From the poorest or least developed countries (something that often justifies using high-impact technologies and bad energy sources, claiming they have the right to close the gap with the developed countries) to the most developed and industrialized countries (which do not seem able to make good use of their economic wealth and their technological heritage).
Two reports confirm this state of the art. The first is the report by WHO Air Pollution and Child Health: prescribing clean air. Around 93% of girls and boys under 15 years of age – 1.8 billion people – breathe air that is so polluted that it poses a serious risk to health and development. In 2016, 600 thousand children and adolescents died of acute lower respiratory tract infections caused by air pollution. The problem, underlines the document, concerns both developing countries, where 98% of children under the age of 5 breathe levels of ultra-fine dust above the limit set by the WHO, and those with high income, where the percentage is nonetheless more than 50%. “Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
The report, presented at the first global Conference on Air Pollution and Health organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, confirms that the consequences of the pollution of the air are undeniable: about a third of the deaths each year in the world are due to stroke, lung cancer or heart disease caused by air pollution. According to WHO data, nine out of ten people in the world breathe polluted air. And this slow death begins at an early age.
These effects are confirmed by another report, Air quality in Europe 2018, published by the European Environment Agency (EEA). Analyzing official data on air quality reported (in 2016) by more than 2,500 monitoring stations, the researchers calculated the consequences for human health of excesses of particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and tropospheric ozone (O3 ). According to the report, these are the main causes of damage to human health: in 2015, “PM2.5 concentrations caused about 422 thousand premature deaths in 41 European countries, of which about 39 thousand in the 28 EU member states”. According to the EEA, the years of life lost are greater in the largest economies of the continent and, in relative terms (calculated on 100 thousand inhabitants), are the prerogative of Central and Eastern European countries. Despite slow improvements, the study emphasizes, air pollution continues to exceed the limits and guidelines of the European Union and the World Health Organization, and “still represents a danger to human health and the environment”.
Once again, the percentages are impressive: in Europe, around 95% of Europeans are exposed to PM2.5, NO2 and O3 emissions higher than the tolerable limits. For particulate matter (PM2.5, particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less), the percentage of the EU-28 urban population exposed was 6% in 2016, down compared to 7% of the previous year. But if we rely on the guidelines and limits set by the WHO (stricter), about 74% of the EU urban population is exposed to higher concentrations.
According to the WHO researchers, the exposure to PM2.5 would have caused the death of about 422 thousand people in 41 countries in 2015. It is true that in Europe, in some cases improvements have been made: compared to 1990 the premature deaths due to PM2.5 have been reduced by about half a million, but the road is still very long and as for other sectors, the results are not at all homogeneous across the continent.
Nitrogen dioxide annual values continue to be widely exceeded throughout Europe. In 2016, 7% of the EU-28 urban population lived in areas with concentrations higher than the EU annual limit value and WHO guidelines. Even in this case the consequences are lethal: exposure to the NO2 in the world would cause premature death for about 79,000 people in 41 countries.
The presence of these substances is particularly dangerous in Italy, where the number of premature deaths confirm the negative record: in 2015 the PM2.5 concentrations in our country were responsible for 60,600 premature deaths, those of NO2 of another 20,500 and those of O3 another 3,200. No other European country has an air quality responsible for so many victims of air pollution (exception of Germany for the deaths caused by PM2.5).
In Italy, the highest number of deaths caused by the air quality is in the north where more than 95% of citizens millions and millions of men and women, above all, children pay with its own health it follows and excessive emissions of pollutants. Of the 3.9 million people living in areas with simultaneous and regular overruns (daily for the Pm10 and annuals for nitrogen dioxide and ozone), 3.7 million live in the North of the Peninsula.
“Atmospheric pollution is an invisible killer and we must intensify efforts to tackle the causes – concludes Hans Bruyninckx, executive director of the European Environment Agency – In terms of air pollution, road transport emissions are often more harmful than those from other sources, as they originate at ground level and tend to to occur in cities, close to people “.
Consequences of the inability to limit emissions of polluting substances hit the least responsible: according to the experts of Air Quality Europe 2018, due to pollution, northern Italy is the worst place for children where to live. “Addressing these sectors in an integrated way can offer clear benefits for both air quality and climate, and will help improve our health and well-being,” said EEA Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx.
“I really appreciate this report by the European Environment Agency,” said Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. “It shows us that air policy works, but it also reminds us that we need to make it work even better to reach clean air across Europe, for all citizens. The European Commission has resolutely acted on air pollution and will continue to work with Member States to ensure that air quality standards are fully applied on the ground “.