Air pollution causes more than 400,000 premature deaths across Europe every year a new report from the European Court of Auditors (ECA) has revealed. Air pollution is now the ‘biggest environmental risk’ in Europe the report added.
Report authors condemned the EU for failing to implement much-needed monitoring and enforcement of air quality regulations to reduce the harm done by poor air quality. “Air pollution is the biggest environmental risk to health in the EU,” Janusz Wojciechowski, the ECA member, who led the report, said in a statement.
Report finds EU guidelines below WHO recommendations
“In recent decades, EU policies have contributed to emission reductions, but air quality has not improved at the same rate and there are still considerable impacts on public health,” he added. While small measures have been made, not enough is being done to tackle the increasing problem.
The report found that EU air quality guidelines are often “much weaker than the World Health Organisation guidelines and what the latest scientific evidence suggests.”
The research shows that particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and ground-level ozone are the air pollutants responsible for most of the early deaths. But that the levels of these damaging pollutants may be being underestimated due to inadequate measuring techniques.
Urban areas experience the worst of the pollution; urban dwellers are at risk of respiratory disease, cancers, liver and blood disease and cardiovascular disease when exposed to high levels of pollution for an extended period of time.
The ECA also noted that action taken by the European Commission against member states ignoring emission limits has not been effective. “Despite the Commission taking legal action against many member states and achieving favourable rulings, member states continue to breach air quality limits frequently,” the auditors said.
UK experiences 40,000 deaths a year from poor air quality
Up to 40,000 deaths a year are caused by poor air quality in the UK alone and politicians fear the unease around Brexit will cause the UK to slip further behind in environmental regulation. The UK Labour’s deputy leader in the European parliament, Seb Dance, said the government had not made enough effort to meet EU limits.
Writing on Twitter Dance said, "Air pollution is the biggest environmental health risk we face in Europe. The UK govt has repeatedly ignored its commitments under EU law. The idea Brexit will improve its record is preposterous. This govt is a danger to our health."
Other organizations have used the report to bring air pollution topics back to the forefront. “The new report is yet another wake-up call for the EU to seriously tackle the air pollution crisis we face every day,” Yoann Le Petit from Transport and Environment, an organization campaigning for cleaner transport in Europe, said. “Too many member states put their efforts into hiding the real extent of the problem from their citizens rather than cleaning up the air,” he added.
The report ends with an urgent call for more funding to be made available for initiatives to cut air pollution, indicating that such projects must be “well targeted.”