European nations have been urged to work towards hitting the global targets for air quality as figures show that over 300,000 died across the continent ion 2019 due to air pollution.
The European Environment Agency (EEA) has issued a new briefing ’Health impacts of air pollution in Europe’ which provided updated estimates on how three key pollutants – fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, ground-level ozone – affected Europeans’ health in 2019.
The briefing highlighted the potential benefits of improving air quality towards new guideline levels recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to the EEA’s latest estimates, 307,000 people died prematurely due to exposure to fine particulate matter pollution in the EU in 2019. At least 58%, or 178,000, of these deaths could have been avoided if all EU Member States had reached the WHO’s new air quality guideline level of 5 µg/m3.
It added air quality in Europe was better in 2019 than in 2018, which also resulted in fewer negative health impacts. The decline in pollution follows a long-term trend, driven by policies to reduce emissions and improve air quality.
As part of the European Green Deal, the EU Zero Pollution Action Plan sets a target to reduce the number of premature deaths due to exposure to fine particulate matter by more than 55% by 2030, as compared to 2005. According to EEA’s analysis, the EU is currently on track to reach the target, as the number of these deaths has decreased by about a third from 2005 to 2019.
“Investing in cleaner heating, mobility, agriculture and industry delivers better health, productivity and quality of life for all Europeans and especially for the most vulnerable. These investments save lives and also help accelerate progress towards carbon neutrality and strong biodiversity,” said Hans Bruyninckx, EEA executive director.
“To breathe clean air should be a fundamental human right. It is a necessary condition for healthy and productive societies. Even with improvements in air quality over the past years in our region, we still have a long way to go to achieve the levels in the new WHO Global Air Quality Guidelines,” said WHO regional director for Europe, Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge. “At WHO, we welcome the work done by the EEA, showing us all the lives that could be saved if the new air quality levels were achieved, giving policy-makers solid evidence about the urgent need to tackle this health burden.”
Air pollution is a major cause of premature death and disease and is the single largest environmental health risk in Europe. Heart disease and stroke are the most common causes of premature deaths attributable to air pollution, followed by lung disease and lung cancer.
The EU’s Ambient Air Quality Directives set standards for key air pollutants. These values take into account 2005 WHO guidelines as well as considerations of technical and economic feasibility at the time of their adoption.
EEA data, published last month, showed that air pollution levels remain above the EU legal limits in most European countries.