Air quality has improved significantly in Europe over the past ten years, the European Environment Agency (EEA) reports on Monday.
The number of deaths due to the main pollutants has fallen in the EU area (EU27+UK), from 417,000 in 2009 to 379,000 in 2018 according to the report.
For nitrogen dioxide (NO2) alone, a gas produced mainly by vehicles and thermal power plants, premature deaths have declined by around 54% over the past decade, from 117,000 to 54,000.
While the decline is encouraging, air pollution is currently still the most important environmental risk to human health – a major cause of premature death and disease – and perceived as the second biggest environmental concern for Europeans, after climate change.
The report also notes that the lockdown measures introduced by most European countries to reduce Covid-19 transmission during 2020 has led to significant reductions in emissions of air pollutants, particularly from road transport, aviation and international shipping.
“Improving air quality thanks to climate and environmental policies is good news, but all good news has its downside and we cannot ignore that the number of premature deaths is still far too high,” Virginijus Sinkevicius European Commissioner for the Environment, said.
In 2018, 34% of inhabitants in urban areas still breathed ozone particles deemed above the European standard criteria, target values set for the protection of human health.
The European pollutant concentration target values are less stringent than those outlined by the World Health Organization, according to which 99% of EU’s citizens would have breathed ozone particles higher than the recommendations.