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Environment

Air pollution kills 48,000 a year in France

media A day of high pollution in Paris in March 2016 AFP

Air pollution kills 48,000 people a year in France and 34,000 of the deaths avoidable, according to study published Tuesday. Pollution caused by human activity such as transport, industry, heating and agriculture, causes nine percent of the French annual death toll.

Air pollution is France's third biggest killer, after smoking (78,000 deaths) and alcohol consumption (49,000 deaths), according to the study by France's health agency Santé Publique France.

Life expectancy can be reduced by as much as two years by the regular presence of fine particles in the air.

The risk is highest in cities but residents of smaller towns and rural areas are also at risk:

  • In urban areas with over 100,000 inhabitants the life expectancy of a 30-year-old is 15 months shorter;

  • In areas with 2,000-100,000 inhabitants a 30-year-old's life expectancy is 10 months shorter;

  • Even in rural areas a 30-year-old's life expectancy is nine months shorter.

More than 47 million people in France are exposed to a higher level of PM2.5 particles - particles of less than 2.5 micrometres that deeply penetrate the respiratory system - than is considered safe by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

If the WHO's recommended level was respected throughout the country 17,700 lives could be saved every year and 3,000 could be saved if particle fine pollution was at the level decided by France's own environment conference in 2007.

Even more strikingly, if levels were reduced to those of the five percent least polluted areas 34,000 lives could be saved every year and life expectancy would be extended by nine months.

The study bears out the findings of 2,000's European study by Clean Air for Europe, which estimated that air pollution caused more than 40,000 deaths a year in France.

Daily exposure more dangerous than pollution peaks

While the authorities have taken action to reduce peak levels of pollution, for example with traffic reduction schemes in Paris, the study found that regular exposure to lower levels are more damaging to the health.

More than 80 percent of deaths and hospitalisations for pollution-related cardiac problems are caused by daily exposure to pollution below the alert level.

The agency cites numerous studies that show the benefits of measures such as low-pollution fuels, urban tolls, cycling and reduction of industrial emissions in increasing life expectancy and reducing serious cases of asthma, respiratory and cardiac illnesses and premature births.

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