A new study from EurActiv France has found that over 400,000 deaths annually around the globe can be linked to air pollution. That’s more than any other singular environmental health concern. Cardiovascular disease and heart attacks kill more people than any other singular cause, and many of those deaths can be blamed directly on pollutants in the air we breathe.

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Air pollution damages the heart, and contributes to many types of cardiovascular disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies heart disease as the world’s leading cause of death. In Europe alone, cardiovascular diseases kill 4 million people each year. A certain percentage of those cases, concludes the recent EurActiv France study, were caused by air pollution.

The study concludes that 90% of European cities have the air pollutants that cause cardiovascular disease. The pollutants most likely to cause health problems are particles in suspension and gasses like ozone, nitrogen dioxide, benzene, carbon monoxide, and sulphur dioxide. Many of these are the direct result of burning fossil fuels, so they come from road traffic, heating and cooling, and industrial processes.

Related: Air pollution levels in China reach 20 times the safe limit for human health

In 2005, the European Commission released a Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution, in an effort to reduce pollution levels enough and make a safer environment for people. An air quality directive enacted in 2008 helped modify legislation to bring down pollution levels and reduce the risk for the human population as well as the environment. Unfortunately, the Juncker Commission came along in 2014 and threw out the proposed clean air policy, so the future of Europe’s air quality is rather uncertain.

Via EurActiv

Lead image via Andrew Babble / Shutterstock.com, other via United Nations and Safia Osman, Flickr Creative Commons.