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Researchers find air pollution levels have improved over 20 years, but health concerns remain: 'Provides a solid basis for future research and policy development'

A group of researchers looked at air pollution levels over the last 20 years in more than 1,400 regions.

A group of researchers looked at air pollution levels over the last 20 years in more than 1,400 regions.

Photo Credit: iStock

Though air quality has improved in Europe over the last two decades, the vast majority of Europeans still live with unhealthy levels of pollution, the Guardian reported.

What's happening?

A group of researchers looked at air pollution levels over the last 20 years in more than 1,400 regions in 35 European countries. While they found that air pollution has improved overall, most people still live in areas where levels exceed World Health Organization recommendations.

In fact, a whopping 98% of Europeans live in places with unhealthy levels of small particulate matter, known as PM2.5, while 80% are exposed to larger particles, known as PM10. And 86% live with unhealthy levels of nitrogen dioxide.

PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations are highest in northern Italy and Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, the team discovered high NO2 levels in northern Italy along with parts of Western Europe.

"Our consistent estimation of population exposure to compound air pollution events provides a solid basis for future research and policy development to address air quality management and public health concerns across Europe," Carlos Pérez García-Pando, one of the study's authors, told the Guardian.

Why is this research concerning?

Exposure to PM2.5 and PM10 has been linked to a wide range of health problems, including cancer, heart disease, and premature births. It has also been linked to the early death of more than 400,000 people across Europe annually, the Guardian reported. Meanwhile, high nitrous oxide levels can lead to asthma and may increase susceptibility to respiratory infections.

Toxic pollution from sources such as coal, oil, and gas also have hidden health consequences, as they drive the overheating of our planet. As global temperatures continue to swell, we can expect dangerous impacts to communities, including increased occurrences of heat waves and droughts, more severe storms, food shortages, and the spread of certain diseases. 

For instance, states on the U.S. northeast coast have experienced a marked uptick in cases of flesh-eating bacteria, as warmer temperatures are enabling it to survive in more northern waters.

What's being done about air pollution in Europe?

A number of European cities have implemented low-emissions zones for vehicles, according to the Guardian. For instance, Stockholm has banned diesel and petrol cars from entering the city center. Some countries, including Poland, have reduced their reliance on coal-powered stoves, the publication reported. Meanwhile, EU directives on industrial emissions are reportedly helping to slash pollution by businesses.

Of course, Europe is not alone in its fight against dangerous pollution. While Wales is banning most new roadway projects to cut down on carbon emissions and Scotland is turning many urban neighborhoods into "20-minute cities" to give residents better access to public transit, some towns in rural Virginia are adding more than 1 million new jobs by focusing on clean energy instead of coal.

You can help by reducing your dependence on transportation powered by dirty fuel sources. One way you can achieve this is by changing how you get around. Try riding your bike more, taking public transit, and using your car more efficiently

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