Oct. 29 (UPI) -- While air pollution continues to fall, its levels throughout Europe sit high enough to jeopardize to human health, according to a new report from the European Environment Agency.
Air pollution numbers -- particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and ground level ozone emissions -- remain too high, exceeding limits set by the European Union and the World Health Organization, according to a report the EEA's new report, issued Monday.
"Air pollution is an invisible killer and we need to step up our efforts to address the causes," Hans Bruynickx, executive director of the EEA, said in a press release. "In terms of air pollution, road transport emissions are often more harmful than those from other sources, as these happen at ground level and tend to occur in cities, close to people."
The report, based on data collected from 2,500 monitoring stations across Europe in 2016, shows griculture, energy production, industry and households produce much of the particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and ground level ozone pollution that harm human health.
Road travel, however, is major driver of air pollution, particularly in urban areas. Air pollution is a main driver of increased medical costs and reduced productivity caused by lost work days due to poor worker health.
Air pollution also damages soil, forests, lakes and rivers, which reduces agricultural yields.
Particulate matter caused nearly 422,000 premature deaths in 41 European countries in 2015.
Negative health outcomes due to pollution, however, have fallen drastically in Europe over nearly 30 years. Calls from European officials to provide cleaner cars, along with greener industry and energy production practices, have helped premature deaths from particulate matter pollution fall by more than a half a million since 1990.
Europe's positive gains in the fight against pollution mirror what's happening globally. Last week, a study in the Journal of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics said that deaths from pollution have been cut in half.
"That is why it is so important that Europe redoubles its efforts to reduce emissions caused by transport, energy and agriculture and invest in making them cleaner and more sustainable," Bruyninckx said. "Tackling these sectors in an integrated way can deliver clear benefits for both air quality and climate, and will help to improve our health and well-being."
While the level of particulate matter slipped to six percent in the European Union, nearly 74 percent of the European Union population came in contact with particulate matter that exceeded the World Health Organization's guidelines.
"I very much welcome this report by the European Environment Agency," said Karmenu Vella, EU commissioner for environment, maritime affairs and fisheries. "It shows us that air policy does work, but it also reminds us that we need to make it work even better to achieve clean air across Europe, for all citizens. The European Commission has acted resolutely on air pollution, and will continue to work with Member States to make sure that air quality rules are fully applied on the ground."