Limiting air pollution to levels recommended by the World Health Organization could prevent more than 50,000 deaths in Europe annually, according to research.
The WHO estimates air pollution kills more than 7 million people each year. And It is one of the leading causes of sickness and absence from work globally.
Cities, with their crowded streets and high energy use, are hotspots for illness and disease linked to air pollution.
The WHO recommends that fine particulate matter (PM2.5) not exceed 10 micrograms per cubic metre of air, averaged annually. For nitrogen dioxide
(NO2), the threshold not to be exceeded is 40μg/m3.
Wednesday’s study, published in the Lancet Planetary Health journal, estimated the premature death burden due to these two pollutants in nearly 1,000 cities across Europe.
It found that reducing PM2.5 and NO2 to safe WHO levels could prevent 51,213 premature deaths each year.
Nearly 125,000 deaths annually could be saved if air pollution levels were reduced to the lowest recorded in the study, its authors said.
Mark Nieuwenhuijsen of the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) said the research “proves that many cities are still not doing enough to tackle air pollution”.
Those with the lowest mortality burden included Tromso in Norway, Umea in Sweden and Oulu in Finland, as well as the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik.
On average, 84% of the population in cities studied were exposed to PM2.5 levels above the WHO guideline. Nine per cent were exposed to higher-than-recommended NO2 levels, the study found.
Sasha Khomenko, co-author of the study from ISGlobal, said it was important to implement local emissions reductions measures in light of the high variability in mortality linked to poor air.