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Simple policies can help to reduce air pollution deaths

Microscopic molecules impact most of the world’s population, but basic schemes can significantly lower hazardous effects, leading to a 67% reduction in air pollution mortality and net economic benefit of €8.7 billion over 30 years.

France alone sees around 40,000 annual fatalities directly linked to fine particles found in the atmosphere – elements less than 2.5micrometres in diameter, or 30-times finer than a human hair. In addition to the death toll, the economic cost of this is estimated to be €100billion, with both figures proving why tackling the problem is such a priority. 

Spearheaded by a multi-disciplinary team from CNRS, INSERM, INRAE, Grenoble Alpes University (UGA) and Atmo Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, the MobilAir project was set up to identify feasible ways of reducing levels of these harmful molecules in the atmosphere of urban areas. Grenoble was the focus city, and a goal was set at 67% reduction in deaths associated with air pollution between 2016 and 2030. 

aerial view of city buildings during daytime

Two sectors were specifically targeted due to the level of fine particles they emit: transport, and wood heating. Respectively, proposals to combat the impact of these centred on replacing inefficient wood stoves with pellet-based alternatives, and cutting personal motor traffic by 36%. Combined, taking such steps would meet the study’s overall ambition. 

Schemes designed to reduce the level of road use have existed for many years, and are often met with mixed reactions. In Greater Manchester, UK, for example, a new Clean Air Zone set for implementation in May this year has caused major controversy, largely due to the overall cost to the local economy and affordability for individuals.  

As such, it’s significant to note the MobilAir project identified an urgent need for robust and comprehensive financial support to help households adapt to new policies. Infrastructure, for example green public transport systems or cycle paths, would also need significant investment.

Nevertheless, implementing the proposals would not only offer major health benefits through the direct reduction of fine particles, but also the promotion of active modes of transport and therefore physical exercise. Furthermore, research suggests a net economic benefit of €8.7 billion between 2016 and 2045, equating to €629 per capita, per year. 

Photo credit:  Florian Olivo

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