Air pollution is the single largest environmental health risk in Europe

29 June, 2016

A report published this week by the European Environment Agency (EEA) states that 58,000 premature deaths could be avoided if the EU Clean Air Policy Package were agreed and fully implemented by 2030.

Entitled, 'Air quality in Europe — 2015 report', the publication reviews progress made towards meeting the requirements of the EU Air Quality Directives (from 2004 and 2008) based on data from official monitoring stations across Europe. The report gives an overview of population exposure to air pollutants harmful to human health, notably: particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 μm (PM2.5); ozone (O3); nitrogen dioxide (NO2); and benzo[a]pyrene (BaP).

The report indicates that the levels of these pollutants have been reduced by air quality policies. However, it estimates that air pollution was responsible for about 432,000 premature deaths in 2012 and that most city dwellers continue to be exposed to air pollutants at levels deemed unsafe by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The levels recommended by WHO are lower than the current EU standards. To put this in context using WHO cut off values, 87% of people living in urban areas of the EU in 2013 were exposed to PM2.5 concentrations considered harmful to health whereas using the EU standards that value was 9%. At the end of October 2015, the European Parliament did strengthen rules on some emissions but not enough to meet the WHO recommended levels. If the EU national emission ceilings matched the WHO recommendations, it could prevent 144,000 premature deaths, the report says.

This week, world leaders are discussing emissions and climate change in Paris at the 21st UN Conference of the Parties (COP 21). Dr Isabella Annesi-Maesano, from the ERS Environment and Health Committee, will be there as part of the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) delegation, to present ERS activities to reduce air pollution and climate change.

Read the EEA 'Air quality in Europe — 2015 report'