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Poor environment causes one in eight deaths in Europe

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Poor environment causes one in eight deaths in Europe

Image by Michael de Groot from Pixabay

(COPENHAGEN) - Heatwaves, air and noise pollution contribute to 13 per cent of all deaths in Europe, according to a major assessment on health and environment released Tuesday the EU Environment Agency (EEA).

With attention currently focused on addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, improving Europeans' health and well-being is seen as more important than ever, According to the EEA report, titled 'Healthy environment, healthy lives: how the environment influences health and well-being in Europe', a significant proportion of the burden of disease in Europe continues to be attributed to environmental pollution resulting from human activity.

The report - which draws extensively on World Health Organization data on the causes of death and disease - highlights how the quality of Europe's environment plays a key role in determining our health and well-being. It shows how social deprivation, unhealthy behaviours and shifting demographics in Europe influence environmental health, with the most vulnerable hardest hit.

"COVID-19 has been yet another wake-up call," said EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, "making us acutely aware of the relationship between our ecosystems and our health and the need to face the facts – the way we live, consume and produce is detrimental to the climate and impacts negatively on our health."

Key findings

  • Air pollution remains Europe's top environmental threat to health, with more than 400 000 premature deaths driven by air pollution every year in the EU. Noise pollution comes second, contributing to 12 000 premature deaths, followed by the impacts of climate change, notably heatwaves.
  • The burden of pollution and climate change varies across Europe, with clear differences between countries in the east and west of Europe. The highest fraction of national deaths (27 %) is attributable to the environment in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the lowest in Iceland and Norway at 9 %.
  • Socially deprived communities typically struggle under a triple burden of poverty, poor quality environments and ill health. 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. Targeted measures are needed to improve environmental conditions for the most vulnerable in Europe.
  • People are exposed to multiple risks at any time, including air, water and noise pollution, and chemicals, which combine and in some act in unison to impact on health. European cities are particularly vulnerable to these multiple threats, while also having less access to green and blue spaces.
  • Ongoing research is investigating the links between the current COVID-19 pandemic and environmental dimensions. The virus behind COVID-19 is thought to have "jumped species" from animals to humans, an unforeseen outcome of the pressure that increasing consumption places on our natural systems. Regarding the impact of COVID-19 on communities, early evidence suggests that air pollution and poverty may be linked to higher death rates. Further research is still needed to clarify these interactions, according to an initial assessment in the report.

Healthy environment, healthy lives: how the environment influences health and well-being in Europe - EEA Report No 21/2019

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