Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Europe's Avoidable Health Risk from Power Plant Emisions (The Lancet)

Story below from The Lancet.
There is now no doubt that air pollution, and especially fine particulate matter (PM2·5), has many serious consequences for health and leads to avoidable premature deaths. A large body of evidence exists for short-term and long-term effects on cardiovascular diseases and respiratory diseases—including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, and lung cancer. Newly emerging evidence suggests possible effects on premature births, lung-function development in children, and accelerated progression of atherosclerosis and cognitive impairment. Even more worrying is that these effects may exist at low levels of air pollution and that there is no safe threshold level, rather a linear concentration-response relationship.
The current EU limit for PM2·5 at 25 μg/m3 annual average is already higher than the WHO Air Quality Guidelines (10 μg/m3), a discrepancy that needs urgent attention but this might not be enough. As the EU has declared 2013 “The Year of the Air”, there is hope that air pollution—the most important environmental risk factor for the health of Europeans—will get the attention it deserves.
However, discussions need to go beyond health. A new report, The unpaid health bill: how coal power plants make us sick, released by the Health and Environment Alliance on March 7, points out the underappreciated source of air pollution from coal power plants. It estimates that 18 200 premature deaths per year and up to €42·8 billion in health-related costs are attributable to coal power generation. The number of coal power plants has been decreasing for decades but they are now increasing again with 500 new plants under discussion. They emit PM, but also toxic heavy metals, such as mercury. Germany, Poland, and Romania's coal power plants are responsible for half of all estimated health impacts, and of course health effects do not respect borders. The report calls for phasing out of coal power in Europe by 2040 and for an immediate moratorium on the construction of new plants.
Tackling air pollution is an important example where Europe-wide joined-up thinking is urgently needed. Energy, climate change, and health—some of the most important issues of the 21st century—must be considered together in all relevant policies.

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