300 M children at risk from toxic air—UNICEF

Exposure to air pollution causes more deaths than malaria and AIDS


By Allie Sanchez

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a recent report that 300 million children worldwide are exposed to highly toxic levels of air pollution, which is at least six times the level prescribed as safe by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The data is based on satellite imagery from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which also indicates that 220 million of these children reside in South Asia.

UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake pointed out that air pollution is a “major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600,000 children under five (years of age) every year. Children exposed to air pollution are at risk of suffering from pneumonia and developmental disorders.

“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,” Lake further explained.

Further, UNICEF said that 2 billion or 90% of the children around the globe are breathing air that is considered a “long term hazard” because it exceeds levels determined as healthy by the WHO.

The mix of micro-particles such as pollen and mold spores; and gases from car emissions and chemicals from factories have a lasting impact on children’s development. With exposure to such hazards, their developing lungs are more vulnerable because they “breathe twice as fast, taking in more air per unit of body weight, compared to adults.”

Also according to UNICEF, exposure to air pollution leads to more deaths among children than malaria and HIV/AIDS combined.

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