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Air Pollution claims the lives of over 1,200 children and teenagers in Europe each year, according to a report by the European Environment Agency (EEA). This alarming statistic highlights the need for immediate action to protect our young ones from the harmful effects of polluted air, which also increases their risk of developing diseases later in life.
Despite progress in recent years, many European countries still have air Pollution levels exceeding World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. Central-eastern Europe and Italy are especially affected. Young people are more vulnerable to air Pollution due to their developing bodies and immune systems. Short-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide and ozone, along with long-term exposure to fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), can negatively affect lung function and development, leading to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, including asthma, which affects 9% of European youth.
Air pollution exposure during pregnancy is also linked to low birth weight and increased risk of preterm birth. While the number of premature deaths among those under 18 is relatively low compared to the overall death toll from air Pollution, the impact of death or chronic illness in early life is considered more significant.
In 2021, over 90% of the European Union’s urban population was exposed to harmful air Pollution levels, with exposure to PM 2.5 being the highest at 97%. PM 2.5 is a leading cause of stroke, cancer, and respiratory disease. Central-eastern Europe and Italy face the highest levels of PM 2.5, mainly due to the burning of solid fuels like coal in homes and industry.
The EU’s Zero Pollution Action Plan, part of the Green Deal, aims to limit emissions and reduce air Pollution across the bloc. By 2030, it seeks to decrease PM 2.5-related deaths by 55% compared to 2005 levels. Until air Pollution is reduced to safe levels, improving air quality around schools can help protect children.
To make a difference, we must all take action to reduce air Pollution. Encourage your local government to improve cycling infrastructure, impose traffic bans or speed limits during school hours, and promote greener transportation methods. We can also make small changes in our daily lives, like choosing to walk or cycle, using public transportation, or driving electric or hybrid cars. By working together, we can build a cleaner, healthier future for our children and ourselves.
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