A THIRD of childhood asthma cases in Europe caused by air pollution
Air pollution may cause a THIRD of all childhood asthma cases in Europe as scientists demand an ‘urgent call for action’
- Researchers studied more than 63million children across 18 European countries
- Across Europe, 33% of new cases of childhood asthma could be prevented a year
- This is if countries reduced their PM2.5 levels to the lowest ever recorded
- In the UK alone, almost 45,000 cases could be avoided every year
- The study also looked at nitrogen dioxide and black carbon – two other pollutants
Around a third of all cases of childhood asthma in Europe may be caused by air pollution, scientists claim.
Researchers estimate more than 190,000 children could avoid the condition each year if governments worked harder to tackle toxic air.
In the UK alone, almost 45,000 cases of the common condition could be avoided every year, the experts predicted.
Study co-author Dr Haneen Khreis, of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, said the findings are ‘a call for urgent action’, adding: ‘We can and should do something about it.’
Researchers said the World Health Organisation (WHO) limits for some pollutants are not strict enough to protect children from asthma.
Pollution can damage airways, leading to inflammation and the development of asthma in children who are genetically at risk.
Up to a third of cases of childhood asthma in Europe could be caused by air pollution, a study analysing data from 18 European countries has found
The study, led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), looked at asthma rates among more than 63million children living in 18 European countries, including the UK.
They compared asthma incidence rates with estimations of levels of the pollutants the youngsters would be typically be exposed to.
This was based on previous readings in 2010, taking into account around 1.5million square kilometre.
They calculated how many new cases could have been avoided if pollution levels were reduced to the lowest levels recorded using data from 41 previous studies.
Three common pollutants were looked at to see which the worst culprit was when it came to new cases of child asthma.
On average, levels of PM2.5 are 29 times higher in Europe than the lowest recorded level recorded in literature.
Average levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are 7.8 times higher than the lowest ever recorded, and levels of black carbon are 2.5 times higher.
If all 18 countries cut their levels of PM2.5 pollution, a total of 191,883 children (33 per cent) would never have developed asthma.
PM2.5, which is mainly produced by traffic fumes, industry and household heating, are tiny particles finer than a human hair.
In the UK, 44,895 cases (29 per cent of the UK total) could be avoided if the country reduced levels of PM2.5.
If nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was heavily reduced, approximately 135,257 (23 per cent) of the children would never have been diagnosed with asthma.
Around 40,000 of these were in the UK (26 per cent of the UK total), the researchers wrote in the European Respiratory Journal.
WAS AIR POLLUTION BEHIND THE DEATH OF ELLA KISSI-DEBRAH?
Ella Kiss-Debrah, a nine-year-old schoolgirl from south-east London, died as a result of a fatal asthma attack.
Ella Kissi-Debrah (pictured), from Lewisham, died of an asthma attack on February 15, 2013
The original inquest concluded she died from acute respiratory failure.
Her family believe the filthy air around their home was a ‘silent killer’. The family lived just 80ft from London’s South Circular road, a notorious pollution hot spot.
In a report by leading asthma expert Professor Stephen Holgate claimed there was a ‘striking association’ between the youngster, from London, visiting hospital and spikes in pollutants nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and PM10s.
Ella suffered repeated seizures and hospital admissions, and died in 2013.
A second inquest into her death was granted by the High Court following the publication of new evidence relating to air pollution levels close to the family home.
If her doctors’ suspicions are confirmed by the courts, she will become the first asthmatic child in Britain to be officially recognised as having been killed by toxic air.
And if black carbon was reduced to the lowest levels, 89,191 cases across all the 18 countries could be avoided every year – 19,139 in the UK.
NO2 and black carbon are emitted from gas and diesel engines.
The percentages cannot be combined to make a total of estimated cases that can be prevented because the pollutants crossover and exist as a mixture.
In another arm of the study, the researchers also estimated how many cases could be prevented if European countries stuck to maximum pollution guidelines.
These are recommended by bosses at the World Health Organisation (WHO) – but are frequently broken.
NO2 reduced to 40 µg/m3 (annual average), where in exceedance; b. PM2.5 reduced to 10 µg/m3
In this scenario, more than 66,600 childhood asthma cases – 11 per cent of all cases – could be prevented if PM2.5 was reduced. This equates to more than 10,000 cases in the UK being prevented annually.
HOW DOES BAD AIR QUALITY AFFECT BREATHING?
Major sources of air pollution from particulate matter include the inefficient use of energy by households, industry, the agriculture and transport sectors, and coal-fired power plants.
Nitrogen dioxide is released by vehicle emissions and irritates the lining of the lungs, leading to an increased risk of infection, as well as wheezing, colds and flu.
As well as this, PM2.5, which are particles 30 times smaller than the average human hair, are small enough to easily and quickly penetrate deep into the lungs, and enter the bloodstream.
There are no safe levels of exposure to PM2.5, which includes toxins like sulfate and black carbon, and pose the greatest risk to human health.
But, when applying the same approach to NO2, only 0.4 per cent of cases – 2,400 children – could be avoided, suggesting the WHO’s maximum limits are too low.
Co-author David Rojas-Rueda said: ‘Our estimations show the current NO2 WHO air quality guideline value seems to provide much less protection than the PM2.5 guideline.’
The researchers said they believe these guidelines are outdated and need to be lowered.
Professor Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, an author of the study, said ‘major lifestyle changes’ in the UK would be needed to reach the lowest levels in Europe, recorded in Scandanavian countries.
He said it would be essential to get rid of fossil fuels that produce air pollution, which mainly comes from cars, residential cooking and heating, industry, and ports.
He said: ‘Even if you get electric cars, if they run on renewable energy, you still have particulate matter coming from the brakes, tyres and the wear and tear of the car.
‘So you are also looking towards a reduction of cars and a move towards public transportation, cycling or walking.’
The study concluded: ‘Our estimates are larger than previous documentation and underline the urgent need to reduce children’s air pollution exposure across Europe.’
A previous study in The Lancet Planetary Health suggested that just under a fifth of new childhood asthma cases in the UK could be linked to N02 traffic pollution.
More than a million children are believed to suffer asthma in the UK.
Ella Kissi-Debrah, who lived near the South Circular Road in Lewisham, south east London died in 2013 after having an asthma attack.
The nine-year-old’s death will be re-examined at an inquest, to determine whether it was linked to air pollution.
Responding to the study, her mother, Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, said: ‘This is another reminder that the Government are not taking the health impacts of air pollution seriously enough.
‘I believe the nation would rather have an informative campaign (about) how to protect their health against air pollution rather than a no-Brexit campaign, especially when it is a matter of life and death.’
Dr Samantha Walker, director of policy and research at Asthma UK said: ‘It is outrageous that children across the UK are breathing in toxic air that is causing them to develop asthma, a serious and debilitating medical condition that leaves them struggling to breathe and at risk of a life-threatening asthma attack.
‘This research is yet another reminder that the Government needs to tackle air pollution as an urgent priority.’
WHAT HAVE RECENT STUDIES SHOWN POLLUTION CAN DO TO OUR HEALTH AND BODIES?
CAUSE CHILDREN TO HAVE A LOW IQ: Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found in May 2019 that children born to mothers who live in polluted areas have an IQ that is up to seven points lower than those living in places with cleaner air.
CAUSE CHILDREN TO HAVE POORER MEMORY: Researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health found boys exposed to greater levels of PM2.5 in the womb performed worse on memory tests by the time they are 10.
DELAY THE DEVELOPMENT OF CHILDREN: Youngsters who live less than one-third of a mile away from busy roads are twice as likely to score lower on tests of communication skills in infancy, found researchers at Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health in April. They were also more likely to have poorer hand-eye coordination.
MAKE CHILDREN MORE ANXIOUS: University of Cincinnati scientists claimed pollution may alter the structure of children’s brains to make them more anxious. Their study of 14 youngsters found rates of anxiety was higher among those exposed to greater levels of pollution.
CUT YOUR CHILD’S LIFE SHORT: Children born today will lose nearly two years of their lives because of air pollution, according to a report by the US-based Health Effects Institute and the University of British Columbia in April 2019. UNICEF called for action on the back of the study.
RAISE A CHILD’S RISK OF AUTISM: Researchers at Monash University in Australia discovered youngsters living in highly polluted parts of Shanghai have a 86 per cent greater chance of developing ASD. Lead author Dr Yuming Guo said: ‘The developing brains of young children are more vulnerable to toxic exposures in the environment.’
CAUSE ASTHMA IN CHILDREN: Four million children around the world develop asthma each year because of road traffic pollution, a major study by academics at George Washington University estimated. Experts are divided as to what causes asthma – but exposure to pollution in childhood increases the risk by damaging the lungs.
MAKE CHILDREN FAT: University of Southern California experts found last November that 10 year olds who lived in polluted areas when they were babies are, on average, 2.2lbs (1kg), heavier than those who grew up around cleaner air. Nitrogen dioxide pollution could disrupt how well children burn fat, the scientists said.
LEAVE WOMEN INFERTILE EARLIER: Scientists at the University of Modena, Italy, claimed in May 2019 that they believe pollution speeds up ageing in women, just like smoking, meaning they run out of eggs faster. This was based on them finding almost two-thirds of women who have a low ‘reserve’ of eggs regularly inhaled toxic air.
RAISE THE RISK OF A MISCARRIAGE: University of Utah scientists found in January that pregnant women are 16 per cent more likely to suffer the heartbreak of a miscarriage if they live in areas of high pollution.
RAISE THE RISK OF BREAST CANCER: Scientists at the University of Stirling found six women working at the same bridge next to a busy road in the US got breast cancer within three years of each other. There was a one in 10,000 chance the cases were a coincidence, the study said. It suggested chemicals in the traffic fumes caused the cancer by shutting down the BRCA genes, which try to stop tumours growing.
DAMAGE A MAN’S SPERM: Brazilian scientists at the University of Sao Paulo found in March that mice exposed to toxic air had lower counts and worse quality sperm compared to those who had inhaled clean air since birth.
MAKE MEN LESS LIKELY TO GET SEXUALLY AROUSED: Scientists at Guangzhou Medical University in China found rats exposed to air pollution struggled to get sexually aroused. Scientists believe it may also affect men, as inhaling poisonous particles may trigger inflammation in blood vessels and starve the genitals of oxygen – affecting men’s ability to become sexually aroused.
MAKE MEN MORE LIKELY TO HAVE ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION: Men who live on main roads are more likely to have difficulty getting an erection due to exposure to pollution, a Guangzhou University in China study suggested in February. Toxic fumes reduced blood flow to the genitals, tests on rats showed, putting them at risk of developing erectile dysfunction.
RAISE THE RISK OF PSYCHOSIS: In March, King’s College London scientists linked toxic air to intense paranoia and hearing voices in young people for the first time. They said uncovering exactly how pollution may lead to psychosis should be an ‘urgent health priority’.
MAKE YOU DEPRESSED: Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers found in January that that the more polluted the air, the sadder we are. Their study was based on analysing social media users in China alongside the average daily PM2.5 concentration and weather data where they lived.
CAUSE DEMENTIA: Air pollution could be responsible for 60,000 cases of dementia in the UK, researchers from King’s College London and St George’s, University of London, calculated last September. Tiny pollutants breathed deep into the lungs and enter the blood stream, where they may travel into the brain and cause inflammation – a problem which may trigger dementia.
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