Europe’s air is getting cleaner but persistent pollution, especially in cities, still damages people’s health and the economy. The European Environment Agency’s (EEA) new analysis on air quality shows that exposure to air pollution caused about 400,000 premature deaths in the European Union (EU) in 2016.
The EEA’s ‘Air quality in Europe — 2019 report’ shows that almost all Europeans living in cities are still exposed to air pollution levels that exceed the health-based air quality guidelines set by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The new EEA analysis is based on the latest official air quality data from more than 4 000 monitoring stations across Europe in 2017.
Three main pollutants cause significant damage
Poor air quality continues to damage Europeans’ health, especially in urban areas, with particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ground-level ozone (O3) causing the biggest harm.
According to the EEA analysis, fine particulate matter (PM2.5) alone caused about 412,000 premature deaths in 41 European countries in 2016. About 374,000 of those deaths occurred in the European Union (EU).
As well as damaging health and reducing life expectancy, poor air quality also causes economic losses, for example, through higher health care costs, reduced yields from agriculture and forestry, and lower labour productivity. An earlier EEA assessment showed how air and noise pollution and extreme temperatures disproportionately affect Europe’s most vulnerable citizens.
Health benefits of improving air quality
Despite persisting pollution, the new EEA data confirm that binding regulations and local measures are improving Europe’s air quality with positive health effects. For example, fine particulate matter caused about 17,000 fewer premature deaths in the EU in 2016, compared with 2015. Even though weather differences between years can affect pollution levels and their impacts, the reduction is consistent with the EEA’s earlier estimate that the number of premature deaths caused annually by PM2.5 in Europe have been reduced by about half a million since 1990.
Compared with the WHO guidelines, long-term fine particulate matter concentrations were too high at 69 % of monitoring stations across Europe in 2017, including at least some monitoring stations in all reporting countries, except Estonia, Finland and Norway.
Compared with the EU limit values, fine particulate matter concentrations were too high in seven EU Member States in 2017 (Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Italy, Poland, Romania and Slovakia) In addition, four EU Member States, (Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) have not yet met the EU’s 2015 target for the three-year average exposure for fine particulate matter.
‘The European Environment Agency’s Air Quality in Europe report is an important and timely reminder that air pollution continues to impact most regions across the European Union, and affects the lives of most citizens. It is simply unacceptable that any of us should need to worry about whether the simple act of breathing is safe or not. We therefore need to work even harder to make sure our EU air quality standards are met everywhere,’ said Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.
Source: European Environment Agency