Data from 2021 reveals that over 500,000 individuals lost their lives due to polluted air in the European Union.
According to estimates, over 500,000 individuals in the EU perished due to polluted air in 2021. It is believed that approximately half of these fatalities could have been prevented if pollution levels were reduced to the levels advised by medical professionals.
The European Environment Agency’s study found that 253,000 people died prematurely due to high levels of PM2.5, which exceeds the World Health Organization’s recommended limit of 5µg/m3. Additionally, 52,000 deaths were linked to elevated levels of nitrogen dioxide and 22,000 deaths were attributed to short-term exposure to high levels of ozone.
“The data released today by the EEA serves as a reminder that air pollution remains the top environmental health concern in the EU,” stated Virginijus Sinkevičius, the commissioner for the environment in the EU.
Physicians state that air pollution is a major contributor to human mortality globally, however, implementing measures to reduce pollution levels in countries can significantly decrease death rates. From 2005 to 2021, the European Union saw a 41% decline in deaths related to PM2.5, with a goal of reaching a 55% decrease by the end of the next ten years.
In 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) updated its regulations for air quality and stated that there is no safe level of air pollution. However, they have established maximum limits for specific pollutants. The European Parliament voted in September to synchronize the EU’s air quality policies with those of the WHO, but opted to postpone implementation until 2035.
Sinkevičius stated, “The positive update is that effective clean air policies have proven to be successful in improving our air quality. However, there is still room for improvement and we must continue to work towards reducing pollution levels even further.”
The EEA has calculated the total impact of air pollution on disease for the first time. In addition to examining the actual number of deaths, the scientists also determined the additional years that people have to live with illnesses caused by poor air quality.
The additional step did not significantly impact certain health issues, like lung cancer and ischaemic heart disease. However, it did bring attention to the extensive suffering caused by other conditions, such as asthma, that had previously been disregarded in mortality data.
According to Alberto González Ortiz, a researcher on air pollution at EEA, individuals with lung cancer typically have a short survival time. However, for other illnesses such as asthma, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, living with a disability also plays a significant role.
In 2021, the EEA determined that approximately 150,000 years of life were lost due to PM2.5 pollution-induced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in the EU. A similar amount of years were also affected by disability.
González Ortiz stated that individuals are able to survive for a significant amount of time in unfavorable circumstances. By solely focusing on mortality rates, the true effects of air pollution were being underestimated.
Burning fossil fuels, driving cars and farming livestock release large volumes of toxic gas and harmful particles that people then breathe. The smallest of these particles, known as PM2.5, can pass into the bloodstream, where they spread through the body and damage organs from the brains down to reproductive organs.
According to a report from the Guardian, 98% of individuals in Europe are exposed to unhealthy levels of pollutants in the air, which exceeds the guidelines set by the World Health Organization. The findings from the European Environment Agency also reveal that the majority of health issues caused by pollution occur in eastern and south-eastern Europe.
Leena Ylä-Mononen, the director of the European Environment Agency (EEA), stated that efforts are being made at all levels of government to decrease emissions. This includes initiatives such as promoting the use of public transportation and cycling in urban areas, as well as implementing updated laws and regulations.