“Air pollution is the biggest environmental risk to health in the EU,” warns Janusz Wojciechowski, a Polish politician.
Up to 400,000 die prematurely across Europe because of toxic air, the European Union’s Court of Auditors has warned in a new special report. The worst levels of pollution are in urban areas where locals remain at risk of developing respiratory diseases, cancers, liver and blood diseases and cardiovascular diseases.
The economic costs of persistent air pollution are also considerable, the Auditors say. They estimate the total annual health-related costs of air pollution to be upwards of €330 and perhaps amount to as much as €940 billion. A part of the problem is that officially set limits on harmful pollutants such as nitrogen oxide and particulate matter across the continent are “much weaker” than recommended by World Health Organization guidelines. Even so, 23 out of the bloc’s 28 countries fail to with them.
Nor does it help matters that different countries use different standards to judge air quality. What is regarded as “poor air” quality by the European Environment Agency is deemed “good air” by authorities in Poland. The same situation exists from city to city. Air quality deemed “horrible” in Western European cities like Brussels and Milan is regarded “sufficient” in Eastern European cities like Krakow and Sofia.
“Air pollution is the biggest environmental risk to health in the EU,” warns Janusz Wojciechowski, a Polish politician who was one of the report’s authors. “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.
In Wojciechowski’s own homeland of Poland, air pollution has reached chronically dangerous levels in numerous towns and cities, including the capital Warsaw. An estimated 48,000 Poles die from air pollution-related diseases. A main cause of bad air in the Eastern European nation is the burning of coal, which continues to serve as a main sources of electricity.
In addition to the burning of coal, transport remains a significant air polluter. Several countries have made efforts to boost the adoption of electric vehicles on an ever larger scale, yet far more needs to be done before people in many European cities can breathe some fresh air again.