Which countries of geographical Europe are the most polluted?

According to the figures from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Eastern European and the Balkan countries have the highest levels of air pollution and deaths rates related to indoor and outdoor air quality across Europe. The recent WHO World Health Statistics 2017 report shows that Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Georgia, Albania and Ukraine have the highest mortality rates related to poor air quality.

The extremely high level of air pollution in Bosnia and Herzegovina is responsible for nearly 231 deaths per 100,000 people. That number represents the highest rate of death among the European countries listed in the WHO report. Also Bosnia has the highest average annual level of fine particulate matter in the air – 55,1 μg/m3, which makes it the leader in the European Union in terms of air pollution.

With 217,3 deaths per 100,000 people, Bulgaria ranks as the second most hazardous European country in air quality terms. A potential candidate for membership in the European Union – Georgia – has showed third worst result among European countries with 204,9 air pollution related deaths per 100,000.

Almost all western Balkan countries, including Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo are among the worst performers in Europe, as they are together home to about 15 thermal power plants. Most of these coal-fired stations are outdated and the levels of emissions they produce, such as emissions of sulfur dioxide, can be up to 30 times higher than air quality limits authorized by European standards.

The Europe’s best performers for both air quality and air pollution related deaths are Scandinavia region countries, Spain, Portugal and Ireland, all had rates under 15,0 deaths per 100,000. Sweden is on the top of the list with less than one death per 100,000 people due to poor air quality, and the lowest annual average level of fine particulate matter in the air (only 5,9 μg/m3). Finland is the second best performer for air quality with 6.0 deaths per 100,000 and 7,1 μg/m3 of pollutants in the air.

These figures come as the WHO works on reaching one of its major targets, by 2030 substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination. According to WHO, around 3 billion people around the world still rely on wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste for cooking and heating. Also it estimates that in 2012 around 7 million people died as a result of air pollution exposure, that is one in eight of total global deaths, more than half of these deaths are among women and children. It adds that 92 percent of the world’s population in 2014 lived in areas with air polluted above WHO admissible levels and standards.

The WHO underlines that the vast majority of air-pollution-related deaths are due to cardiovascular diseases, such as ischaemic heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute lower respiratory infections in children.

And even the connection between the health effects of air pollution and a reduced life expectancy is obvious, still a question remains open. Why some countries have a significant higher death toll rate caused by air pollution even the air pollution itself is not higher than in other states? For example looking at the Ukraine, we will see the mortality rate due to air pollution is one of the highest in Europe (more than 140 deaths per 100,000), but the annual average level of PM2.5 with 16,9 μg/m3 is below the European middle value. It is higher than the WHO guideline for a safe annual average concentration (10 µg/m3), but not as high that it would explain that 3 times more people die prematurely that in Austria which has almost the same annual level of PM2.5 as in Ukraine (17,1 µg/m3). So why Austria has a mortality rate of 34,2 and Ukraine 140,4?

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