Air pollution improves in Europe: Researchers

Research indicates that air pollution levels in Europe have shown improvement over the past two decades. However, despite these advancements, a significant portion of the European population resides in regions where air quality surpasses the World Health Organization’s recommended thresholds. Approximately 98% of Europeans live in areas characterized by unhealthy levels of small particles (PM2.5), 80% for larger particles (PM10), and 86% for nitrogen dioxide.

Conducted by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), a study examined pollution levels across more than 1,400 regions in 35 European countries, representing a population of 543 million. Zhao-Yue Chen, an ISGlobal researcher and the study’s lead author, stressed the need for targeted initiatives to address PM2.5 and ozone levels, especially considering the increasing threats from climate change.

Published in the journal Nature Communications, the study reveals an overall decrease in suspended particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels across most of Europe. Annual reductions were observed: PM10 decreased by 2.72%, PM2.5 by 2.45%, and NO2 by 1.72%.

PM2.5 and PM10, tiny particles capable of deeply embedding into the lungs, have been linked to various health issues, including heart disease, cancer, and premature births. It’s estimated that over 400,000 deaths in Europe annually are attributed to these particles, with more than 200,000 preventable if air quality met WHO guidelines. Particulate pollution primarily originates from burning solid and liquid fuels, notably through power generation, domestic heating, and motor traffic, and can also form from chemical reactions between pollutants.

Carlos Pérez García-Pando, one of the study authors, emphasizes the importance of consistent assessments of population exposure to compound air pollution events for informing future research and policy development. While measures such as low-emission zones for vehicles and reductions in coal-fired stove usage have contributed to mitigating particulate pollution, hotspots persist, particularly in northern Italy and eastern Europe for PM2.5 and PM10, and in areas of western Europe for high NO2 levels, which can exacerbate asthma and respiratory infections.

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