Reducing and combating environmental pollution is a public health priority. Every time the data are more discouraging, because according to the WHO (World Health Organization), more than a quarter of the deaths of children under five years of age are the result of environmental pollution. We are talking about 1.7 million children.
Among these pollutants that cause unhealthiness in the environment, those that affect water and the atmosphere stand out. The pollution worsens the health status of the child population and increases susceptibility to chronic disease in adults.
What is pollution?
Pollution is the pollution of the environment, which affects the land, water or air, produced by residues or wastes from human activity, industrial or biological processes.
Why are children so vulnerable to pollution?
The fragility of the child (and even of the fetus during pregnancy) is such that it is most affected by the unhealthy environment. So much so that it can be deadly, especially for children under the age of five. Their organs and immune system are immature, they are in full development and any pollutant can alter this process or be much more toxic than for an adult individual.
During pregnancy, for example, exposure to certain substances can increase the risk of prematurity or neurological damage. In infants and preschool children, passive exposure to tobacco smoke can increase the risk of respiratory infections, bronchial hyperresponsiveness, asthma, or otitis, and even cause sudden infant death.
Air pollution can affect a child’s cognitive level and school performance.
Measures such as access to drinking water, reducing smoking in homes or using less polluting fuels can be very effective solutions to reduce pollution and its negative consequences on the development of children.
Five causes of child death related to environmental pollution
- Respiratory infections: according to the WHO, 570,000 children under the age of five die from respiratory infections (pneumonia, for example) caused by air pollution in their homes (tobacco or unsuitable fuels in kitchens) and cities.
- Diarrhea: the lack of access to drinking water is the main cause of severe diarrhea in developing countries. Some 361,000 children under the age of five die from this cause.
- Prematurity: it is estimated that some 270,000 children die in the first month of life due to various causes, including prematurity, which are related to environmental pollution.
- Malaria or malaria: approximately 200,000 children die from not adopting simple measures such as reducing the number of mosquito breeding sites or covering water reservoirs.
- Accidents: 200,000 children die from injuries or trauma related to the environment: poisonings, falls and drowning.
The big cities
In cities we have everything, but also an invisible enemy that affects the present and future health of our children: pollution. The efforts of governments to reduce air pollution are a priority in the health of the population and, above all, in children’s health.
Pollution of the environment has a very high cost for the health of our children. Any investment aimed at eliminating risks related to the environment, such as improving water quality or the use of less polluting fuels, will bring important improvements to your health.
A very topical problem is all the electronic waste that we generate. These wastes are loaded with toxins that affect children both organically (lung injuries or increased risk of cancer) and cognitive and mental (attention deficit).
It is estimated that, between 2014 and 2018, waste from electronic equipment will increase by 19% and will reach 50 million tons.
Is it related to climate change?
It is obvious that climate change is a fish that bites its tail. Environmental pollution favors it and its presence worsens the environmental situation.
The fact that temperatures and concentrations of carbon dioxide are increasing is objective data. This fact, for example, increases pollen production and its atmospheric concentration, causing major respiratory problems in children, especially allergic asthma .
In relation to asthma, this is just one example. The data reveals that 44% of childhood asthma cases are related to exposure to environmental toxins: tobacco smoke, pollution in large cities generated by industry or polluting fuels, mold, humidity in bad spaces. vented or pollen.
Children are very vulnerable to toxic and harmful chemicals in food. For example, fluorides, pesticides that contain lead and mercury end up entering the food chain, are ingested by children and can cause problems in the medium term, especially at the level of brain development.
Air pollution affects individuals from birth, even in the fetal stage. Air pollution can cause alterations in the development of the baby during pregnancy. We can list the most frequent problems:
- Increase in premature births.
- Intrauterine growth retardation.
- Congenital malformations.
If the exposure continues during childhood, the most frequent repercussions are:
- Growth retardation.
- Greater predisposition to develop respiratory diseases (bronchial hyperresponsiveness, asthma).
- Possible relationship with a greater predisposition to develop cancer.
- Lower academic performance.
- Decreased cognitive ability.
In the adult, we should add:
- Greater predisposition to cardiovascular diseases (in adults).
Measures for children to live in healthy environments
The objective of public health policies, in relation to pollution, is to reduce air pollution inside and outside homes, access to drinking water, protection of pregnant women, reduction of tobacco and environmental hygiene measures.
Some of these measures would be:
- Home: avoid tobacco smoke and use clean fuels for cooking and heating. Keep the house well ventilated to avoid the growth of mold and humidity. Avoid using building materials that contain lead or asbestos.
- School: do not use school supplies that contain lead pigments or paints, guarantee a clean and sanitized area, as well as provide noise-free spaces and healthy eating in school canteens.
- Health policies: guarantee the entire population a supply of drinking water, a safe and well-cared sanitation network, as well as clean and uninterrupted electricity and heating supplies. Guarantee quality health care and coverage for all individuals.
- Cities: promote the creation of green areas, waste recycling, the use of public transport and non-polluting vehicles (electric and bicycles).
- Transport: reduce emissions and expand public transport.
- Agriculture: eradicate the use of dangerous pesticides.
- Industry: adequately eliminate toxic waste, commit to reducing polluting emissions and look for alternatives to the most toxic products.
- Public spaces: promote tobacco smoke-free zones.
- According to the WHO, more than a quarter of the deaths of children under the age of five are the result of environmental pollution.
- Air pollution can cause alterations in the development of the baby during pregnancy.
- The increase in temperatures and concentration, for example, increases pollen production and its atmospheric concentration, causing greater respiratory problems in children, especially allergic asthma.