Poor environment kills one in eight in Europe


One in every eight deaths in Europe is caused by poor environment quality and air and noise pollution, which aids in Climate change such as heat waves and exposure to dangerous chemicals, continues to cause ill health in Europe, according to a recent report

The report “Healthy environment, Healthy Lives”, by the European Environment Agency said that that poor quality environments contribute to 13 per cent of deaths. Noting that COVID-19 pandemic provided a stark example of the inextricable link between human health and ecosystem health, the report said “improving the health and well-being of European citizens is more important than ever, with attention currently focused on addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.”


The EEA report pointed out that a significant proportion of the burden of disease in Europe continues to be attributed to environmental pollution resulting from human activity. “The burden of environmental disease is unevenly spread across Europe, with the percentage of deaths attributable to environmental factors ranging from a low of nine per cent in Norway and Iceland to 23 per cent in Albania and 27 per cent in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” it said.

The report, which draws extensively on World Health Organization data on the causes of death and disease, highlights how the quality of Europe’s environment plays a key role in determining the health and well-being. It shows how social deprivation, unhealthy behaviours and shifting demographics in Europe influence environmental health, with the most vulnerable hardest hit.

EEA Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx said “while we see improvements in the environment in Europe and a clear focus in the Green Deal on a sustainable future, the report indicates that strong action is needed to protect the most vulnerable in our society, as poverty often goes together with living in poor environmental conditions and poor health. Addressing these connections has to be part of an integrated approach towards a more inclusive and sustainable Europe,

Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said that there was a clear link between the state of the environment and the health of the population. “Everyone must understand that by taking care of our planet we are not only saving ecosystems, but also lives. especially the ones who are the most vulnerable. The European Union is devoted to this approach and with the new Biodiversity Strategy the Circular Economy Action Plan and other forthcoming initiatives we are on the path to build a more resilient and healthier Europe for European citizens and beyond,” Virginijus Sinkevičius said.

Meanwhile, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides said COVID-19 has been yet another wake-up call, making aware of the relationship between ecosystems and health and the need to face the facts. “From our Farm to Fork Strategy for sustainable and healthy food to Europe’s future Beating Cancer Plan, we have made a strong commitment to protect the health of our citizens and our planet,” the commissioner said.


The report stresses the importance of an integrated approach to environment and health policies to tackle environmental risks. The report calls for Green solutions that offer a triple win for health, society and the environment. It also says that quality green and blue spaces in urban areas support health and well-being, offering venues for physical activity, relaxation and social integration, with major benefits for poor communities.

Key findings

  • Air pollution remains Europe’s top environmental threat to health, with more than 400 000 premature deaths every year in the EU. Noise pollution comes second, contributing to 12000 premature deaths followed by the impacts of climate change, notably heatwaves.
  • The highest fraction of national deaths (27 %) is attributable to the environment in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the lowest in Iceland and Norway at 9 %.
  • Poorer communities are often exposed to higher levels of pollution and noise and to high temperatures, while pre-existing health conditions increase vulnerability to environmental health hazards.
  • People are exposed to multiple risks at any time, including air, water and noise pollution, and chemicals, which combine and in some cases act in unison to impact on health. European cities are particularly vulnerable to these multiple threats, while also having less access to green and blue spaces.



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