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Inefficient Burning of Fossil Fuels Puts Children at Risk

Inefficient Burning of Fossil Fuels Puts Children at Risk

ANAHEIM, California—The 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, China’s 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 world’s leading cause of death among children, she said. With 85% of the world’s 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,” she said.

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