According to a recent report put together by the EU Court of Auditors, air pollution could be the “biggest environmental risk” to health in Europe. The public health risk caused by pollution has been a concern for many years. However, the extent of the problem has been highlighted by the report. The authors estimated that it could be causing as many as 400,000 premature deaths every year across the bloc.
The biggest risks were highlighted as nitrogen dioxide, particle matter and ground level ozone. These are believed to be responsible for the majority of premature, pollution related deaths. And those in urban areas continue to be the most exposed to these risks. People living in large cities are at risk of an array of health problems including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, and different types of cancer.
Despite air quality standards, which were set two decades ago, the majority of EU countries are still failing to meet a safe level of pollution. This could be resulting in “hundreds of billions of euros in health related costs”. The authors say that the current emissions targets have been ineffective. One of the main causes of this is that, a lot of the time, air quality isn’t measured adequately. They also say that the targets were “much weaker than the World Health Organisation guidelines and what the latest scientific evidence suggests.”
In addition to this, “despite the Commission taking legal action against many member states and achieving favourable rulings, member states continue to breach air quality limits frequently,” the auditors said.According to one of the report’s authors, Janusz Wojciechowski, who is a member of the European Court of Auditors: “In recent decades, EU policies have contributed to emission reductions, but air quality has not improved at the same rate and there are still considerable impacts on public health.”
Many environmental campaign groups and organisations across the EU agree. For example, Yoann Le Petit from Transport and Environment, an group campaigning for cleaner transport in Europe said in an interview: “The new report is yet another wake-up call for the EU to seriously tackle the air pollution crisis we face every day. Too many member states put their efforts into hiding the real extent of the problem from their citizens rather than cleaning up the air.”
In order to combat the issue, the report had a number of suggestions. The first of these suggestions is that the European Commission needs to update its 2008 Ambient Air Quality Directive. In addition to this, it needs to further prioritise making improvements in its policies, as well as trying to raise more public awareness. The EU hopes that by doing this, it will be able to improve air quality across the bloc.
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