Polluted air for 4 out of 5 people, the alarm for health risks

Polluted air for 4 out of 5 people, the alarm for health risks

What kind of air do Italians and more generally the inhabitants of Europe breathe? Taking a picture of the situation is the Italian Society of Environmental Medicine. According to Sima experts, around 81% of the EU population breathes air with a concentration of fine particles higher than the health safety thresholds set by the WHO as far back as 2005.

Legal limits too far from WHO guidelines

By applying the current legal limits instead, only 21% of Europeans find themselves in a situation of risk to health linked to pm10 and pm2.5 exceedances, and the same goes for nitrogen oxides as well.

The data refer to the European Environment Agency, which publishes an annual report on air quality in Europe. 'The issue is even more worrying because WHO health safety thresholds were more than halved in 2021- he comments Prisco Piscitelliepidemiologist and vice president of Sima - the air quality monitoring network, widely distributed in all our regions, is calibrated on legal limits, set by the current European directive on air quality under review, which today are therefore three times higher than the protective thresholds for our health, thus making it necessary to pay greater attention to the health reading of environmental data, warns Piscitelli.

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Pollution and health risks

Sima also alerts the population to the health risks associated with pollution: "The impact is direct and can now be easily quantified on the basis of risk functions based on scientific evidence acquired by the WHO: for each increase of 10 micrograms per cubic meter of the average annual concentrations of fine particles we observe an increase in general mortality for all causes equal to 7%.Specifically - continues the expert - the mortality for cardiovascular diseases or respiratory causes increases by 10%, while the incidence of heart attacks rises by 26%. Just more modest (+7%) is the increase in mortality linked to each increase of 10 micrograms per cubic meter of nitrogen dioxide (NO2). But an association with the increase in fine particles is also demonstrated for the risk of dementia and neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism.The problem is all the more serious since we cannot defend ourselves from the air we breathe and it is possible to record increases even higher than 10 micrograms per cubic meter in some areas of Europe such as the Po valley".

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How to reduce exposure to pollutants

Alexander MianiPresident Sima, proposes the launch of a large-scale 'mitigation action': "A major action plan is needed for the mitigation of air pollution, starting from the Po valley, which presents serious critical issues, expressly highlighted by the last report on air quality by the European Environment Agency: immediately start interventions based on the use of ethanol-based transparent photocatalytic titanium dioxide coatings, which have scientifically demonstrated the ability to reduce air pollutants into harmless by-products for human health, applying them on the wall and glass surfaces of public and private buildings; implement urban and peri-urban greenery with species with a low water footprint and high filtration and adsorption capacity - as far as possible, given the scarcity of trees in European nurseries - it would also be useful to mitigate the effects on health of urban heat islands in cities.Another possible operational path is to remodulate the interventions of the Pnrr by stopping the funding indiscriminately to a multiplicity of micro-projects to focus decisively on structural interventions for the mitigation of air pollution and climate change, concentrating every resource on large public investments in renewable energy and the replacement of domestic heating systems, which are mainly responsible for the emissions of fine particles into the atmosphere, in order to have lasting and positive effects on our health" .

The appeal

The letter from 14,000 pediatricians and neonatologists to the mayors: "Take immediate action against air pollution"

Urgently adapt legal limits to WHO guidelines - "The Covid-19 pandemic has just ended, but another health emergency threatens our health and the entire ecosystem: the pollution of soils, waters and In particular, the atmospheric one has in fact all the connotations of the seriousness of a public health emergency of international importance, (even if it is certainly not 'sudden, unusual or unexpected') to be able to be the subject of a formal declaration of pheic (public health emergency of international concern, ed) by WHO, since it has been ignored for several decades now. Nonetheless, it requires immediate awareness and urgent action.

Based on the data presented by Sima, Eduardo Missoniprofessor of global health Sda-Bocconi, launches an appeal precisely on the final day of the annual general assembly of the world health organization in Geneva: "It is an absolute priority that WHO devotes more resources to the fight against air pollution in in particular, building on the great efforts made so far by its environment and health department, headed by Dr Mary Neira. We are facing an emergency with an enormous short- and long-term impact: this requires the maximum possible commitment, deploying human and financial resources comparable to those used during the pandemic, aimed at controlling the social and economic determinants of the pollution, progressively aiming at a real paradigm shift with respect to the current model of socio-economic development. A few days from the European green week to be held in Brussels next week, the appeal to Europe and the member states is to implement the WHO 2021 guidelines in the new directive on air quality to protect public health. Reducing air pollution requires immediate action," Missoni concluded.

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