According to two reports published by the WHO on Monday (6 March), air pollution (atmospheric, indoor, passive smoking) is the biggest environmental cause of infant mortality, responsible for 570,000 deaths each year. Diarrhoeal diseases linked to a lack of access to clean drinking water and poor sanitation and hygiene come in second place, with 361,000 deaths.
Premature births, also linked to air pollution, are the third environmental cause of infant deaths (270,000). And in fourth place, contagious diseases related to poor water sanitation, such as malaria, kill 200,000 infants each year.
Pesticides and endocrine disruptors
On top of poor air and water quality, the WHO also pointed out the risks associated with infants’ exposure to certain chemical products, such as pesticides and endocrine disruptors. Consequences can include premature birth, certain types of cancer (particularly leukaemia), birth defects and even poisoning in cases of acute exposure.
For Margaret Chan, the WHO’s director-general, “A polluted environment is a deadly one, particularly for young children. Their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways, make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water.”
Fewer deaths than in 2002