Coal-fired power plants, vehicle-clogged highways and fossil-fuel spewing factories have contributed to the growing European air pollution dilemma. Industries, households and vehicles all emit dangerous pollutants that are harmful to human health. Indeed, the European Environment Agency (EEA) highlighted the issue when reporting that over 400,000 Europeans met their untimely demise in 2016 due to poor air quality.
Air pollution is detrimental to society, harms human health and ultimately increases health care costs. An air quality expert at the EEA and author of the study, Alberto Gonzales Ortiz, warned that air pollution is “currently the most important environmental risk to human health.”
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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Pollutants with the strongest evidence for public health concerns include particulate matter (PM), ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulphur dioxide (SO2).”
The presence of air pollutants produced by fuel combustion – whether from mobile sources like vehicles or from stationery sources such as power plants, biomass use, industry or households – above European skies means the continent is in serious need of more effective air quality plans. Current European Union (EU) legislation requires air quality evaluations to assess whether dangerous particulates have exceeded certain thresholds.
As early as 2017, the EU set limits on certain air pollutants to tackle the scourge that is prematurely claiming hundreds of thousands of European lives each year. In fact, this past July, the European Commission asked the EU’s Court of Justice to reprimand Spain and Portugal for their poor air quality practices. More recently, the British government proposed a new environment bill that legally targets the reduction of fine particulate pollution by requiring automakers to recall vehicles with sub-par emission standards.
The WHO has repeatedly said that air pollution is to blame for high percentages of global mortality linked to lung cancer (29%), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (43%), acute respiratory infection (17%), ischemic heart disease (25%), stroke (24%) and other cardiovascular ailments. Low-and middle-income countries are disproportionately more vulnerable to the particulate pollution burden, especially poor and marginalized populations.
Interestingly, air pollution is also the main driver of climate change. Emissions have been among the largest contributors to global warming, accelerating glacial snow melt as well as causing extreme weather conditions that affect agriculture and food security.
Ortiz added, “When we fight pollution, we also fight climate change as well as promote more healthy behavior. It’s a win-win.”
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