“There is a clear link between the state of the environment and the health of our population,” an expert says.
Air pollution, both indoors and outdoors, is the leading cause of environment-related deaths in Europe with more than 400,000 people on the continent dying prematurely as a result of bad air every year, according to the European Union’s Environment Agency.
Overall, various forms of pollution in the environment contribute to 13%, or one in every eight, of deaths each year in the EU, according to a comprehensive new report by the EEA. In 2012, the latest year for which data is available, up to 630,000 people in the EU died premature deaths owing to various forms of pollution.
Air pollution was by far the primary cause of environment-related deaths, including the indoor variety. “Poor indoor air quality related to the burning of solid fuels results in nearly 26,000 premature deaths annually across the [the continent],” says the Copenhagen-based agency.
Another major cause of death was noise pollution, which claimed an estimated 12,000 lives while exposure to dangerous chemicals, too, takes its toll on people’s health and lives. Extreme heatwaves, fueled by climate change, are also significant contributors to premature deaths.
“There is a clear link between the state of the environment and the health of our population,” said Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans, and Fisheries. “Everyone must understand that by taking care of our planet, we are not only saving ecosystems, but also lives, especially the ones who are the most vulnerable.”
People in low-income communities are especially vulnerable to various forms of pollution, the EEA says. The highest percentage of deaths attributable to environmental causes was at 27% in Bosnia and Herzegovina, while the lowest was 9% in Iceland and Norway.
“Socially deprived communities typically struggle under a triple burden of poverty, poor quality environments and ill health,” the EEA notes. “Poorer communities are often exposed to higher levels of pollution and noise and to high temperatures, while pre-existing health conditions increase vulnerability to environmental health hazards. Targeted measures are needed to improve environmental conditions for the most vulnerable in Europe.”