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Air pollution still causing health problems in Europe


Air quality has improved in most European countries over the last few decades. Yet, even at current levels, air pollution may aggravate respiratory diseases, shorten life expectancy by up to several months, and possibly increase infant mortality in highly polluted areas.

In October 2005 the World Health Organization (WHO) will reconsider current air quality guidelines. Does the latest research warrant new standards to better protect our health? To answer this key question, WHO experts closely examined three air pollutants that are known to be harmful: particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone.

GreenFacts now provides non specialists with easy access to these recent scientific findings at, in a reader-friendly structure.

Particulate matter: small is harmful

Air can be contaminated by a range of very different particles such as dust, pollen, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets. Many of them can harm our health, especially smaller particles that may enter deeper into the lungs. Particularly vulnerable people, such as children or asthmatics, may be affected even at very low levels.

Nitrogen dioxide: mainly traffic related

In Europe, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollutes the air mainly as a result of road traffic and energy production. People living near busy roads are thus particularly affected. Apart from giving rise to acid rain and other air pollutants, current levels of NO2 can increase respiratory problems, particularly in children.

Ground level ozone: the effect of the sun

Unlike the ozone layer which shields us from UV rays, ground level ozone is considered an air pollutant. It becomes particularly prevalent on sunny summer days when other pollutants react under the action of sunlight. Exposure to ozone mainly affects the lungs, but it can also affect the eyes, and worsen respiratory allergies.

The combined effects of different urban air pollutants remain uncertain. However, recent research regarding human health impacts of particulates, ozone and nitrogen oxide suggests a need to further reduce pollution levels in Europe’s atmosphere.

Manuel Carmona Yebra | alfa
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