Air pollution made Covid-19 worse, claims EU report

State of the environment in Europe 'negatively affecting the health and quality of life of European citizens'
Air pollution made Covid-19 worse, claims EU report

Poor quality environments contribute to one in every eight deaths of Europeans, while also exacerbating the coronavirus pandemic, according to a major new European Environment Agency

Poor quality environments contribute to one in every eight deaths of Europeans, while also exacerbating the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a major new report from the European Environment Agency (EEA).

According to the findings of the report released today, some 13% of all deaths in the EU were attributable to the environment in 2012 but should have been preventable.

Pollution also helped exacerbate the Covid-19 pandemic, the authors said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic provides a stark example of the inextricable links between human health and ecosystem health. 

This novel disease is thought to have emerged in bat populations and subsequently jumped species to infect humans in a seafood and animal market. The emergence of such zoonotic pathogens is linked to environmental degradation and human interactions with animals in the food system. 

"Other factors, such as exposure to air pollution and social status, seem to affect transmission and mortality rates in ways that are not yet fully understood,” the report said.

The state of the environment in Europe is negatively affecting the health and quality of life of European citizens, it said, citing World Health Organisation figures of 630,000 deaths attributable to the environment in the EU in 2012.

“The burden of environmental disease is unevenly spread across Europe, with the percentage of deaths attributable to environmental factors ranging from a low of 9% in Norway and Iceland to 23% in Albania and 27% in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“Environmental pollution is linked to a range of disease outcomes, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and neurological disorders. Living with these diseases reduces quality of life, with more than 20m healthy life-years lost because of disease attributable to poor-quality environments in the 28 Member States of the EU (EU-28) in 2012,” the report said.

Air pollution is the principal environmental factor driving disease, with around 400,000 premature deaths in the EU. Poor indoor air quality related to the burning of solid fuels results in nearly 26,000 premature deaths annually.

There is early evidence to suggest that long-term exposure to air pollution may increase susceptibility to Covid-19, with further research needed, the report found.

Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, said: “There is a clear link between the state of the environment and the health of our population. Everyone must understand that by taking care of our planet we are not only saving ecosystems, but also lives, especially the ones who are the most vulnerable. 

"The EU is devoted to this approach and with the new Biodiversity Strategy, the Circular Economy Action Plan and other forthcoming initiatives we are on the path to build a more resilient and healthier Europe for European citizens and beyond.” 

Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said Covid-19 has been “yet another wake-up call”, making us acutely aware of the relationship between ecosystems and health.

“The way we live, consume and produce is detrimental to the climate and impacts negatively on our health,” she said.

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