EEA air quality report shows 400,000 European premature deaths linked to air pollution

22 October 2019

Article: 53/4207

New analysis from the European Environment Agency (EEA) on air quality shows that exposure to air pollution caused approximately 400,000 premature deaths throughout the EU in 2016.

The report shows that almost all Europeans living in cities are still exposed to air pollution levels that exceed the health-based air quality guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO). The new analysis is based on the latest official air quality data from more than 4,000 monitoring stations across Europe in 2017.

Poor air quality continues to damage Europeans' health, especially in urban areas, with particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ground-level ozone (O3) causing the biggest harm.

According to the analysis, fine particulate matter (PM2.5) alone caused about 412,000 premature deaths in 41 European countries in 2016. About 374,000 of those deaths occurred in the EU.

Compared with the WHO guidelines, long-term fine particulate matter concentrations were excessive at 69% of monitoring stations across Europe in 2017, including at least some monitoring stations in all reporting countries, except Estonia, Finland and Norway.

Despite this persisting pollution, the new EEA data shows that regulations and local measures are going someway to improve Europe’s air quality. Fine particulate matter caused about 17,000 fewer premature deaths in the EU in 2016, compared with 2015. Although weather differences between years can affect pollution levels and its impact, the reduction is consistent with the EEA’s earlier estimate that the number of premature deaths caused annually by PM2.5 in Europe have been reduced by about 500,000 since 1990. 

As well as damaging health and reducing life expectancy, poor air quality also causes economic loss through higher health care costs, reduced yields from agriculture and forestry, and lower labour productivity. 

Road transport, power plants, industry, agriculture and households are the main sources of air pollutants. These sources are closely linked to Europe’s core systems of production and consumption and are also drivers of greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss.

Source: EEA, 16 October 2019