Poor Swiss air causes 5,000 premature deaths a year

One in seven premature deaths in Switzerland is estimated to be caused by fine particulate matter (PM2.5) Keystone

While air quality is slowly improving, air pollution remains the single largest environmental health hazard in Europe. In Switzerland alone it results in an estimated 5,000 premature deaths a year.

This content was published on November 23, 2016 - 14:04
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Air pollution has significant impacts on the health of Europeans, particularly in urban areas, according to a report published on Wednesday by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Air Quality in Europe 2016 presents an updated overview and analysis of air quality in Europe from 2000 to 2014 based on data from official monitoring stations across Europe and more than 400 cities.

It shows that in 2014, around 85% of the urban population in the EU were exposed to 2.5-micrometre fine particulate matter (PM2.5) at levels deemed harmful to health by the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO). Such particles can cause or aggravate cardiovascular diseases, asthma and lung cancer.

Exposure to PM2.5 was responsible for about 467,000 premature deaths in 41 European countries in 2013.

Macedonia did worst, with 30.4% of premature deaths ascribed to PM2.5. The rates were lowest in Scandinavian countries: Finland (5.9%), Sweden (6%) and Iceland (6.5%).

The Swiss premature death rate of 13.9% – which equates to 4,980 deaths – put the alpine country in the middle of the table.

Swiss air quality limits exist only for particles ten micrometres in size (PM10). PM2.5 particles, which can be particularly harmful, are not directly regulated.

‘Unacceptable damage’

The EEA report also provides new estimates of the health impacts of the most harmful air pollutants based on 2013 data.

The estimated impacts of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ground-level ozone (O3) exposure were around 71,000 and 17,000 premature deaths respectively in Europe. For Switzerland, the figures were 1,140 and 240 deaths respectively.

“Emission reductions have led to improvements in air quality in Europe, but not enough to avoid unacceptable damage to human health and the environment,” said EEA Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx.

“We need to tackle the root causes of air pollution, which calls for a fundamental and innovative transformation of our mobility, energy and food systems. This process of change requires action from us all, including public authorities, businesses, citizens and research community.” 

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