Cleaner air could have saved at least 178,000 lives across the EU in 2019

Air pollution continued to cause a significant burden of premature death and disease in Europe in 2019. A European Environment Agency (EEA) analysis, published this week, shows that improving air quality to the levels recently recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) could prevent more than half of the premature deaths caused by exposure to fine particulate matter.

The EEA briefing Health impacts of air pollution in Europe presents updated estimates on how three key pollutants – fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, ground-level ozone – affected Europeans’ health in 2019. The briefing also assesses the potential benefits of improving air quality towards new guideline levels recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). And, the briefing measures progress towards the EU Zero Pollution Action Plan’s target of reducing the number of premature deaths due to exposure to fine particulate matter by more than 55% by 2030.

According to the EEA’s latest estimates, 307,000 people died prematurely due to exposure to fine particulate matter pollution in the EU in 2019[1]. At least 58%, or 178,000, of these deaths could have been avoided if all EU Member States had reached the WHO’s new air quality guideline level of 5 µg/m3.

It also found that air quality in Europe was better in 2019 than in 2018, which also resulted in fewer negative health impacts.The decline in pollution follows a long-term trend, driven by policies to reduce emissions and improve air quality.

“Investing in cleaner heating, mobility, agriculture and industry delivers better health, productivity and quality of life for all Europeans and especially for the most vulnerable. These investments save lives and also help accelerate progress towards carbon neutrality and strong biodiversity”, said Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director.

“To breathe clean air should be a fundamental human right. It is a necessary condition for healthy and productive societies. Even with improvements in air quality over the past years in our region, we still have a long way to go to achieve the levels in the new WHO Global Air Quality Guidelines,” said WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge. “At WHO, we welcome the work done by the EEA, showing us all the lives that could be saved if the new air quality levels were achieved, giving policy-makers solid evidence about the urgent need to tackle this health burden.”

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