Martha Davies writes on the shocking EEA report that one in eight deaths in Europe are affected by pollution.
Photo by Patrick Hendry
A recent report by the EU’s Environmental Agency (EEA) shows that pollution accounts for 13% of all deaths in Europe. Threats are even greater in poorer communities, findings indicate.
The report, released at the beginning of the month, outlines the health risks posed by environmental factors. It reveals that 400,000 deaths in Europe were tied to air pollution in 2012 - the most recent year from which data is available - while noise pollution contributed to 12,000 deaths.
The World Health Organisation has reported that air pollution causes a range of respiratory issues, including asthma, pulmonary disease, and lung cancer, while another report found that traffic noise has been found to increase the risks of both high blood pressure and ischaemic heart disease.
“The state of the environment in Europe is negatively affecting the health and quality of life of European Citizens,” the report asserts. Its evidence suggests an urgent need to address the issue of pollution in order to prevent health issues from increasing, and to ultimately create a safer and more sustainable world.
Geographical Differences and the Impact of Poverty
The EEA emphasised the relationship between poverty and pollution, noting that the highest number of environmentally-impacted deaths was recorded in Romania, in which 19% of fatalities were linked to pollution - whereas pollution contributed to only around 12% of deaths in the UK.
The report explains that "socially deprived communities are exposed to a higher burden of pollution, with citizens in poorer European regions exposed to high levels of air pollution and noise and to high temperatures.” Heavy traffic in poorer urban areas, for example, increases pollution and exacerbates health risks, while more affluent communities are better able to monitor and tackle rising pollution.
“Higher levels of exposure to environmental stressors and the greater burden of health impacts exacerbate existing health inequities,” the report continues, indicating that targeted measures are required to aid these more vulnerable areas.
An Invisible Threat
The impacts of pollution are disproportionate, and yet ubiquitous: one study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that the rate of indoor air pollutants can be up to five times higher than outdoors, while the World Health Organisation states that 3.8 million deaths can be attributed to household air pollution every year.
Even the use of stoves and gas hobs can drastically increase indoor levels of combustion gases like nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. The threat of pollution surrounds us, and, as the EEA’s report emphasises, it can have a more dangerous and varied impact on our health than we may think.
The statistics highlight that pollution is an issue that must be confronted. But, as the BBC notes, the EEA report was not wholly negative: most significantly, the number of deaths linked to pollution has fallen since 1990.This is a trend that we must sustain, improving existing schemes like low emission zones and cycle paths, as well as committing to new ways of reducing the amount of environmentally-linked deaths.
Recent focus has been on urgent dangers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. But health and the environment are linked more closely than ever - an example that springs to mind being the wildfires currently devastating California.
The EEA report reminds us of the risks we continue to face at the hands of increasing climate change. Such reports are vital in identifying environmental risks and their impacts on different communities; staying informed is one of the most powerful tools we can use to fight against pollution and climate change. Pollution may seem like an invisible threat, but we are still equipped to tackle it.
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