Dirty air kills half a million people in Europe

Air pollution remains the leading environmental cause of premature death in Europe and annually is responsible for more than 500,000 deaths. This is stated in the latest report of the Copenhagen-based European Environment Agency (EAA).

Although EEA data show that air pollution levels are gradually decreasing, in large part that is the result of effective air quality policies, but air pollution still remains a major cause of premature death in Europe.

The report notes that in 2014 alone there were more than 520,000 premature deaths in 41 European countries. Four of the five deaths (428,000) were directly related to fine particulate matter that are less than 2.5 microns in size and can penetrate the human lungs and even the bloodstream. According to monitoring data, 82% of the urban population of the EU countries are exposed to these microscopic particles, known as PM2.5, in 2015, down from 85 percent in 2013.

Annual concentration of fine particulate matter 2.5 microns in Europe in 2015. Source: The European Environment Agency

Among other harmful substances that are also linked to premature deaths, the authors of the report called nitrogen dioxide, which cut short an estimated 78,000 lives across the same 41 countries, and ground-level ozone, mostly caused by emissions of vehicles, which cause the premature death of estimated 14,000 people.

Annual concentration of nitrogen dioxide in Europe in 2015. Source: The European Environment Agency

The report has identified Poland and northern Italy as the two worst hotspots for PM2.5 pollution. According to experts, dozens of cities in these countries far exceed the EU’s annual average limit of 25 micrograms of particles per cubic meter of air. Krakow, one of the largest cities in Poland, appears to be the worst offender at a PM2.5 value of 44 micrograms. More than a dozen Polish cities have far exceeded a particulate matter value of 30 micrograms. The experts added, that cities in northern Italy — such as Milan, Padua, Cremona, Brescia, Venice, and Turin — also are beyond the 30 micrograms level.

The report has also revealed that 7 to 8 percent of Europe’s total urban population is exposed to PM2.5 concentrations that exceed EU limits. However, experts have noted that comparing the figures against the World Health Organization’s stricter limit of only 10 micrograms of exposure significantly raises the number to 85 percent of the region’s total urban population.

Source: The European Environment Agency

“As a society, we should not accept the cost of air pollution. With bold decisions and smart investments in cleaner transport, energy and agriculture, we can both tackle pollution and improve our quality of life. It is encouraging to see that many European governments and specifically cities are showing leadership in protecting people’s health by improving air quality. Clean air belongs to everyone, including people living in cities,” EEA Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx stated in a press release.

The largest impact on health attributed to nitrogen dioxide exposure is seen in the UK, Serbia, Italy, Spain, Germany and Belgium. According to the report, up to 90 percent of areas in Britain have shown dangerously high levels of air pollution. However, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has pledged to continuously strive to improve the country’s air quality.

“We have put in place a three billion British Pounds plan to improve air quality and reduce harmful emissions. We will also end the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by 2040, and next year we will publish a comprehensive Clean Air Strategy which will set out further steps to tackle air pollution. We now have an opportunity to deliver a Green Brexit and improve environmental standards as we leave the EU,” A Defra spokesman said in his interview with Dialy Mail.

Sources include: European Environment Agency, New ScientistDaily Mail

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