November 2021

News – Pollution, cleaner air in the EU could save at least 178,000 lives a year.

Pollution, cleaner air in the EU could save at least 178,000 lives a year.
Italy holds the record for premature deaths from NO2 and is behind only Germany for PM2.5 and O3.

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Traduzione Milano Green Forum




According to the briefing ‘Health impacts of air pollution in Europe’ published by the European environment agency (EEA), air pollution continued to cause a significant number of premature deaths and illnesses in Europe in 2019.


The report also shows that improving air quality to the levels recently recommended by World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines could prevent more than half of premature deaths caused by exposure to fine particulate matter.


The briefing presents updated estimates of how three key pollutants – fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and ground-level ozone – are affected, showing that In 2019 in the EU-27: 307,000 premature deaths were attributed to exposure to PM2.5; 40,400 premature deaths were attributed to exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2); 16,800 premature deaths were attributed to exposure to ozone (O3).


In 2019 in the 41 European countries surveyed, 373,000 premature deaths were attributed to PM2.5 exposure; 47,700 to NO2 exposure; 19,070 to O3 exposure.


In Italy there have been 49,900 premature deaths from OM2.5; 10,640 from NO2 and 3017 from O3. We are the worst in Europe for deaths from PM.25 and NO3 after Germany and the worst ever for NO2.


Air quality in Europe was better in 2019 than in 2018, which also resulted in fewer negative health impacts. The decrease in pollution confirms a long-term trend due to policies to reduce emissions and improve air quality, and the number of premature deaths attributed to air pollution decreased in 2019 compared to 2018. The largest decrease was for NO2 , with a 16% reduction in associated premature deaths. Premature deaths attributed to exposure to fine particulate matter decreased by 11%, while those attributed to exposure to ozone decreased by 9%. But for fine particulate matter alone, at least 58%, or 178,000, of these deaths could have been avoided if all EU Member States had achieved the new 5 µg/m3 level of the WHO air quality guidelines. As part of the European Green Deal, the EU’s Zero Pollution Action Plan sets the target of reducing the number of premature deaths due to exposure to fine particulate matter by more than 55% by 2030 compared to 2005. According to the Eea analysis, “The EU is currently on track to meet the target, as the number of such deaths has fallen by around a third from 2005 to 2019”.


Presenting the briefing, EEA Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx noted that “Investing in cleaner heating, mobility, agriculture and industry improves 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.


The EEA briefing was published in preparation for the EU Clean Air Forum to be held on 18-19 November, which brings together decision-makers, stakeholders and experts to reflect on the development and implementation of effective European, national and local air policies, projects and programmes and to inform on the ongoing review of EU standards, including their closer alignment with WHO air quality guidelines.


WHO Regional Director for Europe, Hans Henri P. Kluge, recalled that “Breathing clean air should be a basic human right. It is a necessary condition for healthy and productive societies. Even with the improvements in air quality in recent years in our region, we still have a long way to go to reach the levels of the new WHO global air quality guidelines. At the WHO, we welcome the work done by the EEA, which shows us all the lives that could be saved if the new air quality levels were achieved, providing policymakers with strong evidence on the urgent need to address this health burden”.


The analysis of the potential benefits of meeting the different EU limit values and WHO guideline levels indicates that “The goal of reducing premature deaths by 55% can only be achieved by lowering PM2.5 concentrations across the EU to levels comparable to the 2021 WHO air quality guidelines. If the WHO interim target 4 for PM2.5 of 10 µg/m3 (WHO air quality guidelines of 2005) had been achieved in the EU-27 in 2019, this would have resulted in a reduction in premature deaths of at least 47% compared to 2005 levels.


This would not have been enough to fully achieve the Zero Pollution Action Plan target in 2019, although it is important to note that this does not capture the benefits of reducing pollution in areas that were already at 10 µg/m3 or less in 2019. However, if the new WHO air quality guideline for PM2.5 of 5 µg/m3 had been achieved across the EU27 in 2019, this would have resulted in a reduction in premature deaths of at least 72% compared to 2005 levels.”

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