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Most city-dwelling Europeans exposed to unhealthy pollution levels

Exposure to air pollution caused about 400,000 premature deaths in the European Union in 2016, a new report finds.

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Exposure to air pollution caused about 400,000 premature deaths in the European Union (EU) in 2016, according to new research by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

 

Air quality in Europe — 2019 finds that although Europe’s air is getting cleaner, persistent pollution, especially in cities, is still damaging people’s health.

 

The researchers concluded that almost all Europeans living in cities remain exposed to air pollution levels that exceed the health-based air quality guidelines set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

 

The new EEA analysis is based on the latest official air quality data from more than 4,000 monitoring stations across Europe.

 

"Unacceptable"

 

Air pollution is now “the biggest environmental risk” to public health in Europe, a report from the EU Court of Auditors said last year.

 

Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, said: “The European Environment Agency’s Air Quality in Europe report is an important and timely reminder that air pollution continues to impact most regions across the European Union, and affects the lives of most citizens.

 

“It is simply unacceptable that any of us should need to worry about whether the simple act of breathing is safe or not. We therefore need to work even harder to make sure our EU air quality standards are met everywhere.”

 

Impact

 

The three main pollutants are particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ground-level ozone (O3). According to the EEA analysis, fine particulate matter (PM2.5) alone caused about 412,000 premature deaths in 41 European countries in 2016, and about 374,000 of those deaths occurred in the EU.

 

Air pollution is now “the biggest environmental risk” to public health in Europe, a report last year said.

 

The report notes that as well as damaging health and reducing life expectancy, poor air quality also causes economic losses – for example, through higher healthcare costs, reduced yields from agriculture and forestry, and lower labour productivity.

 

An earlier EEA assessment showed how air and noise pollution and extreme temperatures disproportionately affect Europe’s most vulnerable citizens.

 

Opportunity

 

Despite the ongoing issues, the analysis of the new data did suggest that binding regulations and local measures are improving Europe’s air quality and generating positive health effects. For example, fine particulate matter caused about 17,000 fewer premature deaths in the EU in 2016, compared with 2015, the new report says.

 

Compared with the WHO guidelines, long-term fine particulate matter concentrations were too high at 69 per cent of monitoring stations across Europe in 2017, including at least some monitoring stations in all reporting countries, except Estonia, Finland and Norway.

 

Fine particulate matter concentrations were too high in seven EU Member States in 2017 (Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Italy, Poland, Romania and Slovakia) In addition, four EU Member States, (Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) have not yet met the EU’s 2015 target for the three-year average exposure for fine particulate matter.

 

Air and noise pollution and extreme temperatures disproportionately affect Europe’s most vulnerable citizens.

 

“Europe has now a unique opportunity to set an ambitious agenda that tackles the systemic causes of environmental pressures and air pollution. We are making progress but it’s time to speed up the changes in our energy, food and mobility systems to put us on a trajectory of sustainability and a healthy environment,” said Hans Bruyninckx, EEA executive director.

 

Tackling air quality is a priority for many cities around the world. The Breathe London initiative, for instance, aims to create the most comprehensive air quality monitoring network of its kind in the world. It has also tested air quality via school children’s backpacks.

 

The measures have been designed by City Hall and C40 Cities, the global alliance of cities committed to addressing climate change. Once this approach and technology have been proven in London, the goal is to see it introduced in cities around the world.

 

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