98% of Europeans breathe toxic air

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smog emissions

Europe is currently grappling with a “severe public health crisis,” as virtually everyone across the continent resides in regions with hazardous levels of air pollution, as per an investigation conducted by The Guardian.

The examination of data, utilizing advanced techniques such as detailed satellite imagery and information from over 1,400 ground-based monitoring stations, paints a grim picture of polluted air. It reveals that 98% of the population dwells in areas characterized by high levels of fine particulate pollution, surpassing the guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO). In nearly two-thirds of these areas, air quality exceeds the WHO recommendations by more than double.

North Macedonia stands out as the hardest-hit country in Europe, with almost two-thirds of its population residing in areas where levels of PM2.5 pollution are more than four times the WHO standards. Some areas, including the capital city, Skopje, experience air pollution nearly six times the recommended limit.

Eastern Europe, except for Italy, particularly the Po Valley and its northern surroundings, faces significantly worse air quality than western Europe, with over a third of the population there exposed to air containing four times the WHO’s limit for the most dangerous airborne particulates.

The Guardian measured the worst-affected areas on the continent, primarily concerning PM2.5 particles which are minuscule airborne particles mainly produced through the combustion of fossil fuels. Some of these particles can infiltrate the bloodstream through the lungs, adversely affecting nearly all organs.

WHO’s current guidelines state that the annual average concentration of PM2.5 should not exceed 5mg per cubic metre (µg/m3). The new analysis indicates that only 2% of Europe’s population resides in areas meeting this standard. Experts estimate that PM2.5 pollution contributes to approximately 400,000 deaths annually in Europe.

The urgent situation has prompted calls for immediate action, as air pollution affects organs and is associated with various health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, mental health issues, and cognitive impairments.

The European Parliament recently voted to adopt WHO guidelines on PM2.5 by 2035, aiming to establish legally binding limits for annual PM2.5 concentrations. However, experts argue that decisive action is needed right away, as evidence shows that air pollution has dire consequences, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths each year and a multitude of non-fatal diseases, disabilities, hospitalizations, and other health effects caused by other pollutants.

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