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Almost everyone in Europe breathes toxic air

A comprehensive analysis by The Guardian has cast a grim light on the state of air quality across Europe. Leveraging advanced techniques, such as satellite imaging and data from over 1,400 ground monitoring stations, the investigative report indicates that nearly the entirety of Europe’s population is breathing in dangerously toxic, polluted air.

Key findings from the toxic air study

  • A staggering 98% of Europeans are residing in zones where the concentration of fine particle pollution surpasses the recommended limits set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Two-thirds of the population is living in areas where the air pollution is over double the safety standards of WHO.
  • North Macedonia stands out as the most severely affected country. Here, almost two-thirds of its populace lives in locales where PM2.5 levels (fine particulate matter) exceed WHO’s recommended levels by four times.
  • Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia, is amongst the four regions where the pollution levels are almost six times higher than the advised WHO standards.
  • Eastern Europe, with Italy being the sole exception, faces more significant challenges concerning air pollution compared to Western Europe. Disturbingly, over a third of inhabitants in the Po Valley and its neighboring northern territories are breathing in air that contains quadruple the safe amount of the most perilous airborne particles.

What is PM2.5 and why is it critical?

The PM2.5 particles, which are chiefly generated from fossil fuel combustion, are minuscule enough to infiltrate the lungs and subsequently enter the bloodstream. This intrusion poses a direct threat to numerous organs in the human body.

At present, WHO’s annual average permissible limit for PM2.5 stands at 5 micrograms per cubic meter. This investigation reveals that a mere 2% of Europe’s total population resides in areas that align with this guideline. Worryingly, experts attribute PM2.5 pollution to causing upwards of 400,000 deaths annually across Europe.

Professor Roel Vermeulen of Utrecht University, the head researcher, remarked, “It’s evident that virtually every individual in Europe is inhaling air that is detrimental to their health.”

The European response to toxic air

Air pollution has been an enduring concern for Europe. In response to the rising crisis, the European Parliament has initiated steps to align with the WHO’s global PM2.5 standard by 2035. This move, currently under deliberation, proposes to adjust the limit to 5 micrograms per cubic meter, a significant decrease from the existing 25 micrograms per cubic meter.

Furthermore, recent studies have unveiled alarming results, revealing that urban-dwelling youth possess billions of fatal air pollution particles in their hearts. Another concerning statistic points to air pollution being responsible for 1 million stillbirths every year.

Dr. Hanna Boogaard, a renowned European air pollution specialist from the US Health Effects Institute, emphasized the significance of this new analysis. She believes it will be instrumental in framing the dialogue about Europe’s air pollution, which she asserts results in hundreds of thousands of deaths yearly.

In her words, “Such fatalities can be averted. Moreover, this figure doesn’t take into account the millions afflicted by non-lethal illnesses, disabilities, hospital admissions, or the adverse impacts of other pollutants.”

The findings from this study underline the urgency and magnitude of the air pollution crisis in Europe, calling for immediate and effective interventions.

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