by | October 25, 2013 | Opinion

European Environment Agency – 2013 Air Quality Report | Try to hold your breath while counting your money

The European Environment Agency (EEA) launched its air quality in Europe report (2013) on a European Policy Centre (EPC) Breakfast Policy Briefing together with Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment. EPHA took part in the debate on behalf of the European COPD Coalition (ECC) as air quality has a great impact on health -and in particular, on respiratory diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

2013 as the European Year of Air – The policy framework

Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment has announced earlier 2013 as the European Year of Air. While there have been some improvements in air quality in Europe, air pollution continues to be a serious concern for public health and the environment, and extremely costly for society. Emissions of air pollutants increase health risks, distract the functioning of our ecosystems and contribute to climate change. More stringent air policy would benefit all EU citizens and create win-win-win opportunities for people, environment and climate, while at the same time stimulating research and innovation and safeguarding EU competitiveness in the green technology sector.

At this Briefing, Hans Bruyninckx, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency (EEA) presented the latest findings on the current status of European air quality. He pointed out, that air quality is responsible for several diseases, including COPD.

He added that this report reviews progress towards meeting the requirements of the air quality directives and gives an overview of policies and measures introduced at European level to improve air quality. This includes an overview of the latest findings and estimates of the effects of air pollution on health and its impacts on ecosystems.

Try to hold your breath while counting your money

The European Commissioner for the Environment used this thought to illustrate why human health is more important than economy. He also made specific reference to the Minamata Convention on mercury to illustrate the dangers of environmental pollution to human health.

Air quality and COPD

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is not the object of a specific piece of European legislation at present, but several issues in direct relation with COPD are regulated by the EU, including indoor and outdoor air quality.

There are several important publications pointing out the relevance of air pollution for human health.

  • The European Respiratory Society (ERS) Air Quality and Health report makes it clear that air pollution morphed into a more insidious threat to the public health, responsible for COPD, asthma, lung cancer and cardiovascular conditions, among others.
  • The Unpaid Health Bill report from the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) provides an overview of the scientific evidence of how air pollution impacts health and how emissions from coal power plants are implicated in this.
  • The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) highlighted in its press release that current EU standards for ambient air quality are weaker than those recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) which are intended to minimize the health effects of air pollutants.

COPD does matter!

Speaking on behalf of the European COPD Coalition (ECC), EPHA highlighted the following key points:

  • There is a strong connection between air quality and COPD: clean air is a must for COPD patients.
  • In Europe 4-10% of adults have COPD. The total COPD related expenses for outpatient care (= not in hospital) in the EU is approximately € 4,7 billion per year. Inpatient care (=in hospital) generates costs of €2,9 billion followed by expenses in pharmaceutical of 2,7 billion per year
  • The statement of the Commissioner for Environment that health is more important than business is crucial for the public health community

Next steps for a cleaner European air

The European Commissioner for the Environment repeated his commitment that the European Commission will publish a comprehensive review of EU air policy by the end of the Year of Air 2013. Due to the major impact air quality has on health, and especially on respiratory diseases, such as COPD, the public health community will follow closely the developments of air quality in the EU.

Free access to clean air is a fundamental right for all citizens in the European Union! European, national and local governments have the responsibility to assure that this Fundamental Right will be respected.

What is COPD?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – COPD – is a treatable but irreversible long-term respiratory condition which affects the lungs and airways, making it difficult to move air in and out of the lungs. The main risk factors are environmental exposure to certain irritating particles, genetic factors and, above all, tobacco consumption: 80 to 90% of the COPD diagnosed patients are smokers, the reason why this disease is often wrongly qualified as the “normal” and “expected” smoker’s cough. COPD is more prevalent in the lower socio-economic groups and contributes to health inequality.
COPD affects up to 10% of the adult population in Europe and according to available data, it kills between 200,000 and 300,000 people every year.

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