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EEA shows city population at highest risk

The new report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) on the air quality situation in Europe in 2012 confirms that many parts of Europe still have persistent problems with particulate matter (PM) and ozone concentration levels. The situation is especially worrying for those living in cities where almost a third of the population is exposed to levels above EU air quality standards. When compared to stricter WHO air quality guidelines, almost every European living in a city is exposed to concentrations harmful to health

The report confirms the urgency in addressing air pollution as a public health and environmental protection issue. Air pollution has been linked to many short and long-term health impacts. These include irritation of the airways and respiratory tracts, causing and exacerbating asthma in children, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in adults, and contributing to rising rates of cardiovascular disease and lung cancer.

Given that national healthcare budgets are under increased pressure from costs associated with chronic respiratory and cardiovascular disease, preventing ill health through improved air quality should be a top priority; not only will save health care costs, it will also increase quality of life for European citizens.

The EU Commissioner for the Environment, Janez Potocnik has designated 2013 as the EU Year of Air. The aim is to focus on a strengthening of air quality laws to tackle the problems associated with air pollution. HEAL and our member organisations and partners will provide expertise on the process of reviewing EU air policy. We will especially highlight impacts on vulnerable groups, such as children or those suffering from asthma and airways disease. We also aim to put a spotlight on the win-win situations for health that can be reaped from linking EU climate and air policy.

Medical experts say that current EU air quality standards do not protect our health (see the European Respiratory Society’s “10 principles for clean air”). In comparison to the health-based guidelines set by the World Health Organization (which are based on a comprehensive review of the scientific evidence on health effects), concerns focus on the less strict EU standards for particulate matter and ozone. The EU Year of Air should conclude with greater awareness of the toll on health from poor air quality, proposals on how to reduce air pollution at source and the strengthening EU air quality standards.

Last updated on 12 October 2012

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The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is a leading European not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects health in the European Union (EU). We demonstrate how policy changes can help protect health and enhance people’s quality of life. Read more »


HEAL has over 70 member organisations, representing health professionals, not-for-profit health insurers, doctors, nurses, cancer and asthma groups, citizens, women’s groups, youth groups, environmental NGOs, scientists and public health institutes. Members include international and Europe-wide organisations, as well as national and local groups. Read more »

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