Published: 09-12-2013 14:19 | Updated: 29-10-2014 09:58

Air pollution kills well below European Union air quality limits

According to new research, prolonged exposure to small particles found in traffic fumes and industrial emissions can be more deadly than previously thought. This also applies to levels below the current European Union (EU) air quality standards. Researchers from Karolinska Institutet, mainly at the Institute of Environmental Medicine, took part in the international study published in The Lancet.

The researchers studied over 360 000 inhabitants in large cities in 13 European countries. The study estimates that for every increase of 5 micrograms per cubic meter as an annual average of fine-particle air pollution (PM2.5), mortality is increased by 7%. The association remained significant even after adjusting for a wide range of risk factors such as smoking, socioeconomic status, physical activity, educational level, and body-mass-index.

The findings suggest that significant adverse health effects occur even at PM2.5 concentrations well below the EU limit value of 25 microgrammes/m3. The WHO guideline for PM2.5 is 10 microgrammes/m3. The results suggest that major health benefits can be achieved by reducing air pollution levels in Europe to this target.

"Four cohorts from Stockholm with more than 23 000 subjects were included in the study", explains professor Göran Pershagen at the Institute of Environmental Medicine, who coordinated the participation from Karolinska Institutet in the project. "The levels of PM2.5 in Stockholm were low compared to most other cities in the study and below the EU standards."


Effects of long-term exposure to air pollution on natural-cause mortality: an analysis of 22 European cohorts within the multicentre ESCAPE project.
Beelen R, Raaschou-Nielsen O, Stafoggia M, Andersen Z, Weinmayr G, Hoffmann B, et al
Lancet 2014 Mar;383(9919):785-95