Zoltán Massay-Kosubek

Genval, 2nd May 2017Air pollution is a major public health challenge of our time. The public health context in terms of protecting EU citizens’ health and reducing the chronic disease burden and its associated costs to healthcare systems is a vital consideration in the debate concerning polluted air in European Cities.

(source of the photo: ‘Unmask my City’ campaign page)

Air quality across Europe today is unacceptable and causes suffering for million. WHO figures demonstrate the magnitude of the health impact of bad air quality: as the latest figures by the European Environment Agency (EEA) show air pollutant emissions contribute to 467,000 premature deaths across the EU each year. According to WHO, ar pollution is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and cancer. The impossibility to breathe clean air also impacts the the development of other chronic conditions such as diabetes and obesity.

WHO evidence also underline that children’s healthy development is particularly under threat from air pollution. It poses a considerable health threat not only to current but also future generations. Other studies are emerging which indicate the role of ambient air pollution in the development of other chronic conditions such as diabetes, liver disease, mental health, obesity and childhood leukaemia. Air pollution has a gender dimension too because of physiological differences between women and men leading to differing pollutant health effects. PM associated Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) risks are statistically significantly higher among women with diabetes.

Air pollution continues to hamper economic productivity, as the health related economic costs are enormous. It is estimated that the health costs from air pollution alone amount to €330 – 940 billion a year.

Air pollution also lessens the quality of life in Europe’s cities . Over 90% of city dwellers in Europe are exposed to air pollution levels which are harmful to health. Vehicles contribute to what is already a grave public health emergency. This is why I consider the ‘Unmask My City’ campaign – a global initiative, coordinated by the Global Climate and Health Alliance together with the Health and Environment Alliance, Health Care Without Harm, the US Climate and Health Alliance, and the UK Health Alliance for Climate Change – as a very relevant development for the Public Health Community. If successful, it will make an important contribution to reaching air quality as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Implementing the initiatives such as alternative transport fuels, switching freight to trains, replacing coal with renewable power sources, providing cleaner fuels for home heating, and better infrastructure and urban planning to support active travel policies. This will result in significant reductions in illnesses and deaths while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Addressing air pollution can help to reduce health inequalities.

Nothing is of more importance as a European issue than the air we breathe. As air pollution does not recognise borders, cities must – and have the power – to act to protect the health of its citizens, halt premature deaths and keep health systems sustainable.

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