In collaboration with researchers from the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) and the University of Utrecht, the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) carried out for the first time a study of impact on health which assesses the death rate caused by air pollution in more than 1000 European cities.
In this study published in The Lancet Planetary Health, we find a ranking of European cities with the highest death rates , attributable to two atmospheric pollutants: fine particles (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO 2 ).
According to the results of this study, 125,000 deaths and 79,000 premature deaths could be avoided each year if all the cities analyzed reduced the concentrations of PM2, 5 and NO 2 respectively to the levels recommended by the WHO.
Air pollution is never harmless to our health
The city of Brescia and the metropolitan region of Madrid are therefore at the top of the list for a natural mortality rate associated with PM2.5 of 15% and associated with NO2 of 7% . On the other hand, the percentages of mortality attributable to the two pollutants were lowest in the cities of northern Europe.
In major cities in countries such as Spain, Belgium, Italy and France, death rates from NO2, a poisonous gas primarily associated with automobile traffic, were particularly high.
In addition, the Po Valley in Italy, southern Poland and eastern Czech Republic were the cities most prone to mortality associated with PM2.5, particles that are linked not only to car traffic , but also to other fuels used in industry, home heating and food preparation.
Top 10 of the most "atmospheric" polluted European cities
The average levels of each pollutant in each city were determined from the combination of three mathematical models, comparing the 2015 values to the 2018 data.
A mortality burden score calculated using a logarithm taking into account mortality rates, percentage of preventable annual premature deaths and years of life lost for each air pollutant was then assigned to each city in order to make a comparison.
The 10 cities with a high percentage of mortality attributable to PM2, 5 are therefore:
- 4 cities in Italy, including Brescia, Bergamo, Vicenza, Saronno;
- 3 cities of the Czech Republic including Karviná, Ostrav, Havířov;
- 3 cities in Poland including the Silesian metropolis, Jastrzebie-Zdrój and Rybnik.
The 10 cities with a high percentage of mortality attributable to NO 2 are:
- 3 cities located in Spain, including Madrid (metropolitan area), Barcelona (metropolitan area);
- 2 cities in Belgium, including Antwerp and Brussels;
- 2 cities in Italy including Turin and Milan (metropolitan region);
- 2 cities in France including Paris (metropolitan region) and Argenteuil-Bezons,
- and finally Herne in Germany.
Air pollution emission levels will have to be reviewed
Based on the results of this study, there is no safe exposure threshold below which air pollution is not harmful to health. These results also show that there is a loophole in the European legislation currently in force concerning the protection of people and their health.
This suggests that it is now necessary to revise the maximum levels of carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and fine particles allowed, with a view to establishing urban planning and transport policies, in accordance with these levels and aimed at to improve the health of the population.