Researchers in Sweden have suggested that cities with relatively clean levels of air pollution can gain â€˜significantâ€™ health benefits from policies to reduce emissions from road transport.
The study carried out by researchers from Lund University, MalmÃ¶ University, the City of MalmÃ¶ and the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency looked at the impact removing petrol and diesel powered vehicles could have on health outcomes within the city.
As part of the study, researchers used air pollution data modelled for each of the 326,092 inhabitants in MalmÃ¶ by a Gaussian dispersion model combined with an emission database with over 40,000 sources.
According to the researchers the city generally stays below the recommended EU threshold for small particles and nitrogen oxides annually. However, the team claimed that air pollution can still be linked to as many as seven times more premature deaths in the city per year than road traffic accidents.
As a result of this, action to reduce air pollution in the city could lead to â€˜significantâ€™ health benefits for MalmÃ¶ residents, the researchers have claimed.
Changes in policy, particularly around petrol and diesel vehicles, would also prevent 2,729 days of sick leave and 16,472 days of reduced activity due to ill health, the study suggested.
Commenting on the findings, Ebba Malmqvist, researcher at the Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Lund University, said: â€œDecreased pollution would prevent 55â€“93 premature deaths (2â€“4% of all cases) each year, 21 new cases of childhood asthma (6% of all cases), 95 cases of childhood bronchitis (10% of all cases), 30 hospitalisations for respiratory diseases, 87 dementia cases (4% of all cases) and 11 cases of pregnant women with preeclampsia (11% of all cases).â€
She added: â€œEnvironmental zones exist in other cities, where the strictest zone prohibits cars fuelled by petrol or diesel. But MalmÃ¶ must figure out what suits them. However, we have shown that promoting cleaner air and better health of the population is worthwhile.â€
Her colleague, Anna Oudin, who also worked on the study was critical of legal air pollution limits, in light of the findings. She said: â€œThe limit value is to give EU citizens some protection against high levels of particles, but it does not represent a safe level. There is nothing to suggest that simply being below the limit value would have any health effects â€“ on the contrary, we see negative effects even at levels below the EU value.
â€œThere is a tendency to believe that because we currently meet the environmental quality standards, our work is essentially done.â€