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Each year at least 1.4 million Europeans die due to polluted environments

Staff Writer | June 16, 2017
The World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe (WHO/Europe), the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) call on European leaders to scale up action to prevent environment-related deaths and diseases affecting their populations.
polluted environments
Pollution   At least 15% of Europe’s total deaths
Each year, at least 1.4 million Europeans die prematurely due to polluted environments; this corresponds to at least 15% of Europe’s total deaths.

Around half of these deaths are due to outdoor and indoor air pollution. Altogether, European citizens lose annually 50 million years of healthy life from environmental risks.

“In the era of sustainable development, we can prevent the 1.4 million environment-related deaths by making health a political choice across all government sectors,” said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe.

“We urge all European leaders to take this opportunity for more sustainable policies to address the health challenges of the 21st century.”

Environmental risk factors are responsible for around 26% of ischemic heart disease, 25% of strokes and 17% of cancers in Europe. Cardiovascular deaths and diseases from environmental exposures are three times higher in lower-middle-income countries compared to high-income countries.

Air pollution is Europe’s leading environmental killer, responsible for 620 000 deaths every year from outdoor (transport, industry, energy production) and indoor (solid fuel combustion for heating and cooking, poor ventilation, second-hand tobacco smoke) exposure.

Additional environmental factors, such as chemical pollution, noise, occupational risks, unsafe water, poor sanitation and injuries, account for more deaths and diseases.

Diarrhoeal diseases caused by inadequate drinking-water, toilets and hygiene lead to 14 deaths a day – an unacceptable reality in Europe’s 21st century. Road traffic injuries kill 85 000 people per year.

Financial constraints, inequalities, extreme weather events from climate change, a rise in noncommunicable diseases, the ageing of the population, rapid urbanization and unprecedented levels of migration exacerbate environmental impacts on the health of Europeans.

In 2015, for the first time in human history the majority of the world’s population was living in urban areas.

By 2030, 8 out of 10 Europeans will be living in cities, where they may be exposed to multiple environmental hazards.

The most vulnerable – children, people living in poverty, people at risk of marginalization, migrants – are disproportionately affected.

WHO’s new report “Environment and health for European cities in the 21st century: making a difference”, developed jointly with UNECE and UN Environment, makes the case for investing in cities as leading drivers to improve people’s health and reduce inequalities.