Almost all Europeans breathe polluted air: this is the worrying conclusion of a survey published by the English newspaper The Guardian. Around 30 million Europeans live in areas where concentrations of fine particles are at least four times higher than WHO recommendations. The city with the most polluted air is Skopje, capital of North Macedonia.
The air we breathe in cities is increasingly polluted. Research and an interactive map published by The Guardian show that most countries in the Old Continent have reached worrying levels of air pollution: 98% of the population lives in areas where pollution by fine particles (PM2.5) is very harmful.
Most European cities have levels of fine particle pollution above World Health Organization guidelines. The worst-hit country in Europe is believed to be North Macedonia, where two-thirds of that country’s residents live in areas where PM2.5 concentrations are more than four times higher than WHO guidelines. In its capital Skopje, this level of pollution would be almost six times higher than these values.
But this Balkan country is not the only one to record pollution rates well above WHO thresholds. This is also the case in Serbia, where more than half of the population breathes air four times more polluted than the WHO thresholds. The situation is also worrying in northern Italy, in the Po Valley, where more than a third of the inhabitants and surrounding regions breathe air four times more polluted. In total, nearly 30 million Europeans live in areas where concentrations of fine particles are at least four times higher than WHO recommendations. In Central Europe, three quarters of the population live on more than double the recommended value. In Spain this figure is 49% and in Europe 37%. Conversely, northern Western European countries are the least impacted, notably Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland.
The study also reveals that the most polluted areas of the cities examined are located in those where the poorest populations live. An unfortunately known phenomenon, which represents a major case of environmental injustice. “There is an urgent need to clean the air, especially in Eastern Europe, to provide equal opportunities for healthy living across Europe“, Barbara Hoffmann, professor of environmental epidemiology at the University of Düsseldorf, told the Guardian.
The research was carried out using detailed satellite images and measurements from more than 1,400 ground monitoring stations. The data was collected by pollution experts from Utrecht University (Netherlands) and the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, as part of the Expanse project, funded by the European Union.