'Invisible Killer': Air pollution in Europe still kills 300,000 a year

WION Web Team
Copenhagen, Denmark Published: Nov 15, 2021, 03:48 PM(IST)

Air Pollution Photograph:( WION Web Team )

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Europe's biggest environmental threat to human health remains air pollution, according to the agency

In Europe, the number of premature deaths caused by fine particle air pollution has declined 10 per cent annually, but it still accounts for 307,000 premature deaths annually, according to the European Environment Agency.

As per the European Union's air pollution data centre, the clear reduction in deaths across the continent was a direct result of favourable weather conditions and an improvement in air quality across the continent.

Nearly a million premature deaths were linked to fine particles in the early 1990s in the 27 EU member states, according to the report.

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In 2005, that number had more than halved to 450,000.

The death toll from fine particulate matter with a diameter below 2.5 micrometres or PM2.5 was estimated at 346,000 for 2018.

Nitrogen dioxide-related deaths, mainly from cars, trucks, and thermal power plants, fell by a quarter to 40,000 between 2018 and 2019.

Similarly, the number of deaths linked to ground-level ozone in 2019 dropped 13 per cent to 16,800.

According to an EEA report, if EU members follow the latest air quality guidelines from the WHO, the number of fatalities in 2019 could be cut in half.

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Europe's biggest environmental threat to human health remains air pollution, according to the agency.

Most premature deaths attributed to air pollution are caused by heart disease and strokes, followed by lung ailments including cancer.

Atmospheric pollution can negatively affect lung development, lead to respiratory infections, and exacerbate asthma in children.

While the situation is improving, the EEA warned in September that most EU countries were still exceeding recommended pollution limits, whether they were European guidelines or more ambitious WHO targets.

UN health officials estimate that air pollution causes seven million premature deaths globally each year, on the same level as smoking and poor nutrition.

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In September, the WHO tightened its recommended limits on major air pollutants for the first time since 2005 as a result of alarming statistics.

"Investing in cleaner heating, mobility, agriculture and industry improves health, productivity and quality of life for all Europeans, and particularly the most vulnerable," said EEA director Hans Bruyninck.

By 2030, the EU wants to reduce premature deaths due to fine air pollution by at least 55 per cent from 2005 levels.

The agency estimates that the target will be reached by 2032 if air pollution continues to decline at the current rate.

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However, an ageing and increasingly urbanised population could complicate matters.

"An older population is more sensitive to air pollution and a higher rate of urbanisation typically means that more people are exposed to PM 2.5 concentrations, which tend to be higher in cities," said the report.

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