Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Pollution Kills 1.7 Million Children Every Year, WHO Reports

Health + Wellness

By Lauren McCauley

Underscoring the dangers of U.S. President Trump's broad attacks on air and water regulations, a pair of reports published by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday revealed that one in four young children die each year as a result of unhealthy environments.

"A polluted environment is a deadly one—particularly for young children," said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan in a press statement on Monday. "Their developing organs and immune systems and smaller bodies and airways, make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water."

Beginning in utero, children are exposed to harmful environmental risks. According to the studies, roughly 1.7 million children under the age of 5 die each year from factors that could have been prevented through addressing environmental risks, which WHO called "a shocking missed opportunity."

The first study, Inheriting a Sustainable World: Atlas on Children's Health and the Environment, provides a detailed update on a similar 2004 study, now incorporating some of the latest factors that affect children's health, including "increasing urbanization, industrialization, globalization and climate change."

A companion report delves into the details of environment-related death statistics. Among the known threats that kill hundreds of thousands of children each year, the studies found:

  • 570,000 children under 5 years die from respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, attributable to indoor and outdoor air pollution and second-hand smoke.
  • 361,000 children under 5 years die due to diarrhea, as a result of poor access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene.
  • 270,000 children die during their first month of life from conditions, including prematurity, which could be prevented through access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene in health facilities as well as reducing air pollution.
  • 200,000 deaths of children under 5 years from malaria could be prevented through environmental actions, such as reducing breeding sites of mosquitoes or covering drinking-water storage.

Less is known about the impact of emerging environmental hazards, which include exposure to chemicals, electronic waste and climate change.

WHO notes that the toxicity of many chemicals "is not well understood," nor adequately assessed by regulators. "Chemicals from pesticides, plastics and other manufactured goods, as well as from environmental contamination, eventually find their way into the food chain," the health atlas notes. "These include arsenic, fluoride, lead, mercury, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, polychlorinated biphenyls and persistent organic pollutants, among others."

The report also warns that climate change is "one of the greatest new threats to children's environmental health," with higher levels of atmospheric carbon increasing rates of asthma and warming temperatures extending the range of infectious diseases. Further, WHO observes that on a hotter planet "[d]isruption to fresh water supplies and food crop harvests will exacerbate malnutrition and stunting," while "[m]ore frequent heat waves will put children at risk of heat stress, renal disease and respiratory illness."

Global efforts to stymie climate change are currently under threat due to President Trump's repeated promise to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement.

Further, these shocking statistics come amid a concerted regulatory rollback in the U.S. on the part of the Trump administration, which is poised to gut regulations on vehicle emissions and has already undercut a rule that protects drinking water, another that required fossil fuel companies to report how much toxic methane they release into the environment and yet another that prevented mining companies from dumping coal waste into waterways.

And that's not all. The president has vowed to "cut regulations by 75 percent, maybe more," which many have warned will have a massive toll on the nation's public health.

"A polluted environment," Dr. Maria Neira, director at WHO's Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, said Monday, "results in a heavy toll on the health of our children."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The CDC has emphasized that washing hands with soap and water is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Guido Mieth / Moment / Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control has emphasized that washing hands with soap and water is one of the most effective measures we can take in preventing the spread of COVID-19. However, millions of Americans in some of the most vulnerable communities face the prospect of having their water shut off during the lockdowns, according to The Guardian.

Read More Show Less
A California newt (Taricha torosa) from Napa County, California, USA. Connor Long / CC BY-SA 3.0

Aerial photos of the Sierra Nevada — the long mountain range stretching down the spine of California — showed rust-colored swathes following the state's record-breaking five-year drought that ended in 2016. The 100 million dead trees were one of the most visible examples of the ecological toll the drought had wrought.

Now, a few years later, we're starting to learn about how smaller, less noticeable species were affected.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Disinfectants and cleaners claiming to sanitize against the novel coronavirus have started to flood the market.
Natthawat / Moment / Getty Images

Disinfectants and cleaners claiming to sanitize against the novel coronavirus have started to flood the market, raising concerns for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which threatened legal recourse against retailers selling unregistered products, according to The New York Times.

Read More Show Less
A customer packs groceries in reusable bags at a NYC supermarket on March 1, 2020. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

The global coronavirus pandemic has thrown our daily routine into disarray. Billions are housebound, social contact is off-limits and an invisible virus makes up look at the outside world with suspicion. No surprise, then, that sustainability and the climate movement aren't exactly a priority for many these days.

Read More Show Less
Ingredients are displayed for the Old School Pinto Beans from the Decolonize Your Diet cookbook by Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibel. Melissa Renwick / Toronto Star via Getty Images

By Molly Matthews Multedo

Livestock farming contributes to global warming, so eating less meat can be better for the climate.

Read More Show Less