Air pollution in Europe still killing 300,000 a year: study

Published November 16, 2021
A general view of the North Macedonian city of Skopje is seen through polluted air, one of the most polluted cities in Europe. — AFP/File
A general view of the North Macedonian city of Skopje is seen through polluted air, one of the most polluted cities in Europe. — AFP/File

COPENHAGEN: 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 on 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 said.

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 doubling up.

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 16,800 dead. 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.

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 more difficult.

“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.

Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2021

Opinion

Editorial

A grave tragedy
Updated 08 Feb, 2023

A grave tragedy

It is hoped that Pakistan continues to send as many personnel and relief goods as needed to Turkiye, Syria.
Pharma shutdown
08 Feb, 2023

Pharma shutdown

IN the midst of an economic and political maelstrom, a fresh crisis threatens the availability of drugs in the...
PSL season
Updated 08 Feb, 2023

PSL season

PSL has provided a launching pad for several of the team’s current stars, and for them, hitting top form will be key.
No pardon for rape
Updated 07 Feb, 2023

No pardon for rape

Cultural filters and biases can often lead to faulty applications of the law.
Health insurance
07 Feb, 2023

Health insurance

THE planning ministry is reported to have raised objections to Punjab’s flagship universal health coverage...
The people’s demands
07 Feb, 2023

The people’s demands

AS the people of KP are literally on the frontline of the battle against terrorism and violent extremism, they are...