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Air pollution is killing 1,200 children and teenagers in Europe each year, EEA warns

Why are young people so vulnerable to air pollution?

Air pollution kills more than 1,200 children and teenagers per year in Europe, according to a report released by the European Environment Agency (EEA) on Monday.

It also significantly increases the risk of disease later in life.

Despite improvements made in recent years, the level of key air pollutants in many European countries remain “stubbornly above” World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, the report warns.

Central-eastern Europe and Italy are particularly severely affected.

Why are young people so vulnerable to air pollution?

Children and adolescents are especially vulnerable to air pollution because their bodies and immune systems are still developing.

Exposure to nitrogen dioxide and ozone in the short term, and fine particulate matter - also known as PM 2.5 - in the long term can affect children’s lung function and development. This can lead to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, including asthma, which affects nine per cent of young people in Europe.

Exposure to air pollution during pregnancy is additionally linked to low birth weight and risk of preterm birth.

The report estimates that air pollution causes more than 1,200 premature deaths per year among those under age 18 across the EEA’s 32 member countries, which do not include the UK, Switzerland or Ukraine.

Although this number is still low compared to overall deaths from air pollution, which was estimated at 311,000 in 2021, the impact of death or chronic illness in early life is considered greater.

Among the wider population, heart disease and stroke are the most common causes of premature deaths from air pollution, followed by lung diseases and lung cancer.