The health impacts of air pollution

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 website.

Improving indoor air quality in EU schools

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