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EEB challengeThe quality of the air we breathe has an significant impact on our health, and in particular, our capacity to breathe. Here is why we think the Memmbers of the European Parliament must adopt an ambitious and robust new Air Quality Directive.

(photo credit: European Environmental Bureau, Air Quality Challenge)

I. Air pollution and health

Every year, over 400,000 Europeans die prematurely because of air pollution. Air pollution kills over 10 times more people than road traffic accidents in the EU.[1] Poor air quality also makes Europeans sick and significantly reduces their quality of life, in particular in cities. Evidence suggests that it decreases life expectancy by 2 months. 9 out of 10 European city dwellers still breathe air that the World Health Organization (WHO) considers to be harmful to health.[2]

II. What is the relevance of air pollution for COPD?

The respiratory health effects of air pollution are well documented[3], as air pollution can cause numerous lung diseases, including cancer and asthma, exacerbate others, such as COPD which can also be caused by indoor air pollution, in case of using bio-mass fuel, for instance, when cooking inside without ventilation.[4] Poor external air quality has significant negative impact on overall health conditions and quality of life of COPD patients: air pollution can exacerbate conditions for those suffering from COPD and lead to an increase number of hospitalization, hence imposing a high cost to the society, in addition to affecting the health of people living with COPD.[5],[6]

Long-term exposure to traffic-related air pollution may contribute to the development of COPD with possibly enhanced susceptibility in people with diabetes and asthma[7].

 III. The socio-economic context of air pollution and COPD

An increase in the number of hospital days, extra medication and millions of lost working days are very costly for the European Union – the health-related costs of air pollution amounted to between €330 billion and €940 billion in 2010 alone in the whole of the EU, which is equivalent to between 3 and 9% of the EU’s GDP[8]. This includes €15 billion in direct costs from lost workdays and €4 billion from treatment of chronic bronchitis (COPD).

Air pollution is particularly relevant in the context of their social gradient for COPD as the latter is more prevalent in the lower socio-economic groups. This can be explained by poorer housing and living conditions and subsequently higher exposure to air pollution (fuel used for cooking and heating) including second-hand smoke, higher risks related to occupational exposure and less access to adequate prevention and control strategies.

IV.  The Revision of the NEC Directive

The National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive is a critical instrument to reduce air pollution in the EU. It sets reductions of emissions of a number of pollutants harmful to our health and environment. It limits ‘exports’ and ‘imports’ of air pollution between different EU countries. By doing so, it helps improve ambient air quality locally and protect people’s health and quality of life.

V.   Why is action needed now?

COPD treatment is complex and difficult; it tackles the symptoms of the diseases aims to reduce the number of hospitalization. There is no cure to COPD. Poor air quality undermines the treatments of COPD. Air pollution has a big impact on those suffering from COPD by worsening their conditions. The life of people living with COPD could be improved by tackling environmental risk factors, as exposure to chemical irritants can be addressed at EU level with the adoption of the package.



The EU decision makers must adopt a robust and ambitious Air Quality package that will better protect the lives of those living with COPD and prevent further risks of developing the disease. It is of paramount importance that MEPs do not lower the standards set in the draft EC proposal, in particular when considering the impact of agriculture on the air quality.



[1] OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050: The consequences of inaction:
[2] EEA report on air pollution in Europe, 2013:
[3] Pope, A. C., et. al.. (2011) ‘Lung Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease Mortality Associated with Ambient Air Pollution and Cigarette Smoke: Shape of the Exposure–Response Relationships’, Environmental Health Perspectives, 119(11), pp. 1616–1621. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1103639 Available at:
[4] Fullerton, D. G., Bruce, N. and Gordon, S. B. (2016) ‘Indoor air pollution from biomass fuel smoke is a major health concern in the developing world’, Elsevier. Available at:  (Accessed: 25 June 2015)
[5] Outdoor air pollution and respiratory health in patients with COPD,
[6] Mehta, A. J., et al. (2012) ‘Occupational Exposure to Dusts, Gases, and Fumes and Incidence of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease in the Swiss Cohort Study on Air Pollution and Lung and Heart Diseases in Adults’, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 185(12), pp. 1292–1300. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201110-1917oc
Available at:
[7] Read More:

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Long-Term Exposure to Traffic-related Air Pollution

[8] European Commission’s Impact Assessment:
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October 28th, 2015 | Published in Uncategorized,