Air pollution in Europe has reached more than alarming levels. According to a new investigation by the Guardian, in fact, approximately 98% of the population in Europe lives in areas with high levels of pollution from highly harmful fine particulate matter which goes beyond the limit threshold established by the World Health Organisation.
Air pollution, Eastern Europe is more polluted than Western Europe with one exception: Italy
Analysis of data collected using cutting-edge methodology, including detailed satellite images and measurements from more than 1,400 ground monitoring stations, reveals that the worst-hit country in Europe is North Macedonia where almost two thirds of the entire population lives in areas with a PM2,5 four times higher than the WHO threshold. Additionally, four areas have air pollution almost six times higherincluding the capital Skopje.
Eastern Europe is significantly more polluted than Western Europe with the exception of Italy. In our country, in fact, more than a third of the inhabitants of Po Valley and the surrounding areas breathe an air four times more polluted than normal.
But what is the limit threshold for PM2.5 according to the World Health Organization?
Current guidelines establish that the average annual concentration of PM2.5 – that is, tiny particles suspended in the air produced mostly by the combustion of fossil fuels -, should not exceed 5 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m 3). The new analysis found that only 2% of the European population lives in areas within this limit. According to experts, PM2.5 pollution causes approx 400 thousand deaths per year across the entire continent: It has in fact been established that some of these tiny particles can pass through the lungs and bloodstream, affecting most organs in the body.
Air pollution, almost 30 million people in Europe live in areas with particles four times higher than the limit threshold: only two countries are saved
The Guardian’s careful research into the most polluted areas of Europe also establishes that almost all residents of seven Eastern European countries – Serbia, Romania, Albania, North Macedonia, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary -, live in areas with PM2.5 twice the norm. In Germania three-quarters of the population is subject to twice as much air pollution. In Spain this figure is 49% and in France of 37%.
In the United Kingdomthree-quarters of the population lives in areas where exposure is between one and two times the WHO guidance, with almost a quarter of the population having PM2.5 more than twice the threshold limit. Only two countries stand out positively: the Swedenwhere there is no area where PM2.5 exceeds the value indicated by the WHO and some areas in the north of Scotlandamong the few in all of Europe to fall below this value.
Pollution in Europe represents a real health emergency: London and Milan are making some progress but we need to act immediately
The main sources of PM2.5 are the traffic, industry, domestic heating and agriculture and the impact of these polluting particles is often felt disproportionately by poorer communities. Air pollution represents a real sanitary emergency: according to the latest research, in fact, in addition to putting almost all the organs of the body at risk, pollution is also responsible for almost 1 million stillborn babies per year. Pollution is also the cause of a wide range of health problems: heart disease, lung disease, cancer, diabetes, cognitive problems, depression and mental illness.
The European Union is under pressure to ensure that political action is truly incisive on the pollution problem. Some cities, including London and Milanare making huge strides with measures to reduce air pollution: dthe introduction of very low emission zones, traffic reduction programs and pedestrian and cycle initiatives. But experts say politicians must take action greater urgency in light of growing evidence highlighting the harm caused by breathing toxic air.