Although premature deaths instigated by fine particle air pollution have dropped by 10 percent annually throughout Europe, the invisible murderer still accounts for 307,000 premature deaths per year.
According to a report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) on Monday, if the latest air quality guidelines from the World Health Organization were followed by EU members, the recent number of fatalities registered in 2019 could be cut in half.
Deaths connected to a fine particular matter that has a diameter under 2.5 micrometers or PM2.5 were estimated at 346,000 for 2018.
The reduction in deaths for the coming year was put down partially to favorable weather but more importantly to a progressive improvement in air quality across the continent according to the European Union’s air pollution data center.
As per the report, during the early 1990s, fine particles, which infiltrate deep into the lungs, led to around a million premature deaths in the 27 EU member nations.
That figure got slashed by half to 450,000 in 2005. In 2019, fine particulate matter caused 53,800 premature deaths in Germany, 49,900 in Italy, 29,800 in France, and 23,300 in Spain.
Poland saw 39,300 deaths, the highest figure per head of population.
The EEA also registers premature deaths linked to two other leading pollutants, but it does not count them in its overall toll to ensure there is no doubling up.
Deaths caused by nitrogen dioxide, primarily from cars, trucks, and thermal power stations, decreased by a quarter to 40,000 between 2018 and 2019.
Fatalities connected to ground-level ozone in 2019 also fell 13 percent to 16,800. According to the agency, air pollution remains the biggest environmental threat to human health in Europe.
Heart disease and strokes are leading causes of premature deaths blamed on air pollution, followed by lung ailments including cancer.
When it comes to children, atmospheric pollution can hinder lung development, cause respiratory infections and exacerbate asthma.
Although the situation is improving, the EEA warned in September that most EU countries were still above the recommended pollution limits, be they European guidelines or more ambitious WHO targets.
As per the UN health body, air pollution instigates seven million premature deaths every year across the globe which puts it on the same levels as smoking and poor diet.
Earlier in September, the disturbing statistics led the WHO to tighten its recommended limits on major air pollutants for the first time since 2005.
EEA director Hans Bruyninck said, “Investing in cleaner heating, mobility, agriculture, and the industry improves health, productivity and quality of life for all Europeans, and particularly the most vulnerable”. The EU wants to reduce premature deaths caused by fine air pollution by at least 55 percent in 2030 compared to 2005.
If air pollution continues to drop at the current rate, the agency estimates the target will be attained by 2032. However, aging and progressively urbanized population could make it more difficult.
The report stated, “An older population is more sensitive to air pollution and a higher rate of urbanization typically means that more people are exposed to PM 2.5 concentrations, which tend to be higher in cities”.