November 4, 2007

Report: Pollution deadlier than car crashes

BELGRADE, Serbia – Poor water and air quality, and environmental changes blamed largely on industrialized nations have cut Europeans' life expectancy by nearly a year, Europe's environmental agency warned Wednesday.

More must be done – fast – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to improve air and water quality, the European Environment Agency said in a 400-page report presented at a ministerial conference held in Serbia.

Hundreds of thousands of people across Europe are dying prematurely because of air pollution, it said. "The estimated annual loss of life is significantly greater than that due to car accidents," the report said.

At this rate, life expectancy in western and central Europe will be shorter by nearly a year, it said. The current average age expectancy in western and central Europe is 70 for men and 74 for women.

The report also warned of the risks to the development of children.

Pollution is "similarly bleak" across eastern Europe, mostly from vehicle gas emissions and the expansion of industry in ex-Soviet nations, the report said.

Also, more than 100 million people in the region still do not have access to safe drinking water, it said.

The emission of greenhouse gases – on the rise across Europe – has contributed to global warming, the report said, citing overfishing and damage to crops as key risks facing the continent as climate change upsets Europe's ecosystems.

"Climate change is likely to affect seas and coasts, including marine organisms," the report said.

Emissions must be reduced by up to 50 percent by 2050 to limit rises in the earth's temperature – the target proposed by the EU as necessary to avert major climate changes in the future, the report noted.

"We need to further strengthen the will to act on environmental issues across the pan-European region," the agency's director, Jacqueline McGlade, said at the opening of the conference attended by environment officials from 53 countries.

"This requires a better understanding of the problems we face, their nature, and distribution across societies and generations,'' McGlade said. "Analysis, assessment, communication and education will help overcome this 'information gap' and will better equip those who need to act.''

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