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Air pollution the single biggest environmental health risk in Europe, says European Environment Agency

Air pollution the single biggest environmental health risk in Europe, says European Environment Agency

Air pollution is the single biggest environmental health risk in Europe, according to a new report from the European Environment Agency (EEA).

The EEA’s Air Quality in Europe 2015 report attributes more than 430,000 premature deaths in Europe each year to air pollution, with most city dwellers exposed to levels deemed unsafe by the World Health Organization (WHO).

EEA Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx said: “Despite continuous improvements in recent decades, air pollution is still affecting the general health of Europeans, reducing their quality of life and life expectancy.”


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He added: “It also has considerable economic impacts, increasing medical costs and reducing productivity through working days lost across the economy.”

Particulate Matter up to 2.5 micrometers in size (PM2.5) was found to be responsible for 432,000 premature deaths in Europe in 2012, while NO2 and O3 exposure were thought to have caused around 75,000 and 17,000 premature deaths respectively.

In the UK, 37,800 premature deaths were attributed to PM2.5 in 2012, 530 to O3 and 14,100 to NO2.

In 2013, 87 per cent of the EU’s urban population were exposed to PM2.5 concentrations which exceeded WHO limits. PM is linked cardiovascular and lung diseases, heart attacks and arrhythmias.

The Scottish Government was required by the UK Supreme Court to produce a clean air strategy after the UK failed to meet European legal air quality limits by a 2010 deadline.

The document, ‘Cleaner Air for Scotland (CAF) – The Road to a Healthier Future’, commits the Scottish Government to improve monitoring and modelling of air pollution, adopt WHO guidelines on particulate matter pollution in legislation, and work to increase awareness of the problem.

But Friends of the Earth Scotland warned the new strategy is still in breach of the European Ambient Air Quality Directive, because it does not provide specific analysis of how the action will reduce air pollution.

The EEA report says: “Effective air quality policies require action and cooperation on global, European, national and local levels, which must reach across most economic sectors and engage the public.

“Holistic solutions must be found that involve technological development, structural changes, including the optimisation of infrastructures and urban planning, and behavioural changes. These will be necessary to achieve protection of the natural capital and to support economic prosperity and human well-being and social development, all of which are part of the EU's 2050 vision”.

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