The European Environment Agency says no fewer than 238,000 people in the European Union died prematurely in 2020 due to exposure to airborne pollutants in spite of an improvement in air quality.

This is according to new data released by the EEA on Thursday.

Analysis by the agency shows that air pollution is “the largest environmental health risk in Europe and significantly impacts the health of the European population, particularly in urban areas, in spite of declining emissions of all key air pollutants in the EU.”

According to the EEA’s latest estimates, no fewer than 238,000 people died prematurely in the bloc in 2020 due to exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5), with about 96  per cent of the urban population exposed to levels above World Health Organisation guidelines.

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Meanwhile, nitrogen dioxide pollution led to 49,000 early deaths and exposure to ozone to 24,000, the agency added.

The number of premature deaths from exposure to PM2.5, however, dropped by 45 per cent from 2005 to 2020.

“If this trend continues, the EU is expected to deliver on the zero pollution action plan target of a 55 per cent reduction in premature deaths by 2030,’’ the EEA said in the report.

“Nevertheless, further efforts will be needed to meet the zero pollution vision for 2050 of reducing air pollution to levels no longer considered harmful to health.’’

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