300 Million Children Breathe Highly Toxic Air, Unicef Reports

Igor Heifetz ・ Princeton Environmental Institute

MUMBAI, India — About 300 million children in the world breathe highly toxic air, the United Nations Children’s Fund said in a report on Monday that used satellite imagery to illustrate the magnitude of the problem.

The vast majority of these children, about 220 million, live in South Asia, in places where air pollution is at least six times the level that the World Health Organization considers safe, Unicef said.

The agency said the children faced serious health risks as a result.

“Children are uniquely vulnerable because their lungs are still developing,” said Nicholas Rees, the author of the report.

“Early exposure to toxic air has lifelong consequences for them,” he said.

Among the most dangerous pollutants are air particles known as PM2.5, which are a small fraction of the width of a human hair.

They can be released from fossil fuel combustion and industry, and include natural sources like dust.

The ultrafine particles enter the bloodstream through the lungs, worsening cardiac disease and increasing the risk of stroke and heart failure, in addition to causing severe respiratory problems, like asthma and pneumonia.