Smoke Factory Industry Pollution Photo: Max Pixel

1 in 8 EU deaths linked to pollution

8 September 2020 

One in every eight deaths in the European Union is linked to pollution, a new study reveals. 

The European Environmental Agency (EEA) unveiled the statistic in its “Healthy, environment, healthy lives” report which drew on World Health Organisation data on causes of death and disease. 

Air pollution retained its spot as the top environmental threat to health for the region, driving 400,000 premature deaths each year in the EU. 

Noise pollution came in second, followed by the impacts of climate change, namely heatwaves that have caused temperatures to soar upwards during summer months. 

Citing 2012 WHO data, Ireland had a death rate of 53.5 per 100,000 attributable to the environment. 

Within this figure, the vast majority of these environment-attributable deaths resulted from noncommunicable diseases such as cancer, heart disease and stroke. 

A newly published RCSI-study found that higher levels of polluting fine and coarse particles, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide increase the risk of stroke in Dublin as a result of solid fuel burning in winter months. 

Geographical distribution 

The burden of the pollution and climate crisis varies across the bloc, with a clear difference noted by the report between the east and west of the continent. 

27 per cent of national deaths is attributable to the environment in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the lowest in Iceland and Norway at 9 per cent. 

Additionally, poor quality environments are compounded by poverty and ill health for socially deprived communities. 

“Poorer communities are often exposed to higher levels of pollution and noise and to high temperatures, while pre-existing health conditions increase vulnerability to environmental health hazards,” The report goes on to say. 

Ongoing research is investigating the links between the current Covid-19 pandemic and environmental dimensions. 

Early evidence suggests that air pollution and poverty may be linked to the impact of Covid-19, but further research is still needed to clarify these links, according to an initial assessment in the report. 

“Saving ecosystems, but also lives” 

The document reveals a “clear link” between the state of the environment and the health of our population, according to EU Commissioner for the Environment Virginijus Sinkevičius.

“Everyone must understand that by taking care of our planet we are not only saving ecosystems, but also lives, especially the ones who are the most vulnerable,” Ms. Sinkevičius added. 

While improvements in the environment can be seen in Europe and a clear focus has been put in the Green Deal on a sustainable future, “the report indicates that strong action is needed to protect the most vulnerable in our society” as poverty often goes together with living in poor health and environmental conditions. 

“Addressing these connections has to be part of an integrated approach towards a more inclusive and sustainable Europe,” said EEA Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx. 

About the Author

Kayle Crosson