Air pollution linked to one-third of new childhood asthma cases

9th August 2019

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Yetunde Abdul

One-third of new childhood asthma cases in Europe are linked to air pollution, and World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines do not provide sufficient protection.

That is the conclusion of a new scientific study, which found that tiny particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution is attributable to 33% of incidents, or around 190,000 new cases a year.

NO2 pollution is linked to 23% of incidents, and black carbon 15%, according to the analysis of 63.4 million children across the UK, Ireland, Spain and 15 other European countries.

The researchers estimate that adhering to WHO guidelines for maximum PM2.5 levels would cut the number of cases by 66,600, or 11%, but compliance with the corresponding advice for NO2 would reduce incidents by just 2,400, or 0.4%.

“Our estimations show that the current NO2 WHO air quality guideline value seems to provide much less protection than the PM2.5 guideline,“ said David Rojas-Rueda, who led the study at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health.

We suggest that these values require update and lowering to be better suited in protecting children's health.

The findings are in line with two previous studies conducted in the UK, which concluded that 22% of annual childhood asthma cases are linked to NO2 pollution.

This comes after WHO research found that around 93% of under 15-year-olds breathe air that is so polluted it puts their health and development at risk, including 630 million children under the age of five.

And new data from the Office for National Statistics shows that over 1,400 people died from asthma attacks last year in England and Wales, which is 33% more than the 1,071 recorded in 2008.

Haneen Khreis from the Center for Advancing Research in Transportation Emissions, Energy, and Health at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, said that the link between air pollution and asthma necessitates “urgent action“.

“Only in the past two years, several analyses on air pollution and onset of childhood asthma have emerged, strengthening the case from different research teams that air pollution is contributing substantially to asthma,“ she continued.

“Largely, these impacts are preventable and there are numerous policy measures which can reduce the ambient levels of, and children's exposures to, outdoor air pollution. We can and should do something about it.“

Image credit: Shutterstock


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