Fine particulate air pollution led to 238,000 premature deaths in the European Union in 2020, the bloc’s environmental watchdog said on Thursday, a slight increase from the previous year. Meanwhile, the overall rate for EU countries in 2020 was 45 percent lower than in 2005, the agency said, noting that “if this rate of decline is maintained, the EU will reach [its] The goal of the Zero Pollution Action Plan before 2030.”
Across the 27-nation bloc that year, “exposure to fine particulate matter concentrations above the 2021 World Health Organization guidelines resulted in 238,000 premature deaths,” the European Environment Agency said in a new report.
It was slightly more than those registered in 2019 in the EU, despite reduced emissions due to covid relief.
Particulate matter, or PM2.5, is a term for fine particles that are usually a byproduct of car exhaust or coal-fired power plants.
Their small size allows them to travel deep into the airways, exacerbating the risk of bronchitis, asthma and lung disease.
Also in 2020, exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) above the WHO recommended threshold led to 49,000 premature deaths in the EU, the EEA said.
Acute exposure to ozone (O3) caused 24,000 people to die early.
“When comparing 2020 to 2019, premature deaths attributable to air pollution increased for PM2.5 but decreased for NO2 and O3,” the agency said.
“For PM 2.5, reductions in concentrations were offset by an increase in deaths due to the pandemic.”
The Covid-19 pandemic led to the death of some people already living with diseases related to air pollution.
The EU wants to reduce premature deaths related to fine particle pollution by 55 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.
Overall, the figure for EU countries in 2020 was 45 percent lower than in 2005, the agency said.
“If this rate of decline is maintained, the EU will reach the aforementioned Zero Pollution Action Plan target by 2030.”
According to the WHO, air pollution causes seven million premature deaths a year worldwide, putting it on a par with smoking or poor diet.