The burden of environmental disease is unevenly spread across Europe, with the percentage of deaths attributable to environmental factors. Environmental pollution is linked to a range of disease outcomes, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and neurological disorders. Living with these diseases reduces quality of life, with more than 20 million healthy life-years lost because of disease attributable to poor-quality environments.
To combat poor outdoor air quality, the World Health Organization (WHO) has produced a series of guidelines to support policymakers in setting air quality management strategies. Although these guidelines are neither standards nor legally binding criteria, they are based on expert evaluation of scientific evidence and are, thus, a valuable source of information.
In light of this, the European Union has stated its intent to revise the current Ambient Air Quality Directive (AAQD), a cornerstone for the protection of people’s health and the environment from air pollution, to get closer to the new WHO guidelines.
On March 2023, the Health and Environment Alliance, together with a number or relevant health organisations at EU level, has written a letter to the Members of the European Parliament – Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety – to urge the revision of the AAQD putting people’s health at the forefront of EU policy and preventing further ill health.
Three recommendations are included in the letter to step up clean air for health with science-based air quality standards: 1) Fully align EU air quality standards with WHO recommendations and the latest science by 2030 at the latest, introducing binding limit values for pollutants while acknowledging and addressing health inequities; 2) Include a comprehensive definition of vulnerable and susceptible groups in accordance with WHO and strengthen public information on air quality as a public health measure that prevents and protects; 3) Ensure the most protective enabling framework for health is created by avoiding compliance delays and exemptions, increasing the density and representativeness of monitoring stations, and enabling regular independent review of evidence by WHO.