Air pollution in Europe still killing 300,000 a year: report
COPENHAGEN, Nov 15, 2021 (BSS/AFP) –
Premature deaths caused by fine
particle air pollution have fallen 10 percent annually across Europe, but the
invisible killer still accounts for 307,000 premature deaths a year, the
European Environment Agency said Monday.
If the latest air quality guidelines from the World Health Organisation
were followed by EU members, the latest number of fatalities recorded in 2019
could be cut in half, according to an EEA report.
Deaths linked to fine particular matter — with a diameter below 2.5
micrometres or PM2.5 — were estimated at 346,000 for 2018.
The clear reduction in deaths for the following year were put down partly
to favourable weather but above all to a progressive improvement in air
quality across the continent, the European Union’s air pollution data centre
In the early 1990s, fine particles, which penetrate deeply into the lungs,
led to nearly a million premature deaths in the 27 EU member nations,
according to the report.
That figure had been more than halved to 450,000 by 2005.
In 2019, fine particulate matter caused 53,800 premature deaths in Germany,
49,900 in Italy, 29,800 in France and 23,300 in Spain.
Poland saw 39,300 deaths, the highest figure per head of population.
The EEA also registers premature deaths linked to two other leading
pollutants, but says it does not count them in its overall toll to avoid
Deaths caused by nitrogen dioxide — mainly from car, trucks and thermal
power stations — fell by a quarter to 40,000 between 2018 and 2019.
Fatalities linked to ground-level ozone in 2019 also dropped 13 percent to
Air pollution remains the biggest environmental threat to human health in
Europe, the agency said.
Heart disease and strokes cause most premature deaths blamed on air
pollution, followed by lung ailments including cancer.
In children, atmospheric pollution can harm lung development, cause
respiratory infections and aggravate asthma.
– Seven million global death toll –
Even if the situation is improving, the EEA warned in September that most
EU countries were still above the recommended pollution limits, be they
European guidelines or more ambitious WHO targets.
According to the UN health body, air pollution causes seven million
premature deaths annually across the globe — on the same levels as smoking
and poor diet.
In September, the alarming statistics led the WHO to tighten its
recommended limits on major air pollutants for the first time since 2005.
“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.
The EU wants to slash premature deaths due to fine air pollution by at
least 55 percent in 2030 compared to 2005.
If air pollution continues to fall at the current rate, the agency
estimates the target will be reached by 2032.
However an ageing and increasingly urbanised population could make that
“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.