Oct. 16 (UPI) -- Researchers at the European Environment Agency said Wednesday small declines of particulate air pollution in recent years have leveled off, and those pollutants were responsible for more than 400,000 premature deaths in Europe three years ago.
The EEA said in a 104-page analysis titled "Air Quality in Europe 2019" that levels of fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, have plateaued across Europe. Particulate matter, which can lodge deep inside the lungs and move into the bloodstream, was blamed for about 412,000 premature deaths in Europe in 2016, the most recent year from which researchers could gauge an accurate account.
The Denmark-based European Environment Agency is the chief environmental arm of the European Union.
"We do not see any big improvement, or worsening, year on year," EEA air quality expert Alberto Gonzalez Ortiz said. "It is PM2.5 that we should worry most about, and it is coming from domestic heating, industry and transport."
The study said 17 percent of EU urban populations have been exposed to particulate matter levels above the advised daily limit, and 44 percent were exposed to concentration exceeding the more stringent level set by the World Health Organization.
"Air pollution is a global threat leading to large impacts on human health and ecosystems," the report states. "When it comes to Europe, air quality remains poor in many areas, despite reductions in emissions and ambient concentrations."
Wednesday's analysis also said nitrogen dioxide levels have fallen, but still exceed recommended yearly limits across Europe. Nitrogen dioxide levels come mostly from vehicle exhaust, particularly those with diesel engines. Thirty-six of 43 air quality zones in Britain, it added, still have unlawful levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution.
"People across the U.K. are paying a heavy price for the government's continuing failure to clean up the nation's filthy air, with tens of thousands of premature deaths every year," said Jenny Bates, an activist with Friends of the Earth.