ANAHEIM, CaliforniaThe inefficient burning of fossil fuel, now
practiced on a mammoth scale in developing countries worldwide, puts
millions of children around the world at risk for the diseases caused
by this form of pollution, which include several forms of cancer. In
addition, it worsens climate conditions that carry severe health
threats for the future.
This double jeopardy caused by fossil fuels can be reduced by
better, more efficient fuel usage, reported Devra Lee Davis,
PhD, director of the Program on Health, Environment and Development,
of the World Resources Institute (WRI), Washington, DC. The
health dangers to children are especially great in the large cities
of the developing world, she said.
Addressing a symposium on mixed environmental hazards and cancer at
the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of
Science, Dr. Davis described a study published in The Lancet
and conducted through the cooperation of WRI, the World Health
Organization, Chinas Environmental Protection Agency, the
University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, the US Environmental Protection
Agency, and the US Agency for International Development.
Because each human being breathes 20 million liters of air per
year, and because particles in the air can move many thousands of
miles, particulate air pollution, such as that caused by inefficient
burning, is a very insidious thing, she said. The particles
breathed most deeply are the greatest health concern, and ozone,
which is prevalent at ground level in many polluted cities, affects
the ability of particles to penetrate deeply.
If current burning patterns continue, air pollution will
be responsible for 8 million deaths by 2019, Dr. Davis said.
She called Mexico City the worst city in the world in terms of the
effects of air pollution on the health of children, followed by
Beijing, Shanghai, and Tehran. China currently has seven of the
10 most polluted cities in the world, she added.
Respiratory illness ranks as the worlds leading cause of death
among children, she said. With 85% of the worlds children
currently in developing countries and half of those children in
cities, the toll in present and future health problems from
particulate air pollution will continue to be very great.
Improving the technology used to burn fossil fuels can greatly
ameliorate the situation, Dr. Davis noted. This can reduce the
amount of pollutants released into the air. According to the Lancet
study, even relatively modest decreases in particulate pollutants
would result in significant reductions in mortality. This is
not a matter of waiting until the salt water is in the basement,