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Watchdog Says Despite Improvement, Air Pollution Still A Leading Health Hazard In Europe

A blanket of smog hangs over the Bulgarian capital Sofia. Bulgaria and Romania are among six EU member states that have exceeded the EU's limit value for fine-particle pollutants. (file photo)

The European Union's environment watchdog says air quality has improved significantly across Europe over the past decade but pollution remains a leading cause of premature deaths on the continent.

An estimated 417,000 premature deaths in 2018 were linked to fine-particle matter in 41 countries surveyed, according to the annual assessment by the European Environment Agency (EEA) released on November 23.

The Copenhagen-based agency also said that about 60,000 fewer people's lives were shortened due to such exposure in 2018, compared with the previous year, because EU, national, and local policies and emission cuts in key sectors have improved air quality.

"The EEA's data prove that investing in better air quality is an investment for better health and productivity for all Europeans. Policies and actions that are consistent with Europe's zero pollution ambition, lead to longer and healthier lives and more resilient societies," the watchdog’s Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx said in a statement.

Road transport, agriculture, energy production, industry, and households are principal sources of air pollution, according to the Air Quality In Europe — 2020 report.

It said that emissions of nitrogen oxides from transport and pollutant emissions from energy production have declined significantly since 2000, while there was less progress in reduced emissions from buildings and agriculture.

The report shows that Bulgaria and Romania were among the six EU member states that exceeded the EU's limit value for fine particulate matter (particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers) in 2018.

The air pollutants can cause or worsen respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, as well as cancer.

With reporting by dpa and AFP
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