Air pollution still a health threat in European cities

A study of 26 European cities has found that air pollution continues to pose a health threat to city-dwellers, despite tighter emission standards and a drop in some air pollutants. Reducing particulates alone could prevent 12,000 premature deaths a year in cities across Europe.

The Apheis study, funded by the European Commission, carried out health impact assessments of particulate air pollution in cities across Europe during 2001. Pollution was monitored according to levels of black smoke and PM10 – particles less than 10 micrometers in size.

The report, A Health Impact Assessment of Air Pollution in 26 European Cities , measured annual average city levels ranging from 14 to 73 ug/m³ for PM10 and from 8 to 66 ug/m&sup3 for black smoke – at their highest, levels deemed to be a significant health risk.

The Apheis report estimated that 2,653 premature deaths could be prevented annually if long-term exposure to PM10 concentrations were reduced to 40 µg/m&sup3, the cut-off value set by the European Commission for 2005. Achieving the more ambitious limit of 20 ug/m&sup3 set for 2010 would save 11,855 premature deaths annually. An overall reduction of just 5 ug/m&sup3 in each of the cities surveyed, including those with the lowest pollution levels, would prevent 5,547 premature deaths a year.

The effects of long-term exposure to black smoke have yet to be established, but the Apheis study estimated that nearly 600 premature deaths from acute, short-term exposure could be avoided if black smoke were reduced by 5 µg/m&sup3.

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