Atmospheric pollution is the leading environmental threat to human health in Europe, and most EU countries’ levels are still above recommended pollution limits.

The EU wants to slash premature deaths due to fine air pollution by at least 55 percent in 2030.
The EU wants to slash premature deaths due to fine air pollution by at least 55 percent in 2030. (Julien Mattia / AA)

Premature deaths caused by fine particle air pollution have fallen 10 percent annually across Europe, but the invisible killer still accounts for 307,000 premature deaths a year.

The figures were reported by the European Environment Agency on Monday.

If the latest air quality guidelines from the World Health Organization were followed by EU members, the latest number of fatalities recorded in 2019 could be cut in half, the EEA reported.

Even if the situation is improving, the EEA warned in September that most EU countries were still above the recommended pollution limits, be they European guidelines or more ambitious WHO targets.

According to the UN health body, air pollution causes seven million premature deaths annually across the globe, on the same levels as smoking and poor diet.

READ MORE: WHO blames air pollution for 7 million premature deaths a year

The prevailing environmental threat

Air pollution remains the biggest environmental threat to human health in Europe according to the EEA.

Heart disease and strokes cause most premature deaths blamed on air pollution, followed by lung ailments including cancer.

In children, atmospheric pollution can harm lung development, cause respiratory infections and aggravate asthma.

"Investing in cleaner heating, mobility, agriculture and industry improves health, productivity and quality of life for all Europeans, and particularly the most vulnerable," said EEA director Hans Bruyninck.

The EU wants to slash premature deaths due to fine air pollution by at least 55 percent in 2030 compared to 2005.

If air pollution continues to fall at the current rate, the agency estimates the target will be reached by 2032.

However an ageing and increasingly urbanised population could make that more difficult.

"An older population is more sensitive to air pollution and a higher rate of urbanisation typically means that more people are exposed to PM 2.5 concentrations, which tend to be higher in cities," said the report.

READ MORE: EU: 1 in 8 deaths linked to pollution in Europe

Source: AFP