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24 August 2005 | Printer friendly

WHO review on children’s exposure to air pollution

WHO review on children’s exposure to air pollution

The WHO has just published (summer 2005) a new review: Reducing the Adverse Effect of Air Pollution on Children’s Health assessing the research data over the last decades in Europe. Focusing on the causal link between air pollution and children’s health, the publication concludes that policies should be oriented for reducing air pollution, particularly with regard to the hazardous aspects of children’s exposure.

Several pieces of evidence of children’s susceptibility to pollution were identified in this review by leading scientists active in epidemiology, toxicology and public health:
- Effects on pregnancy outcomes
- Infant and childhood mortality
- Lung function development
- Asthma and allergies
- Neurobehavioral development and childhood cancer

The likely causality between pollution and those health issues were identified by experts according to a multilevel scale:
- a) Evidence sufficient to infer causality
- b) Evidence suggestive of causality
- c) Evidence insufficient to infer causality
- d) Evidence showing no association

Starting from the assertion that children have a special vulnerability to pollution exposure, the review mostly shows that air pollution hampers the development of lung function, has an impact on respiratory deaths in the post-neonatal period, increases cough, bronchitis, asthma symptoms and the risks of respiratory infections for children.

More particularily on lung function, the review also highlights concern about the longer-term implications of lung injury during childhood.

Regarding cancer, even though conclusions on its development in children show a lack of evidence to infer a causal link with air pollution, exposure needs to be investigated during different periods in the child’s development since disease can appear later in life. Therefore investigation must be intensified in this field.

Generally, recognizing the need for further research, the review nevertheless stresses high enough evidence for strongly recommending a reduction of children’s current exposure to pollutants.


Reducing the Adverse Effect of Air Pollution on Children’s Health, a Review of the Evidence is one of the four Regional Priority Goals of the Children’s Environment and Health Action Plan for Europe (CEHAPE) [1] Declaration signed at the Fourth Ministerial Conference in Budapest (June 2004). The review was conducted within the scope of the project “systematic review of health aspects of air pollution in Europe”, implemented by the WHO Regional Office for Europe in support of air policy development in Europe, and in particular of the European Commission’s Clean Air for Europe (CAFE) program [2].

Footnotes :

[1] EEN is currently working on the development of the website that will feature NGOs work for helping CEHAPE implementation

[2] The European Commission partially supported the Systematic Review on a grant agreement from 2001

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