Europe's air quality improved in last 10 years but pollution still contributes to deaths
- European urban areas suffer health impacts including fatal respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, study says
- Pollution still contributes to significant numbers of premature deaths in Europe
- EEA estimated that around 400,000 premature deaths were avoided across Europe in past 10 years
Over the past 10 years, the quality of air has improved significantly across Europe, said the European Environment Agency (EEA) on Monday, adding that pollution still contributes to significant numbers of premature deaths.
A new study by EEA says that European urban areas especially suffer health impacts including fatal respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
34% of the urban inhabitants of around 27 EU countries and the UK in 2018 were breathing ground-level ozone particles at concentrations above EU health target levels while 15% were breathing PM10 particles (particulate matter with a diameter of 10 micrometres or less) at levels above the European Union's daily limit.
The EU criteria are less strict than the guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Nearly 99% of European city dwellers were exposed to ozone levels and 48% were exposed to PM10 particles, above the WHO's recommended threshold.
The EEA estimated that around 400,000 premature deaths were avoided across Europe in the past 10 years as the agency has recorded a decrease in emissions of several key air pollutants, especially sulphur and nitrogen oxides.
The environment agency also noted an absolute decoupling" of emissions from economic activity, which means emissions went down even though economic activities increased.
Multiple factors including "increased regulation and policy implementation, fuel switching, technological improvements and improvements in energy or process efficiencies" could be behind the drop, the EEA said.
Across 41 European countries in 2018, some 60,000 fewer people died prematurely from fine matter air pollution (particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres) than in 2009.
Exposure to fine particle matter is still estimated to have caused about 417,000 premature deaths in 2018, 379,000 of them in the 27 EU countries plus the UK.
In the EU and the UK, 54,000 premature deaths were linked to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in 2018, which is less than half of the figure from 2009.
Another 19,400 deaths were linked to ground-level ozone, which in contrast represented a 24 percent increase compared to 2009.
And the report confirmed that measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 have led to a temporary improvement in air quality in Europe.