A new report from the European Environment Agency has revealed that long-term exposure to common air pollution is responsible for over 430,000 deaths a year in Europe, according to recent reports.
It was found by the researchers involved that most urban-living people in Europe are exposed to levels of air pollution that are known to be “unsafe” by the World Health Organization (WHO) — based on air quality data gathered by various distributed monitoring stations throughout the continent.
“Despite continuous improvements in recent decades, air pollution is still affecting the general health of Europeans, reducing their quality of life and life expectancy,” stated Hans Bruyninckx, the executive director of the European Environment Agency (EEA). “It also has considerable economic impacts, increasing medical costs and reducing productivity through working days lost across the economy.”
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Air pollutants harmful to health include small particulate matter (PM2.5) – which can cause cardiovascular and lung diseases, heart attacks and cancer, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – which can harm the respiratory system – and ground-level ozone (O3). Air pollutants also have a significant harmful impact on European plant life and ecosystems, the report said.
The EEA estimated around 432,000 premature deaths in Europe in 2012 were caused by PM2.5 – a number that has stayed constant in recent years – with 37,800 of these in the UK. Meanwhile, 75,000 premature deaths were attributed to the impacts of NO2, including 14,100 in the UK, and 17,000 were blamed on O3, including 530 in the UK.
The British government is currently in breach of limits set by the EU Air Quality Directive, under which the UK should have brought pollution down to legal limits by 2010. The government revealed in 2011 it would be unable to meet legal limits of NO2 pollution in some areas of the country until after 2030, leading to a landmark Supreme Court ruling this year ordering the UK to act immediately to draw up strict plans to cut the high levels of pollution.
Predictably, though, the government there hasn’t yet done much following on the Supreme Court decision.