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Air pollution kills: new study reveals shocking numbers

Copenhagen, Denmark - More than 400,000 people die prematurely every year as a result of air pollution in the European Union.

White smoke from chimneys hangs over the center of Milan, Italy.
White smoke from chimneys hangs over the center of Milan, Italy.  © Claudio Furlan/LaPresse/dpa

This is the figure cited in a report from the European Environment Agency (EEA), published in Copenhagen on Tuesday.

The report analyses data on how the environment affects the health and well-being of Europeans. It finds that air pollution is still the biggest environmental threat to health, even though the number of deaths caused by air pollution is down from one million in 1990. Noise pollution, which causes 12,000 premature deaths, has the second biggest impact, the report says. The effects of climate change, for example heat waves and floods, are also increasingly taking their toll. People in urban areas are particularly hard hit, said Catherine Ganzleben of the EEA.

The environmental agency also lists chemical compounds, excessive use of antibiotics that causes resistance, and contaminated drinking water as issues.

There is also a striking difference between the countries of Eastern and Western Europe. The rate of premature deaths due to environmental factors is much higher than in the former that in is in the latter. 

The highest proportion of deaths related to environmental pollution is in Bosnia (27%), while Iceland and Norway have the lowest numbers (9%).

Poverty and pollution go hand in hand

A dense haze over the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. More than 400,000 people in the EU die every year as a result of air pollution.
A dense haze over the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. More than 400,000 people in the EU die every year as a result of air pollution.  © Eldar Emric/AP/dpa

The studies are based on data from the World Health Organization (WHO) on the causes of death and illness in 2012.

According to the report, around 13 percent of annual deaths in the EU can be attributed to environmental factors. That is 630,000 avoidable cases.

The most common immediate causes of death include cancer, heart disease, and stroke.

"While we see improvements in the environment in Europe and a clear focus in the Green Deal on a sustainable future, the report indicates that strong action is needed to protect the most vulnerable in our society," said EEA Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx. 

He continued to say that poverty and polluted environments tend to go together: "Addressing these connections has to be part of an integrated approach towards a more inclusive and sustainable Europe."

Cover photo: Claudio Furlan/LaPresse/dpa

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