A new study found that higher air pollution levels were directly responsible for the deteriorating lung conditions of European citizens. The study also confirmed that children growing up in polluted areas were also at risk of bad lung functions.
"The ESCAPE project has clearly confirmed that air quality largely differs across Europe. The findings of this project are crucial as they demonstrate that air pollution is having a negative effect, not only on children as previously demonstrated, but also into adulthood," senior author, Nicole Probst-Hensch and lead author Martin Adam, from the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, said in a press statement. "Although the levels we see in Europe are much lower than in the so-called megacities in China and India, we are still seeing a deterioration of lung function in people exposed to higher levels of air pollution and this must be addressed."
For the study, researchers used indicators of traffic in the area and modeled the exposure levels to different pollution measures including nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. They also collected lung function data from more than 7,613 individuals living in Switzerland, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Spain and Sweden
The researchers also found that overweight and obese individuals were more vulnerable to negative effects of air pollution. This may be due to an elevated risk of lung inflammation.
"The findings of this study demonstrate the importance of educating about clean air and the negative effects of air pollution. Urgent action is needed to tackle air pollution in Europe. It is crucial that policymakers in Europe take note of these findings and update guidelines in Member States to meet the WHO recommended air quality standards. This will ensure equal protection of all citizens' health across the continent," Professor Peter Barnes, President of the ERS, said in the statement.
Earlier this year, WHO reported that air pollution exposure was responsible for 7 million premature deaths in 2012. Others statistics revealed that 40 percent of deaths linked to outdoor air pollution were from heart disease; another 40 percent from stroke; 11 percent from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); 6 percent from lung cancer and 3 percent from acute lower respiratory infections in children.
The statistics were quite similar for deaths linked to indoor air pollution. However, the number of deaths from COPD more than doubled due to indoor air pollution. Twelve percent of indoor air pollution deaths were among children with infections such as pneumonia.
"Cleaning up the air we breathe prevents non-communicable diseases as well as reduces disease risks among women and vulnerable groups, including children and the elderly," said Dr. Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General Family, Women and Children's Health. "Poor women and children pay a heavy price from indoor air pollution since they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood cook stoves."
A previous study found that that even if we put filters on doors and windows as protection from outdoor pollution, 25 percent of it can still get indoors. Research suggests outdoor air pollution exposure levels have risen significantly in some parts of the world, particularly in countries with large populations going through rapid industrialization, such as China and India. In October 2013, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released some pictures that revealed the smog problem in China was so dire that it can be seen from space.
Another study by Texas A&M University and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory researchers revealed that air pollution in Asian countries is responsible for changing weathers and climate patterns. Increases in coal burning and car emissions are major sources of pollution in China and other Asian countries. Once emitted into the atmosphere, pollution particles affect cloud formations and weather systems worldwide, the study revealed.
The WHO's cancer research agency IARC published a report last year warning that the air we breathe is laced with cancer-causing substances and should be officially classified as carcinogenic to humans.
The current study was published online in the in the European Respiratory Journal (ERJ). The research was part of the EU-funded European Study of Cohorts of Air Pollution Effects (ESCAPE) project.