Written By: Emma Websdale
Air pollution in European cities is posing a serious risk to public health, while costing the economy up to €940 billion per year, a new study warns.
According to the Air Quality in Europe assessment by the European Environment Agency (EEA), 90% of residents in European cities are vulnerable to air pollutants that the World Health Organisation deems harmful to public health –increasing the risks of heart disease, respiratory problems and shortened lives.
The EEA’s new report warns that air pollution –delivered by cars, industries and agriculture is responsible for inflicting 10 times more deaths than traffic accidents in the EU, while causing economic losses of up to €940 a year in health care costs and productivity reductions.
The assessment of all 33-member states reveals that levels of particulate matter (PM) were highest in Poland, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Italy and Balkan regions. Furthermore, the United Kingdom, Sweden and cities in Latvia surpassed the daily limit value for PM10 particles –air pollution particles small enough to be inhaled by humans that are often released from burning fossil fuels.
Speaking yesterday, Janez Potočnik, EU Environment Commissioner said air pollution is now the “number one environmental cause of death in the EU”, with over 400,000 documented premature deaths in 2010.
He added, “This is a huge cost to citizens’ health and the economy. The external costs were between €330-940 billion per year in 2010. Among these are significant direct impacts on the economy: 100 million lost workdays each year, with a direct cost of about €15 billion in lost productivity. Bad air also adds €4bn to our healthcare costs because of hospitalization.”
The EEA report emphasized that the links between air pollution and climate change were evident, referencing the effects of short-lived climate pollutants such as ozone and black carbon, which play a large contributing role to global warming.
Overall, the report shows progress in addressing the threats of air pollution, with European PM levels dropping between 2002 and 2011.
“New opportunities are also opening up in the rapidly expanding global markets for abatement technology and services”, Potočnik said.
“The EU can gain a competitive advantage and exploit opportunities by focusing research and development on resource-efficient and less polluting technologies that other countries will eventually need to adopt.”
The EEA’s report follows another study released this week, which warned that pregnant women living in air polluted areas and dense traffic are likely to give birth to underweight babies as pollutants have been found to restrict fetal growth.