Air pollution killed 238,000 Europeans prematurely in 2020: EU watchdog

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Fine particulate air pollution led to 238,000 premature deaths in the European Union in 2020, the bloc’s environmental watchdog said Thursday, a slight increase from the previous year. At the same time, the overall rate for EU countries in 2020 was 45 percent lower than in 2005, the agency said, pointing out that “if this rate of decline continues, the EU will [its] target of the action plan to reduce pollution before 2030.”

In the bloc of 27 countries that year, “exposure to particulate matter concentrations above World Health Organization guideline levels from 2021 led to 238,000 premature deaths,” the European Environment Agency said in a new report.

That was slightly more than recorded in the EU in 2019, despite a fall in emissions due to Covid curbs.

Particulate matter, or PM2.5, is a term for particulate matter that is typically the by-product of exhaust fumes from cars or coal-fired power plants.

Their small size allows them to penetrate deep into the airways, exacerbating the risk of bronchitis, asthma and lung disease.

Also in 2020, exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) above the WHO recommended threshold led to 49,000 premature deaths in the EU, the EMA said.

Acute exposure to ozone (O3) killed 24,000 people prematurely.

“Comparing 2020 to 2019, premature deaths from air pollution increased for PM2.5 but decreased for NO2 and O3,” the agency said.

“For PM2.5, concentration drops were offset by an increase in deaths from the pandemic.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to the deaths of some people already living with air pollution-related illnesses.

The EU wants to reduce the number of premature deaths due to particulate pollution by 55 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.

Overall, the rate for EU countries was 45 percent lower in 2020 than in 2005, the agency said.

“If this rate of decline continues, the EU will reach the Action Plan’s aforementioned target of reducing pollution before 2030.”

According to the WHO, air pollution causes seven million premature deaths a year worldwide, comparable to smoking or poor nutrition.


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