Paris is one of the cities in Europe where automobile pollution kills the most. To put it more positively, it is also one where an appreciable part of premature mortality could be fairly easily avoided. This is the conclusion of a large health study carried out across the continent and published last week in the Lancet planetary health. More than 2,500 deaths occurring each year in the French capital are directly attributable to the high concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), say researchers from the Institute for Global Health in Barcelona, Spain, and the university in Utrecht, the Netherlands, which set out to deepen the data on the subject.
A premature mortality rate of 1%
This is now accepted, they recall in the preamble of their study, published in open source: “Ambient air pollution is a major environmental cause of morbidity and mortality all over the world,” they write. “However, the exact magnitude of the city-wide health effects of air pollution is still largely unknown. To remedy this shortcoming, the scientists cross-referenced the health and environmental data available in nearly a thousand major European cities in 31 countries. They draw a picture that is significantly more alarming than the figures that circulated until then.
Previous studies have advanced an average of 7% of premature deaths each year induced by fine particle pollution (PM2.5) in the 28 European countries (74 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants). The new analyzes raise this rate to 8% (99 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants). Similar observation concerning nitrogen monoxide. Until then, there was talk of 13 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants on average, ie a premature mortality rate of 1%. It would rather be 2%, estimates the research team, an annual average of 26 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.
No longer compromise on air quality
All of this would only be a morbid avalanche if scientists did not try to turn things around: these figures, they insist, also show where the levers of action are located to improve the collective health situation. A large part of premature mortality could be avoided if cities – and countries more broadly – stopped compromising on the quality of their air, their work essentially indicates. “Compliance with WHO air pollution guidelines could prevent an average of 51,213 deaths per year for exposure to fine particulate matter PM2.5, and 900 deaths per year for exposure to nitrogen dioxide NO2” , they point out. An even more drastic reduction in pollution “could prevent 124,729 deaths per year from exposure to PM2.5, and 79,435 deaths per year from exposure to NO2. “