Environmental Science

Air pollution killed nearly half a million children last year

Air pollution killed nearly half a million children last year

Last year’s air pollution alone killed nearly half a million babies within a month of birth, according to the State of Global Air 2020. About two-thirds of the deaths were related to indoor air pollution – especially from the burning of charcoal, wood, and animal dung for cooking. Medical experts are only beginning to
understand the damage that air pollution does to fetal development, but the links are clear. We do not fully understand what the mechanisms are at this stage, but there is an epidemiological link, multiple studies have been shown across multiple countries, said Katherine Walker, chief scientist at the Institute for Health Impact, which published the report. The damage caused by air pollution in babies as young as one month old may be permanent, UCLA Professor of Epidemiology
Beat Ritz told the Guardian. This pollution also causes damage to the brain and other organs, so it’s not enough to just survive – we also need to reduce air pollution because of the impact on all of these organs, she said. (Parent)

Babies born with low birth weight can get childhood infections and pneumonia. Even the lungs of pre-term babies cannot be fully developed. How little progress has been made on multiple fronts – the report also found that air pollution contributed to a total of 6.67 million deaths in 2019.

“They are born in a highly polluted environment and they are more susceptible than premature babies,” said Dan Greenbaum, president of the American Institute of Health Impact.

Beat Ritz, a professor of epidemiology at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) who was not involved in the study, said indoor air pollution in various cities in India, Southeast Asia, and Africa was comparable to Victorian London. Ritz said, “We don’t see air pollution in modern cities (in the rich world), but in London and other places where we had coal fires a year and a half ago. Indoor air pollution wasn’t the maximum for policymakers, but it should be”. She noted that the loss of children has gone beyond death; reducing air pollution can also
reduce the loss of survivors. This pollution also damages the brain and other organs, so it’s not enough to just survive – we need to reduce air pollution because of the impact on all these organs.

However, the problem is now further complicated by the population density of many developing cities and outdoor air pollution from vehicles and industry. These factors mean that for hundreds of millions of people, there is no escape from dirty air from morning to night.

Fortunately, global air pollution seems to be declining. The report notes that over the past decade, the global burden of household air pollution has steadily decreased, with the total number of deaths attributed to household air pollution
falling by a total of 23.8 percent. Scientists say there have been very few signs of improvement in air pollution over the past ten years, despite increased warnings about the risk of dirty air over the past five years.

2020 has been an unusual year for many reasons, with Covid-19 lockdowns improving air quality in many places around the world. This change was only a brief blip in the history of pumping greenhouse gases and pollutants, but the report argues that it raises the issue of air pollution and raises questions about the future of our planet. The effects of Covid-19 can occur within a few weeks, and the health consequences of air pollution can take years to manifest themselves in the form of chronic disease, the report said. As the Covid-19 crisis
has highlighted the need for multiple strategies to manage the epidemic, it has also provided an unexpected opportunity to understand what we can do better in tackling air pollution.