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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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.
Air pollution is the largest single environmental health risk and a leading cause of disease and death globally.
In the WHO European Region, exposure to particulate matter (PM) accounted for almost 600,000 premature deaths in 2012. The costs associated with premature deaths and diseases caused by air pollution in the Region have been estimated to equal one tenth of the GDP of the EU in 2013.
WHO Europe has developed AirQ+ which can quantify the health impacts of air pollution from different sources in a given population, supporting policy-makers in evaluating risks and taking appropriate action.
AirQ+ calculates the magnitude of selected health effects associated with exposure to the most relevant air pollutants – those for which there is strong evidence on their adverse effects on health – in a given population. It estimates the health burden associated with long- and short-term exposure to ambient air pollution from PM2.5 and small PM (PM10), ozone, nitrogen dioxide and black carbon, as well as long-term exposure to household air pollution from solid fuel use.
For more information about the health impacts of air pollution on the euro.who.int website.
On school days, over 64 million European students and almost 4.5 million teachers are affected by the quality of the air they breathe inside their schools. Asthmatic people are particularly sensitive to poor air quality and pollutants. Indoor air quality in school buildings is affected by outdoor air pollution, building characteristics and operation and management practices, including cleaning, maintenance, and ventilation.
The EU has recently funded a research project: SINPHONIE (Schools INdoor Pollution and Health – Observatory Network In Europe) which monitored air quality and related exposure among 5,175 schoolchildren in 114 primary schools in 23 European countries. It assessed the impact of poor air quality on children’s health, growth, learning performance and development.
The project developed a series of guidelines to promote a cost-effective preventive approach to indoor air quality control. They cover cleaning, ventilation, heating, the use of equipment, as well as structural requirements for school buildings. They also contain specific tips for creating a healthy environment in classrooms, science labs, gyms, school canteens, locker rooms and recreational areas.
The guidelines are intended to complement the already existing efforts at national and local level. They are directed at policy-makers and local authorities, who are able to undertake actions but they can also support construction companies, school staff, children and their parents in their aim to make our schools healthier.
To read more about the project, click here on www.sinphonie.eu