Air pollution kills 238,000 Europeans prematurely

REUTERS - Gonzalo Fuentes

Fine particle air pollution led to 238,000 premature deaths in the European Union in 2020, the bloc's environmental watchdog said Thursday – a slight rise from the previous year.

Air pollution remains Europe's most serious environmental health threat.

Figures for 2020, just released by the European Environment Agency, show that "exposure to concentrations of fine particulate matter above the 2021 World Health Organization (WHO) guideline level resulted in 238,000 premature deaths" in the 27-nation bloc.

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

In 2020, 96 percent of the EU's urban population was breathing concentrations of fine particles above the WHO's limit of 5 microgrammes per cubic metre of air.

Fine particulate matter is the technical term for microscopic dust grains spewed into the atmosphere by car and aircraft engines, and by coal-fired power stations.

The tiny size of the particles enables them to travel deep into the human respiratory tract, worsening the risk of bronchitis, asthma and lung disease.

NO2 and O3 add to the deadly toll

The same report says exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) above the WHO's recommended threshold led to 49,000 premature deaths in the EU in 2020.

Acute exposure to ozone (O3) caused 24,000 people to die early.

If the trend for an increased number of excess deaths from fine particle pollution is clear from the figures for 2019 and 2020, excess mortality due exposure to nitrogen dioxide and ozone declined.


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