Traveling to Europe? Breathe the Air at Your Own Risk

A new European study confirms that air pollution is shortening lives.
The Eiffel Tower’s new backdrop—air pollution. (Philippe Wojazer/Reuters)
Sep 25, 2012
A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

There was once a sort of romanticism surrounding the concept of a gray day—thousands of black and white photos are a testament to that. Nowadays, though, that gray stuff has often turned deadly.

“Air pollution is shortening lives by almost two years in parts of the European Union . . . strengthening the case for a tightening of emissions restrictions in the bloc,” Reuters reported yesterday.

Summarizing a report by the European Environmental Agency (EEA), they noted that, “On average, air pollution was reducing human lives across the region by roughly eight months . . . It also quoted separate European Commission-funded research showing that a reduction in particulate levels could extend life expectancy by 22 months in some areas. The report did not spell out where those areas were, but it said that Poland and other industrial regions of eastern Europe had particularly high levels or particulate pollution. Alone among British cities, London also exceeded daily EU limits for particulate matter.”

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Commenting on the same report, TODAYonline added, “Another of the major air pollutants is ozone, which can cause respiratory problems. Again exposure levels were high, with sunny Mediterranean nations particularly affected as sunlight is needed to form ozone. In 2010, 97 percent of EU inhabitants endured ozone above WHO reference levels in 2010 and 17 percent above the much lower EU target level. The pollutants result from fumes from cars, industry, household fuel burning, followed by complex chemical reactions in the air. Pollutants enter water, agricultural land and the food chain, as well as the atmosphere, resulting in systemic pollution and reduced agricultural production.”

Buzzle notes that they have “a few facts about the adverse effects of air pollution which will make you sit up and sniff the air around you apprehensively.” I would say that’s a pretty accurate statement when you consider a few of their highlights:

“About 2 million premature deaths are caused each year due to air pollution in cities across the world.”

“People who breathe in the fumes of heavy traffic regularly have higher chances of getting hardening of the arteries, which is associated with the risk of heart attack.”

The World Health Organization has said that, “By reducing air pollution levels, we can help countries reduce the global burden of disease from respiratory infections, heart disease, and lung cancer. The lower the levels of air pollution in a city, the better respiratory (both long- and short-term), and cardiovascular health of the population will be.”

TODAYonline noted that the EEA report, “highlights the legislative need to tackle air pollution and human health in tandem with the struggle to slow global warming.”

That, “cough, hack, cough,” appears to be an understatement.

You knew air pollution was bad for your health, but did you know it was this bad?

Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence |

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