Each year, more than one in four deaths of children under the age of 5 are due to polluted environments — mostly unsafe water, air, and environmental toxins — according to two studies from the World Health Organization released Monday.
That’s 1.7 million children around the world.
“Investing in the removal of environmental risks to health, such as improving water quality or using cleaner fuels, will result in massive health benefits,” said Maria Neira, World Health Organization director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, in a statement.
Here’s what you need to know:
- The three most common causes of death for children around the world are respiratory infections — like pneumonia — diarrhea, and malaria. A large portion of those deaths could have been prevented if more kids lived in more sanitary households with access to services like safe water, soap, and clean cooking fuels. (Right now, many households use coal or dung, which can make buildings thick with dangerous smoke.)
- Even if a child survives early exposure to air pollution and secondhand smoke, its effects can last a lifetime. Infants and preschool-age kids who experience these types of pollution may have increased lifelong risks for cancer, asthma, strokes, and heart disease.
- Not all of these deaths are solely the result of polluted environments. Around 200,000 children under 5 also die due to what the WHO calls “unintentional injuries attributable to the environment,” such as falls or poisoning.
- Still, these statistics are only likely to get worse. Electronic and electrical waste, such as improperly recycled computers or cellphones, is expected to increase by 19 percent between 2014 and 2018. That will expose more children to dangerous chemicals that can cause not only attention deficits and reduced intelligence but also lung damage and cancer.
- Climate change won’t help. As temperatures and carbon dioxide levels rise, so will pollen growth — and rates of potentially deadly asthma.