Climate Change: Air pollution causes 430,000 premature deaths a year in Europe

Air pollution is the single largest environmental health risk in Europe and causes more than 430,000 premature deaths a year, according to a report by the EU’s environmental agency.

The European Environmental Agency’s (EEA) 2015 report on air quality found most city dwellers continue to be exposed to air pollutants at levels deemed unsafe by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Despite continuous improvements in recent decades, air pollution is still affecting the general health of Europeans, reducing their quality of life and life expectancy,” said EEA executive director Hans Bruyninckx.

“It also has considerable economic impacts, increasing medical costs and reducing productivity through lost working days.”

The report found that particulate matter, ground-level ozone, and nitrogen dioxide are the most ‘problematic’ pollutants.

Particulate matter — a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets in the air that can penetrate deeply into the lungs — was responsible for 432,000 premature deaths in Europe in 2012, according to the report.

The EEA said particulate matter can cause or aggravate cardiovascular and lung diseases, heart attacks, and arrhythmias, and can cause cancer. In 2013, 87% of the EU urban population were exposed to PM concentrations that exceeded the WHO value set to protect human health. Among the report’s key findings is the recommendation the EU increases its targets to meet the WHO air quality standard.

“The benefits of improving Europe’s air quality are clear — meeting the WHO air quality standard throughout the EU 28 would lead to average PM concentrations dropping by about one third, resulting in 144,000 fewer premature deaths compared with the current situation,” the EEA said. It also warned that, alongside health, air pollutants also have a significant harmful impact on plant life and ecosystems.

“These problems, including eutrophication caused by ammonia and nitrogen oxides, as well as damage caused by O to plants, are still widespread across Europe,” the EEA said.

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