Air pollution kills well below European Union air quality limits

December 8, 2013

The study, published in The Lancet, estimates that for every increase of 5 microgrammes per cubic metre (5 µg/m3) in annual exposure to fine-particle air pollution (PM2.5), the risk of dying from natural causes rises by 7%.

"A difference of 5 µg/m3 can be found between a location at a busy urban road and at a location not influenced by traffic", explains study leader Dr Rob Beelen from Utrecht University in the Netherlands. "Our findings support health impact assessments of fine particles in Europe which were previously based almost entirely on North American studies."

Using data from the European Study of Cohorts for Air Pollution Effects (ESCAPE), the investigators pooled data from 22 cohort studies including 367 251 people. Annual average concentrations of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter were linked to home addresses using land-regression models to estimate exposures. Traffic density on the nearest road and total traffic load on all major roads within 100m of the residence were also recorded.

Among the participants, 29 076 died from natural causes during the average 13.9 years of follow up.

The results showed that long-term exposure to fine particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5) posed the greatest threat to health even within concentration ranges well below the limits in current European legislation.

The association between prolonged exposure to PM2.5 and premature death remained significant even after adjusting for a wide range of confounding factors such as smoking status, socioeconomic status, physical activity, education level, and body-mass index.

The researchers also noted an effect of gender—with PM2.5 associated with excess mortality in men but not in women.

According to Beelen, "Our findings suggest that significant adverse health effects occur even at PM2.5 concentrations well below the EU annual average air-quality limit value of 25 µg/m3. The WHO air-quality guideline is 10 µg/m3 and our findings support the idea that significant health benefits can be achieved by moving towards this target."

Writing in a Comment, Jeremy P Langrish and Nicholas L Mills from the University of Edinburgh in the UK point out that, "Despite major improvements in air quality in the past 50 years, the data from Beelen and colleagues' report draw attention to the continuing effects of air pollution on health. These data, along with the findings from other large cohort studies, suggest that further public and environmental policy interventions are necessary and have the potential to reduce morbidity and mortality across Europe. Movement towards more stringent guidelines, as recommended by WHO, should be an urgent priority."

Explore further: Declining air pollution levels continue to improve life expectancy in US

More information: www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(13)62158-3/abstract

Related Stories

Smog causes surge in heart deaths: study

February 20, 2013

Exposure to higher levels of fine particulates—the airborne pollution that is an emerging problem in many Asian cities—causes a sharp rise in deaths from heart attacks, a study published on Wednesday said.

Recommended for you

Big Data can save lives, says leading cancer expert

May 16, 2016

The sharing of genetic information from millions of cancer patients around the world could be key to revolutionising cancer prevention and care, according to a leading cancer expert from Queen's University Belfast.

New soap to ward off malaria carrying mosquitoes

May 13, 2016

(Medical Xpress)—Gérard Niyondiko along with colleagues Frank Langevin and Lisa Barutel has posted a project on the crowd source funding site ulule for a product called Faso Soap. They claim the soap can cut in half the ...

Smartphones uncover how the world sleeps

May 6, 2016

A pioneering study of worldwide sleep patterns combines math modeling, mobile apps and big data to parse the roles society and biology each play in setting sleep schedules.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.