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Air pollution in Europe causes 500,000 premature deaths per year

Data from the European Environmental Agency (EEA) shows that air pollution is responsible for over 500,000 premature deaths each year across Europe, despite the fact that conditions are slowly improving.

Authors of the EEA’s current analysis write, “Air pollution is the single largest environmental health risk in Europe and disease burden resulting from air pollution is substantial.”

The report, “Air Quality In Europe-2017,” reveals that heart disease and stroke are the most common causes of such premature deaths, followed by lung cancer and lung diseases.

The EEA is used as a major information source for evaluating, developing, and implementing environmental policy. Research is gathered from the agency’s massive Eionet environment observation network made up of 300 stations across Europe combined with an additional 90 specialized institutions.

The latest document from the EEA says that 520,400 premature deaths across 41 European countries were the result of air pollutants generated by the burning of fossil fuels in 2014. This figure was down a little compared to 2013, when 550,000 deaths were caused by air pollution.

Overall, 80 percent of these deaths were directly linked to the inhalation of microscopic particulate matter. Data from EEA observation stations shows that 82 percent of Europe’s urban population was exposed to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in 2015, which dropped from 85 percent in 2013.

Other sources of poor air quality which contributed to the alarming number the premature deaths in Europe include nitrogen dioxide and ground-level ozone from vehicle emissions.

The number of cases of lung cancer among European non-smokers has doubled in the last decade as a result of air pollution exposure. At this rate, the number of non-smoker deaths from lung cancer will surpass those among nicotine users in the next ten years.

Respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and other cancers have also been directly linked to unsafe pollution levels in Europe. In addition, negative health impacts on fertility, pregnancy, newborns, and children have been reported.

The EEA’s latest publication, which is an updated analysis of air quality in Europe from 2000-2015, suggests that conditions are improving but that the rate of improvement needs to gain momentum.

The authors of the report conclude, “Reduced emissions have improved air quality in Europe, and, for a number of pollutants, exceedances of European standards are rare. However, substantial challenges remain and considerable impacts on human health and on the environment persist.”

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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