Call for urgent action to address Europe’s air pollution

European Respiratory Society publishes new data showing ‘clear link’ between exposure to air pollution and deteriorating lung health in adults

The European Respiratory Society has called for urgent action to tackle air pollution in Europe following the release of new data underlining the link between air quality and lung health.

The study, entitled ‘Long-term exposure to air pollution and lung function in adults: multicentre cohort study and meta-analysis’ evaluates the correlation between air pollution and lung function in adults from eight countries — the UK, Switzerland, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Spain and Sweden.

The study confirms that air pollution has a negative effect on lung function in adults

The study confirms that air pollution has a negative effect on lung function in adults

The researchers used indicators of traffic in the area and modelled the exposure levels to different pollution measures including nitrogen oxides (NO2 and NOx) and particulate matter (PM). Lung function data were collected from 7,613 participants through spirometry testing in adults.

The study says that the results confirm previous findings that children growing up in areas with higher levels of pollution will have lower levels of lung function and a higher risk of developing symptoms such as cough and bronchitis symptoms. Additionally, it reports that people suffering from obesity are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of air pollution, possibly due to an increased risk of lung inflammation.


The research is part of the EU-funded European Study of Cohorts of Air Pollution Effects (ESCAPE) project. It was published to coincide with the opening of the ERS Congress in Munich on Saturday (September 6).

Senior author, Nicole Probst-Hensch and lead author Martin Adam, from the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, said: “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. 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.”

Commenting on the results, Professor Peter Barnes, president of the European Respiratory Society (ERS) said: “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.”


At the Congress the ERS and European Lung Foundation (ELF) also launched their inaugural Healthy Lungs for Life campaign with the theme: Breathe Clean Air. The campaign aims to raise awareness and educate about the importance of healthy lungs and clean air free from particulate matter, pathogens, smoke and dangerous gases.

At the opening ceremony of the Congress, Zsuzsanna Jakob, World Health Organisation (WHO) regional director for Europe, received the ELF Award in recognition of the WHO’s efforts to improve lung health with the introduction of the air quality guidelines.

Accepting the award, Ms Jakab said: “It is a great pleasure and honour for me to accept the 2014 European Lung Foundation award for WHO’s work in improving respiratory health through our outdoor air quality guidelines. We have come far. These guidelines — drawing on the invaluable expertise of partners including the European Lung Foundation — have led countries to establish national air quality standards, and the European Union to adopt the clean air directive.”

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Ian McCollough
Ian McCollough
9 years ago

This is a vital message about the invisible and invidious damage being caused to the health of us all.

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