Intended for healthcare professionals

News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

European Commission calls for changes to reduce deaths from air pollution

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 29 September 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:716
  1. Rory Watson
  1. Brussels

    The European Commission has proposed a wide ranging, 15 year strategy to reduce the number of people who die prematurely because of air pollution. But it has had to water down its original proposals because of complaints from industry groups, and pressure groups say the present proposals do not go far enough.

    The commission is looking to regulate, for the first time, people's exposure to fine airborne particulates that penetrate deep into lungs and ozone pollution at ground level. It aims to achieve this by introducing new standards on car emissions, setting ceilings on allowable concentrations of smog in Europe's cities, and by updating existing environmental legislation to increase its effectiveness.

    Announcing the proposals, Stavros Dimas, the environment commissioner, maintained that they would “prevent thousands of premature deaths from pollution related illnesses and drastically reduce damage to crops, forests, and other ecosystems.”

    The commission estimates that air pollution kills 370 000 people in Europe every year, reduces average life expectancy by up to nine months, and costs the EU economy between £427bn (£290bn; $514bn) and £790 a year.

    The original proposals were watered down over the summer after industry groups, whose members will have to meet the new standards, complained that the estimated costs of implementation of £12bn a year were too high.

    Mr Dimas admitted that the reductions for fine dust and ground level ozone pollution were not as high as he had first envisaged. He had initially argued that both should be cut by 80% over the next 15 years. Now, the target for fine dust is 75% and that for ground level ozone is 60%.

    But he defended the outcome. “There were some voices which said we did not need a strategy at all, so I am happy we have got a compromise,” he said.

    He maintained that the benefits, which would include 140 000 fewer premature deaths a year by 2020—together with improvements in health and productivity through less sickness and fewer admissions to hospital—would be worth £42bn by 2020, almost six times the estimated annual implementation cost of £7.1bn.

    The strategy, which must now be approved by EU governments and the European parliament, incorporates some flexibility for governments that can't meet the deadlines because of special circumstances, such as dust blown over from the Sahara.

    However, environmental campaigners believe that the measures do not go far enough. Genon Jensen, the director of the European Public Health Alliance's environment network, said the strategy “falls far short of addressing people's expectations about what Europe should be doing for them in areas where they have little or no control.”

    The alliance argues in particular that more should be done to protect vulnerable groups of people such as infants, children, elderly people, and people with asthma or other respiratory diseases.

    View Abstract