Reacting to a new report in the Lancet which shows that air pollution kills people even when national standards are met, Dr Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said,

“This major study of cities across Europe shows that air pollution is even more dangerous than we thought and current European air pollution standards are not tight enough. You can live in an area that meets the standards, be told day after day that air quality is good, and yet the pollution in your street can kill you off.

“To our credit, Scotland has tougher standards for some pollutants but we still need to work hard to reduce pollution and save lives. The problem is mostly from traffic and the solutions are obvious. We need fewer and cleaner vehicles, as well as more action on public transport, walking and cycling.”



Notes to Editors


1. The Lancet’s press release including link to the report:

The Lancet: Air pollution kills well below European Union air quality limits

Prolonged exposure to tiny particles of soot or dust found in traffic fumes and industrial emissions may be more deadly below current European Union (EU) air quality limits than previously thought, according to new research examining two decades of data from over 360 000 residents of large cities in 13 European countries.

The study, published in The Lancet, estimates that for every increase of 5 microgrammes per cubic metre (5 µg/m3) in annual exposure to fine-particle air pollution (PM2·5), the risk of dying from natural causes* rises by 7%.

“A difference of 5 µg/m3 can be found between a location at a busy urban road and at a location not influenced by traffic”, explains study leader Dr Rob Beelen from Utrecht University in the Netherlands. “Our findings support health impact assessments of fine particles in Europe which were previously based almost entirely on North American studies.”**

Using data from the European Study of Cohorts for Air Pollution Effects (ESCAPE), the investigators pooled data from 22 cohort studies including 367 251 people. Annual average air pollution concentrations of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter were linked to home addresses using land-regression models to estimate exposures. Traffic density on the nearest road and total traffic load on all major roads within 100m of the residence were also recorded.

Among the participants, 29 076 died from natural causes during the average 13·9 years of follow up.

The results showed that long-term exposure to fine particles with a diameter of less than 2·5 micrometres (PM2·5) posed the greatest threat to health even within concentration ranges well below the limits in current European legislation.

The association between prolonged exposure to PM2·5 and premature death remained significant even after adjusting for a wide range of confounding factors such as smoking status, socioeconomic status, physical activity, education level, and body-mass index.

The researchers also noted an effect of gender—with PM2·5 associated with excess mortality in men but not in women.

According to Beelen, “Our findings suggest that significant adverse health effects occur even at PM2·5 concentrations well below the EU annual average air-quality limit value of 25 µg/m3. The WHO air-quality guideline is 10 µg/m3 and our findings support the idea that significant health benefits can be achieved by moving towards this target.”**

Writing in a Comment, Jeremy P Langrish and Nicholas L Mills from the University of Edinburgh in the UK point out that, “Despite major improvements in air quality in the past 50 years, the data from Beelen and colleagues’ report draw attention to the continuing effects of air pollution on health. These data, along with the findings from other large cohort studies, suggest that further public and environmental health policy interventions are necessary and have the potential to reduce morbidity and mortality across Europe. Movement towards more stringent guidelines, as recommended by WHO, should be an urgent priority.”

*Deaths from natural causes exclude deaths not conceivably related to air pollution exposure such as injury, accidents, and suicide, which account for about 5% of total deaths.
**Quotes direct from author and cannot be found in text of Article.

Article: Dr Rob Beelen, Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands T) +31 30 253 2059 E) r.m.j.beelen@uu.nl or Utrecht University Press Office T) +31 30 253 2411 / 3550

Comment: Dr Nicholas L Mills, BHF Centre for Cardiovascular Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK. T) +44(0)131 242 6515 or +44 (0)7515 352812 (mobile) E) nick.mills@ed.ac.uk

Comment: Dr Jeremy P Langrish, BHF Centre for Cardiovascular Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK. T) +44 (0)7887 724674 E)jeremy.langrish@ed.ac.uk

For full Article and Comment, see: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(13)62158-3/abstract
2. The report refers to the European annual mean standards for fine and very fine particles: PM10 at 40 microgrammes per cubic meter and PM2.5 at 25 microgrammes per cubic meter. The Scottish targets for these pollutants are 18 and 12 microgrammes per cubic meter respectively, based on recommendations from the World Health Organisation. For the other key pollutant, Nitrogen Dioxide, the Scottish standards are the same as the European ones.

3. ‘Scotland’s most polluted streets revealed’ http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/news030213 You can find out more about our work on air pollution here: http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/air-pollution

4. 13 local authorities have declared “Air Quality Management Areas”. These are areas where levels of air pollution are above Scottish Air Quality Targets. More information on the state of air quality in Scotland can be found at http://www.scottishairquality.co.uk/laqm.php

5. In October the WHO confirmed that outdoor air pollution causes cancer: http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/iarcnews/pdf/pr221_E.pdf

6. Live measurements of air pollution in Scotland can be found here: http://www.scottishairquality.co.uk/

7. Friends of the Earth Scotland is
* Scotland’s leading environmental campaigning organisation
* An independent Scottish charity with a network of thousands of supporters and active local groups across Scotland
* Part of the largest grassroots environmental network in the world, uniting over 2 million supporters, 77 national member groups, and some 5,000 local activist groups – covering every continent.