Unhealthy Pollution a Concern Despite Improvement in Europe’s Air Quality


A recent analysis on trends over the past 20 years published in Nature found that average concentrations of tiny and fine particles (PM2.5 and PM10) dropped throughout Europe between 2003 and 2019 – with the highest reductions in PM10. Despite advancements in air quality, over 98 percent of Europeans reside in regions where annual levels of PM2.5, the pollutant most strongly linked to premature mortality, and NO2, which is linked to impaired lung development and chronic lung disease, exceed WHO recommendations.

The Barcelona Institute for Global Health led the analysis of patterns across 35 European nations (ISGlobal). Using machine learning techniques, it evaluated the daily ambient concentrations of four contaminants in order to determine which days exceeded the standards set forth by WHO in 2021.

During the course of the study, PM10 levels fell the greatest, declining by 2.72% annually. NO2 and PM2.5, on the other hand, reduced by 2.45% and 1.72% annually, respectively. Significantly, the study discovered that for PM2.5, the pollutant most strongly linked to harmful health effects, the number of “unclean air days”—above the WHO recommended threshold of 15 micrograms of pollution per cubic meter (15μg/m3)—decreased from about 150 days in 2002 to about 90 days in 2019.

According to the European Environment Agency, air pollution-related malignancies, cardiovascular diseases, and respiratory disorders are thought to have contributed to more than 250,000 fatalities in the European Union.

According to WHO estimates, there were 569,000 premature deaths in the larger European region in 2019—which includes Russia, Turkey, Denmark, and independent former Soviet countries.

Although the effects of PM2.5 on health are best studied, ozone (O3) and NO2 cause a significant amount of morbidity and mortality from asthma and other chronic respiratory diseases.

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