Air pollution is the single largest environmental health risk in Europe. It shortens people’s lifespan and contributes to serious illnesses such as heart disease, respiratory problems and cancer. A new report published today by the European Environment Agency (EEA) estimates that air pollution continues to be responsible for more than 430,000 premature deaths in Europe.
The EEA report ‘Air quality in Europe — 2015 report’ examines the European population’s exposure to air pollutants and provides a snapshot of air quality based on data from official monitoring stations across Europe. It shows that most city dwellers continue to be exposed to air pollutants at levels deemed unsafe by the World Health Organization (WHO).
EEA Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx said:
“Despite continuous improvements in recent decades, air pollution is still affecting the general health of Europeans, reducing their quality of life and life expectancy. It also has considerable economic impacts, increasing medical costs and reducing productivity through working days lost across the economy.”
The most problematic pollutants affecting human health are particulate matter (PM), ground-level ozone (O3) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Health impact estimates associated with long-term exposure to PM2.5 show that this pollutant was responsible for 432 000 premature deaths in Europe in 2012, a level similar to that estimated in previous years. The estimated impacts of NO2 and O3 exposure were around 75 000 and 17 000 premature deaths respectively. The report also provides estimates of premature deaths at country level.
Alongside health, air pollutants also have a significant harmful impact on plant life and ecosystems. These problems, including eutrophication caused by ammonia (NH3) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), as well as damage caused by O3 to plants, are still widespread across Europe.
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