Volunteers don pollution detectors

Two thousand people will be wearing detectors as the EU launches its PEOPLE programme to monitor air pollution in large European cities. Starting in Brussels and Lisbon, the project will gather data on benzene emissions, enabling the EU to pinpoint city hot spots and establish how habits and lifestyle affect exposure to harmful substances.

The PEOPLE (Population Exposure to Air Pollutants in Europe) project will enlist the help of 2000 volunteers equipped with a new type of sampler that detects benzene levels over short periods of time. Commonly found in petrol, the carcinogen is a good tracer for other pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile hydrocarbons and particulate matter produced by traffic. Benzene monitoring will thus measure exposure to other pollutants.

Volunteers will be selected with different commuting habits including car drivers, public transport users, cyclists and walkers. The results from each group will be compared with control groups of people who work at home, and a group of smokers. The programme, which begins in Brussels and Lisbon, will extend to Bucharest, Budapest, Dublin, Krakow, Ljubljana, Madrid, Paris, and Rome, and the results will be presented in February 2003.

“A recent independent study reveals that roughly 40,000 people die every year from the effects of air pollution in three European countries alone: France, Austria and Switzerland,” said EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin, who launched the programme. “It is clear therefore, that air pollution has a long-term negative impact on EU citizens’ health in general, despite tight EU emission standards. This is why research projects such as PEOPLE are so valuable: they provide decision-makers, environment and health professionals, and the European citizen with a comprehensive snapshot of air pollution in EU cities and its impact on public health. Such knowledge will not only help policy makers take informed decisions about traffic and transport policies, it will also help citizens make informed choices on personal and health issues, to limit their exposure.”

The Earth Policy Institute has estimated that three times as many people die from air pollution as from car accidents. Worldwide, an estimated three million deaths occur each year from the effects of air pollution, half of which can be traced to vehicle emissions. The Institute calculated that in the United States, traffic fatalities reach 40,000 per year compared with the 70,000 lives claimed annually from pollution. US air pollution deaths are equal to deaths from breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.

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