution, studies show that outdoor air pollution will become the leading cause of environment-related child death by 2050,” the report states.
“South Asia has the largest number of children living in these areas, at 620 million, with Africa following at 520 million children,” according to UNICEF. “The East Asia and Pacific region has 450 million children living in areas that exceed guideline limits.”
A recent World Health Organization report said 92 percent of the world’s population breathes air containing dangerous levels of pollutants.
92 Percent of The World’s Population
Breathes Substandard Air, WHO Says
Merrit Kennedy / NPR
(September 27, 2016) — The World Health Organization says 92 percent of the world’s population breathes air containing pollutants exceeding WHO limits, in new research released Tuesday.
The new WHO air-quality model, which uses satellite data and ground measurements, “represents the most detailed outdoor (or ambient) air pollution-related health data, by country, ever reported by WHO,” according to a press release from the organization. The report used information from nearly 3,000 places from around the world, doubling the amount of data from the last assessment of this kind.
The WHO research measured particulate matter in the air, such as “sulphates, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, black carbon, mineral dust and water.” It did not account for known pollutants such as nitrogen oxides or ozone — meaning that these are likely conservative figures.
The pollution levels had a staggering impact on health, according to the report, which said: “In 2012, one out of every nine deaths was the result of air pollution-related conditions.” The number of deaths attributable to both indoor and outdoor air pollution totaled approximately 6.5 million worldwide, of which 3 million deaths were blamed on outdoor air pollution — the focus of this report.
“Air pollution continues take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations — women, children and the older adults,” Dr. Flavia Bustreo, assistant director general at WHO, said in a press release. “For people to be healthy, they must breathe clean air from their first breath to their last.”
WHO added that lower- and middle-income countries, where about 87 percent of the deaths occur, bore the brunt of the health impact.
China had the most deaths attributable to air quality in 2012, at 1,032,833, followed by 621,138 in India and 140,851 in Russia. The U.S. had 38,043.
Here is the report’s breakdown by region:
“The WHO Western Pacific and South East Asia regions bear most of the burden with 1.1 million and 799,000 deaths, respectively. In other regions, about 211,000 deaths occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa, 194,000 in the Eastern Mediterranean region, 190 000 in Europe, and 93 000 in the Americas.
The remaining deaths occur in high-income countries of Europe (289,000), the Americas (44,000), Western Pacific (44,000), and Eastern Mediterranean (10,000).”
The researchers said that much of the outdoor air pollution comes from sources like “inefficient modes of transport, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants, and industrial activities.” The model also includes sources not caused by humans, such as sand storms.
Maria Neria, director of WHO’s public health and the environment department, told the Guardian that this improved data on air pollution should be seen as a call to action:
“Countries are confronted with the reality of better data. Now we have the figures of how many citizens are dying from air pollution. What we are learning is, this is very bad. Now there are no excuses for not taking action.”
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