Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Report claims 80,000 saved annually by EU air legislation

EU legislation has reduced air pollution-related deaths across the continent, although numbers remain high EU legislation has reduced air pollution-related deaths across the continent, although numbers remain high NicoElNino
01 Mar
2016
Europe-wide rules significantly lowered air pollutant emissions over a 40-year time period, saving tens of thousands of lives in the process

While the country debates the merits of staying or leaving the European Union ahead of June’s referendum, a new study suggests that EU legislation introduced between 1970 and 2010 has resulted in technological improvements and new ‘end-of-pipe treatment measures’ in the energy, industrial and road transport sectors. These have led to reduced European annual mean concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) by 35 per cent when compared to what the levels would have been had such legislation not existed. The outcome, claims the study, is the prevention of an estimated 80,000 premature deaths from pollution-related illnesses annually across the EU.

‘Air pollution is a trans-boundary problem that does not recognise national borders,’ explains Steven Turnock, a PhD student at the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds, and lead author of the report. ‘The improvements in human health shown in this research have been achieved by European countries acting together.’

The study simulated the quantities of key air pollutants which would have entered the environment across Europe in a scenario where various EU legislation had not existed, and compared it to present day quantities. It found that emissions of sulphur dioxide, black carbon, and organic carbon were respectively 53 per cent, 59 per cent and 32 per cent lower in 2010 than they would have been without the legislation. The researchers then used relationships between the amount of air pollution and impacts on human health to attribute the number of lives saved due to the improved air quality.

pollutionNumber of premature deaths prevented each year due to the introduction of EU policies and new technologies, numbers given are for a 4km x 4km grid square (Image: Turnock et al., Environ. Res. Lett.)

The relevant policies adopted by the EU include improvements in fuel quality, the adoption of European emissions standards in transport, as well as technological advances such as the introduction of particle filters and catalytic converters. The study calculated a perceived financial benefit to society of $232billion (€213billion or £166billion) annually.

‘EU policy has dramatically improved the health of European citizens,’ emphasises co-author Professor Ken Carslaw, also from the University of Leeds. Nevertheless, the prevention of an estimated 80,000 premature deaths is still only a minority of the hundreds of thousands still affected by air pollution. ‘To put this number in perspective,’ Carslaw says, ‘in 2011 just slightly in excess of 400,000 premature deaths were attributed to particulate air pollution over Europe.’

The EU’s Air Quality Directive issues acceptable limits for PM2.5 emissions, which were missed by 12 London boroughs in 2010, rising to 25 in 2011, then dropping to seven by 2013. 2010 saw 3,500 premature deaths in London as result of exposure to PM2.5 emissions (down from 4,300 in 2008), in addition to a further 5,900 deaths associated with long-term nitrogen dioxide (NO2) exposure.

Study co-author Dr Dominick Spracklen, also from the UoL, said: ‘Our work shows that EU policies have improved air quality. If the UK were to exit the EU, our air quality policy would no longer be subject to EU legislation, with potential implications for future air quality. Regardless of the UK’s position in the EU, it is vital that we continue to reduce air pollution emissions to ensure future air quality and the health of the British public.’

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

LATEST HEADLINES

Subscribe to Geographical!

Adventure Canada

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...
    When the wind blows
    With 1,200 wind turbines due to be built in the UK this year, Mark Rowe explores the continuing controversy surrounding wind power and discusses the e...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Geophoto

So much photographic theory is dedicated to image sharpness that…

Wildlife

Changing temperatures in East Africa are set to upset a delicate…

Climate

As the planet warms and tensions rise, Marco Magrini finds that…

Oceans

A deep-sea mission in the ocean around Bermuda confirms the…

Oceans

An oxygen-deprived ‘dead zone’ in the Arabian Sea is much…

Wildlife

Scientists working with new drone technology are hoping to reveal…

Oceans

A new virtual reality experience, ‘BBC Earth: Life in VR’,…

Nature

Faced with protecting a country more than 30 times the…

Oceans

As Chile’s president leaves office, the country designates large expanses…

Energy

More than two years after first being announced, the International…

Wildlife

The winner of the 2018 Whitley Gold Award is Pablo…

Polar

Celebrate World Penguin Day with this selection of penguin-related stories…

Geophoto

It takes a lot more than the latest research data…

Wildlife

NGOs shine a light on the underreporting of wildlife crime…

Wildlife

Pioneering laser photography is being used by scientists on the…

Geophoto

Annual competition looks to celebrate island life in all its…

Oceans

Increasing interest in offshore aquaculture is dividing environmentalists

Energy

Well-meaning promises don’t always have positive outcomes. Marco Magrini finds…

Wildlife

The RSPB introduces a new hotline for reporting the unlawful…

Wildlife

With the death earlier this week of the world’s last…