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Air pollution is on the rise BritanniaFrance and southern Europe amid record temperatures and scorching wildfires.
Scientists from the EU Atmospheric Monitoring Service Copernicus (CAMS) warned on Tuesday of unhealthy levels of ozone pollution in southern and western Europe, which could soon affect northwestern regions.
The World Health Organization has set an eight-hour limit for ozone exposure on the earth’s surface at 100 micrograms per cubic meter. Southeast England, northern France and the Benelux region currently have daily concentrations in excess of 120 micrograms.
“The impact on air quality is not negligible compared to this heat wave,” said Mark Parrington, senior scientist at CAMS.
Ozone pollution is formed when heat and sunlight interact with greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds released when fossil fuels are burned.
Ozone production accelerates during heatParrington said because these chemical reactions happen faster.
Scientists say ozone pollution will increase with climate change. Global temperatures are now about 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels, and heatwaves have become more frequent and stronger.
Ground-level ozone is known to exacerbate respiratory and cardiovascular disease and is associated with increased mortality.
According to a study published in 2019 in the journal Environmental Research Letters, long-term exposure to ozone pollution is responsible for 55,000 premature deaths in Europe each year.
The study showed that mortality associated with ozone pollution could be 11% higher in some countries of Central and Southern Europe in 2050 due to climate change. However, if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, ozone-related mortality is projected to decrease.
Ozone pollution is not the only air quality problem. Wildfires raging in Portugal, Spain and France in recent days have resulted in the release of suffocating smoke containing fine, respirable particulate matter known as PM 2.5.
“Smoke particles are one of the most toxic forms of particles we can generate,” said Athanasios Nenes, an atmospheric chemist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. “When you breathe them in, they increase your chances of getting all types of cancer.”
Those already suffering from cardiovascular or respiratory diseases are also in increased risk of exacerbations.
In a June 2022 study, University of Southern California researchers found that while days with extreme heat or extreme particulate air pollution resulted in a 5-6% increase in the risk of death, the chance of death was 21% higher on days when simultaneous extreme events associated with forest fires were observed.
“We need to think about combining public health warnings about air pollution and heat,” said co-author Erica Garcia, a public health scientist at the University of Southern California. “A day with both extremes is much more harmful than a day with one.”