Brussels, 5th June 2014 – On the occasion of World Environment Day, EPHA puts the spotlights on the “Know your air for health” website, recently launched by the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) and the European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients Organisations (EFA). It addresses air pollution as a major public health concern. Consequences of air pollution range from immediate effects, such as coughing and wheezing, to triggering and aggravating respiratory diseases, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), to people having to be hospitalised for heart problems.
What is the ‘Know your air for health’ website about?
The website aims to break down perceived ideas about air pollution. Air pollutants are released from power generation, transport, manufacture, heating, cooling, waste processing and farming, especially cattle. Natural disasters, such as volcano eruptions, forest fires and desert dust storms also contribute to air pollution.
Last but not least, the website supports visitors, be they patients, the public or health professional groups to take action and to make their opinion heard on air quality and health. The Know your air for health website encourages people to send letters to decision makers (e.g. newly elected Member of the European Parliament and National Ministers for environment and health) to take action on implementing measures to improve air quality.
World Environment Day (WED) is an annual event that aims to be the biggest and most widely celebrated global day for positive environmental action. WED activities take place all year round but receive more attention on 5 June.
Air pollution does not stop at our doorsteps. Most outdoor pollutants enter into our homes, offices or schools where people in Europe spend the majority of their time. Contrary to general thinking it is not only urban people who are affected by air pollution, it can be anybody.
Indoor air quality is subject to various pollution sources, such as building construction and decoration materials, indoor allergens, moulds, viruses and bacteria, or furnishings for example.People’s way of living (e.g. cooking habits, whether they smoke indoors, how often they open their windows or which cleaning products they use) also influences indoor air quality.
Health effects of main air pollutants
Air pollution cuts all of our lives short. Air pollution may make things worse for COPD patients and lead to heart problems, even heart attacks or strokes for those patients with cardiovascular problems. Bad indoor air increases the risk of earlier death from pneumonia, COPD, lung cancer and other respiratory diseases; it worsens asthma and allergies and reduces productivity.
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. COPD is more prevalent in the lower socio-economic groups and contributes to health inequality. Air quality is essential to the quality of life of COPD patients. [COPD affects up to 10% of the adult population in Europe and according to [available data,kills between 200,000 and 300,000 people every year. Its economic burden, without taking into account the loss of productivity days, reaches €10.3 billion per year and no EU Member State is immune to the health, social or financial consequences of this disease. However, despite being the 5th biggest killer worldwide, COPD remains largely unknown and an estimated 75% of the people suffering from it have yet to be diagnosed. Unless action is taken, COPD is expected to become the 3rd leading cause of death worldwide by 2030. Yet COPD is largely preventable and its evolution can be stopped when the disease is diagnosed and treated at its early stages. It is therefore of utmost importance to run lung tests for populations at risks, mainly long term smokers, above the age of 40.
Who is at risk?
People considered to be at risk are people who are particularly sensitive to air pollution and who can be more affected than others are:
- Pregnant women
- Patients who suffer from a respiratory or cardiovascular disease.
To reduce their exposure to air pollution, people at risk should check air quality forecasts and plan activities accordingly to avoid being outside when levels of air pollution are high.
The impact of air pollution on our health: a few figures:
In 2010 alone, more than 400,000 people died prematurely from increased pollution levels.
- Research suggests that more than 15% of new cases of asthma in children may be the result of living near a polluted road. Results of the EU APHEKOM research project.
- Polluted air is the leading environmental cause of cancer deaths, according to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer
- The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) predicts that by 2050 (outdoor) air pollution will be the biggest environmental cause of premature death worldwide.
- Levels of air pollution in European cities regularly exceed World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines and EU legal limits.
- Adults in many European cities would live up to 22 months longer if WHO recommended levels on air quality were met.
As these figures illustrate, the impact of air pollution on our health is overwhelming. The Know your air for health website provides everyday life tips and practical solutions to enhance air quality. These solutions, which ultimately aim at improving our health, are:
- Find alternatives to the car and be transport-wise, by using public transport, walking or cycling. Exercising 20 minutes per day as recommended by WHO will both improve your health and the environment.
- Take up healthy energy decisions. Energy-efficient domestic appliances (i.e. products labelled A+++) are environmentally friendly and save money on energy bills.
- Consider buying local products, as they reduce road freight or air transport, and organic goods as they are produced less intensively, hence causing less pollution. Greener areas also improve air quality, therefore initiatives to plant trees should be encouraged.
- Pay special attention to air quality forecasts and plan activities accordingly. As much as possible, avoid exercising near busy roads or heavy traffic areas, as well as when levels of air pollution are high. Living or working next to busy roads is not recommended either.
- Reducing air pollution will also result in better health outcomes, as it will help mitigate climate change. Consequences of climate change include longer allergy seasons, flooding and forest fires, which can affect children, the elderly and, patients with allergy, asthma and other lung and heart ailments.
- Pay attention to indoor air quality, by not smoking indoors, ventilating your home on a regular basis and checking ventilation systems. All facilities which influence air quality, such as gas appliances, chimneys, building materials, should be also regularly controlled.