Every year almost half a million people across Europe are having their lives cut short by air pollution, according to the latest estimates.
Vehicle emissions are particularly harmful, said the European Environment Agency, an EU body that provides information to policymakers and which published the data.
“Road transport emissions are often more harmful than those from other sources, as these happen at ground level and tend to occur in cities, close to people,” said Hans Bruyninckx, the EEA’s Executive Director.
About 422,000 people died prematurely across Europe as a result of exposure to particulate matter pollutants in 2015, the EEA said on 29 October. Other pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide and ozone, were also found to have caused early deaths. Exposure can cause health problems such as inflammation of the lungs, the EEA warned.
Early deaths caused by particulate matter air pollution in Europe were found to have fallen by about 60 per cent between 1990 and 2015. But Bruyninckx called on politicians to do more to tackle the problem.
“Air pollution is an invisible killer and we need to step up our efforts to address the causes,” he said. “It is so important that Europe redoubles its efforts to reduce emissions caused by transport, energy and agriculture and invest in making them cleaner and more sustainable.”
The EU’s environment commissioner Karmenu Vella agreed that politicians need to step up, and said that he welcomed the report. “It shows us that air policy does work, but it also reminds us that we need to make it work even better to achieve clean air across Europe, for all citizens,” he said. The Commission will work with national governments to make sure that they apply the EU’s air quality rules, he promised.
According to the EEA, in 2016 about 6 per cent of people living in EU cities were exposed to higher amounts of one kind of particulate matter pollution than are allowed by EU law. But about 74 per cent were exposed to levels higher than recommended by stricter guidelines from the World Health Organization.