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Europe air pollution caused 400,000 premature deaths

October 16, 2019

Europe's environmental watchdog has warned that city dwellers in Europe are at risk of life-threatening air pollution. The report recommends EU countries take rapid action such as decreasing the number of cars in cities.

Air pollution in London
Image: Getty Images/D. Kitwood

Poor air quality caused 412,000 premature deaths in Europe in 2016, the most recent year data is available, according to an EU report released on Wednesday.

Sixteen of the EU's 28 member states reported at least one case of unacceptable levels of nitrogen dioxide that surpass legal EU limits. Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain were all found to have unsafe levels of the gas that's among the major vehicle emissions.

The report recommends European countries reduce the number of cars to lower nitrogen dioxide levels — and therefore air pollution.

Read more: Cities across world pledge air pollution changes, but are they ready?

An air quality expert at the European Environmental Agency and author of the study, Alberto Gonzales Ortiz, warned that air pollution is "currently the most important environmental risk to human health." 

The report referred to World Health Organization (WHO) figures that found heart disease and stroke were the most common reasons for premature death due to air pollution, followed by lung disease and lung cancer.

The study also found that certain groups including children, the elderly, pregnant women and people living close to roads and industrial areas were more vulnerable to its effects. 

While the level of dangerous particles in European cities was dropping, Ortiz said it was not falling fast enough. In line with EU law, member states are required to examine the level of a range of pollutants and take action if pollutants, such as ozone matter, exceed healthy levels.

"We have not yet reached the EU standards and of course we are far from reaching the WHO standards," Ortiz added.

"When we fight pollution, we also fight climate change as well as noise and promote more healthy behavior. It's a win-win," Ortiz said.

EU measures

In a bid to tackle the country's pollution problem, the British government proposed on Tuesday an environmental bill with legally binding measures to decrease fine air particles. The bill also expects car manufacturers to return vehicles that do not meet the particle emission standards.

In July the European Commission, the bloc's executive body, said Spain and Bulgaria had failed to protect citizens from the dangers of pollution. The commission requested the EU Court of Justice to address poor air quality in those countries.

mvb/stb (Reuters)

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