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Air pollution continues to kill thousands, costing billions

In recent years air pollution has diminished significantly in Europe, but has stabilised at levels that still cause serious health problems.

The three-year Aphekom project, funded by the EU Health Programme, gathered and analysed data to determine the health and monetary benefits that could be achieved by further lowering those levels in cities across Europe. This analysis provided information for policy making.

The ultimate goals of the project are:

• to reduce avoidable deaths and serious illnesses due to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases caused by exposure to urban air pollution in Europe;

• to improve citizens’ quality of life.

Combining the efforts of 60 scientists in 25 cities across Europe

Aphekom showed that reducing levels of fine particles, in compliance with World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, could add up to 22 months to the lives of persons 30 years of age (depending on the city they live in and its average level of particles).

Because these guidelines are currently exceeded, 19 000 people die each year (in the cities studied) from pollution-related illnesses, including 15 000 deaths from cardiovascular diseases.

Meeting the WHO guidelines in the 25 cities studied would save up to EUR 31.5 billion annually in reduced health spending, absenteeism at work and intangible costs such as well-being, life expectancy and quality of life.

Less pollution, more lives saved

Aphekom’s analysis of the effects of EU legislation to reduce the sulphur content of fuels showed a marked reduction in ambient SO2 levels in 20 cities. Plus, the possible prevention of some 2 200 premature deaths valued at EUR 192 million.

Based on research in 10 EU cities, the project also showed that living near busy roads could be responsible for:

•  15-30% of asthma cases in children

• similar or even higher percentages of coronary heart diseases and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases in adults.

These important findings and comparisons across Europe underscore benefits from drafting and implementing effective EU policies on air pollution and ensuring compliance with them over time. They also aid in developing local and EU policies aimed at reducing both air pollution and its health impact.

Aphekom’s work is particularly relevant now when EU and national agendas are preparing to implement existing regulations on air pollution and will be revising current EU legislation in 2013.

More information:

Apekhom project – website

The Aphekom deliberation-support process and online tool for decision makers

Health - EU Portal – Environmental Health

European Environment Agency