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Air pollution is a Preventable Danger to Health

Ambient air pollution is a pressing danger to health, especially in children. This fact is recognized and explained in a recent policy statement released by The American Academy of Pediatrics.

Where does air pollution come from? The most common sources of air pollution include vehicular traffic, coal-fired abstract, power plants, hydraulic fracturing, agricultural production, and forest fires. These sources generate toxic pollutants, 187 of which are monitored by the EPA and known to cause cancer and other serious health effects. Although we are exposed to these toxicants outside, they can enter buildings, vehicles and homes and add to the burden of indoor air pollutants. Racial and social economics disparities in exposure have been observed, however, evidence suggests that people everywhere, especially children, are impacted by distal and proximal sources.

How does air pollution impact health? Ambient air pollution can influence the morphology and function of our organ systems, through several mechanisms across the life course. Infants and children are especially sensitive to these dangers, because their organs are developing and they have higher air per body weight intake. Air pollution is associated with many of the most important pediatric morbidities, including birth outcomes, behavioral and cognitive development, pediatric cancers, asthma and other respiratory illness. Long term, air pollution increases risk of cancer, obesity, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and other chronic diseases in both children and adults. Moreover, air pollution causes and exacerbates climate change, and climate change worsens health effects of air pollution.

What can be done about it? Ambient air pollution is a preventable risk factor. The policy statement recommends several strategies that individuals, doctors, and researchers may employ to ameliorate health impacts of air pollution; policy change was identified as the most effective strategy to potentially reduce exposure. Studies suggest that initiatives that decrease air contaminants, such as those that promote use of public transportation, maintain emission standards, or transition to clean fuels, lead to improved health outcomes. In terms of a cost-benefit analysis, the EPA estimates a mean benefit of $2 trillion for air quality regulation, versus a cost of $65 billion.

Policy Statement Citation: Brumberg HL, Karr CJ, AAP COUNCIL ON ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH. Ambient Air Pollution: Health Hazards to Children. Pediatrics. 2021;147(6):e2021051484

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