Mapping the sources and level of air pollution in Europe

At the Clean Air Forum in Paris the Commission and the EU Environment Agency launched a new Air Quality Index, which allows citizens to monitor air quality in real time. The Commission also published an Air Quality Atlas, a tool developed by the Commission’s Joint Research Centre that maps the origins of fine particulate matter, such as dust, smoke, soot, pollen and soil particles, in EU cities.

The Air Quality Index and the European Air Quality Atlas are two tools that will help to pave the way for targeted measures to improve air quality and raise citizens’ awareness of the air quality situation in Europe. Each year, over 400 000 citizens die prematurely in the EU as a result of poor air quality, more than ten times the number of deaths by road traffic accidents. Millions more suffer from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases caused by air pollution.

To read more about the Clean Air Forum and to access the Air Quality Index and Atlas go to: European Commission – PRESS RELEASES – Press release – Mapping the sources and level of air pollution in Europe: Commission publishes new Air Quality Index and Atlas

Cycling: a vital link between transport, health, environment and economy

On 19–21 September 2017, Mannheim, Germany, celebrated the 200th anniversary of the country’s invention of the bicycle by hosting the International Cycling Conference (ICC). The event brought together approximately 300 researchers, practitioners and politicians from across the globe to discuss the role of active mobility in the modern world, creating an intersection of academic, political and practical thinking strategies.

Through interactive sessions, presentations, posters, lively discussions and guided study excursions on bicycles, the Conference highlighted the important links between transport planning, health care, environmental quality, economic and business development, and social issues. Under the overarching theme of “Bridging the gap”, the event explored the challenges and opportunities of translating knowledge and experience from research into practice and policy-making – and vice versa.

To read more on the WHO/Europe website go to: WHO/Europe | Germany – Cycling: a vital link between transport, health, environment and economy

Air pollution deaths in Europe

Each year, at least 1.4 million Europeans die prematurely due to polluted environments; this corresponds to at least 15% of Europe’s total deaths. Around half of these deaths are due to outdoor and indoor air pollution. Altogether, European citizens lose annually 50 million years of healthy life from environmental risks.

Environmental risk factors are responsible for around 26% of ischemic heart disease, 25% of strokes and 17% of cancers in Europe. Air pollution is the leading environmental killer, responsible for 620,000 deaths every year from outdoor (transport, industry, energy production) and indoor (solid fuel combustion for heating and cooking, poor ventilation, second-hand tobacco smoke) exposure.

For more information about the risks to public health of air pollution on the euro.who.int website

The cost of a polluted environment: 1.7 million child deaths a year

More than 1 in 4 deaths of children under 5 years of age are attributable to unhealthy environments.

Every year, environmental risks – such as indoor and outdoor air pollution, second-hand smoke, unsafe water, lack of sanitation, and inadequate hygiene – take the lives of 1.7 million children under 5 years, according to the WHO.

The top 5 causes of death in children under 5 are:

  • respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, attributable to indoor and outdoor air pollution, and second-hand smoke (570,000 children a year)
  • diarrhoea, as a result of poor access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene (361,000 children a year)
  • conditions, including prematurity, which could be prevented through access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene in health facilities as well as reducing air pollution (270,000 children a year in their first month of life)
  • malaria that could be prevented through environmental actions, such as reducing breeding sites of mosquitoes or covering drinking-water storage (200,000 children a year)
  • unintentional injuries attributable to the environment, such as poisoning, falls, and drowning (200,000 children a year)

For more information on the causes of death for children under 5 from the who.int website

EU rules to drastically cut air pollution

Although air pollutants are invisible killers, people are increasingly aware and concerned about the quality of the air they breathe. From 31st December 2016 a new National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive became law, which sets stricter limits on the five main pollutants in Europe – sulphur dioxide, ammonia, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxide and fine particulate matter.

The aim is to reduce these five pollutants by 79%, 19%, 40%, 63% and 49% respectively by 2030.

When fully implemented, the Directive will reduce by almost 50% the negative health impacts of air pollution, such as respiratory diseases and premature death. It will also have substantial benefits for the quality of fresh water, soil, and ecosystems and help address the impacts of harmful particles causing climate change like black carbon.

More information about air pollution and the Emissions Directive on the europa.eu website

Air pollution kills 467,000 Europeans a year

Air pollution is causing around 467,000 premature deaths in Europe every year, the European Environment Agency (EEA) has warned. People in urban areas are especially at risk, with around 85% exposed to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) at levels deemed harmful by the World Health Organization (WHO).

These particles are too small to see or smell, but can have a devastating impact, causing or aggravating heart disease, asthma and lung cancer.

Download the Air Quality in Europe 2016 report from the eea.europa.eu website

 

Urban green spaces deliver multiple health benefits

A new WHO report summarizing evidence on the health effects of green space in urban areas shows that they offer numerous public health benefits, including psychological relaxation and stress reduction, enhanced physical activity and a potential reduction in exposure to air pollution, noise and excessive heat.

The report concludes that there is a need for both small, local green spaces situated very close to where people live and spend their day, and large green spaces that provide formal recreational facilities (such as playing fields) and opportunities to interact with nature.

The report also presents a toolkit for a geographic information system (GIS)-based approach to measuring urban green space. This provides cities with a way to calculate how many people have access to green spaces and to identify new areas where they can be established.

Download the report on Urban Green Spaces and Public Health from the euro.who.int website

Ambient air pollution: A global assessment

Air pollution has become a growing concern in the past few years, with an increasing number of acute air pollution episodes in many cities worldwide. As a result, data on air quality is becoming increasingly available and the science underlying the related health impacts is also evolving rapidly.

This report presents a summary of methods and results of the latest World Health Organization(WHO) global assessment of ambient air pollution exposure and the resulting burden of disease.

Download the full report on Ambient Air Pollution from the who.int website

Climate change and health

All populations will be affected by climate change, but some are more vulnerable than others. In Europe it will be people living on small islands, in coastal regions and on rivers who will be particularly vulnerable.

WHO have produced a fact sheet on climate change and health which provides key facts, outlines patterns of infection, measures health effects and details the WHO’s response.

The key facts include:

  • Climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.
  • Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.
  • The direct damage costs to health (i.e. excluding costs in health-determining sectors such as agriculture and water and sanitation), is estimated to be between US$ 2-4 billion/year by 2030.
  • Areas with weak health infrastructure – mostly in developing countries – will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond.
  • Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases through better transport, food and energy-use choices can result in improved health, particularly through reduced air pollution.

In 2015, the WHO Executive Board endorsed a new work plan on climate change and health. This includes:

  • Partnerships: to coordinate with partner agencies within the UN system, and ensure that health is properly represented in the climate change agenda.
  • Awareness raising: to provide and disseminate information on the threats that climate change presents to human health, and opportunities to promote health while cutting carbon emissions.
  • Science and evidence: to coordinate reviews of the scientific evidence on the links between climate change and health, and develop a global research agenda.
  • Support for implementation of the public health response to climate change: to assist countries to build capacity to reduce health vulnerability to climate change, and promote health while reducing carbon emissions.

For more information on climate change and health on the who.int website

Air pollution set to rise significantly

In 2010 outdoor air pollution caused more than 3 million premature deaths around the world and the OECD is predicting this will rise to between 6 and 9 million premature deaths a year by 2060, with elderly people and children most vulnerable. These projections imply a doubling, or even tripling, of premature deaths from dirty air – or one premature death every four or five seconds – by 2060.

In their latest report “The economic consequences of air pollution” they estimate the cost of this to be 1% of global GDP  or €2.6 trillion as a result of sick days, medical bills and reduced agricultural output.

For more information and to download the report on air pollution from the oecd.org website.