Traffic pollution is responsible for
about 3 percent of deaths across Austria, France and Switzerland--about half of all outdoor pollution deaths there, a scientific researcher
Dr. Nico Kunzli of the Institute for Social and Preventive
Medicine at the University of Basel, Switzerland, told colleagues
at the World Congress on Lung Health that his team estimated that 6
percent of deaths per year, or 40,000, are directly attributable to
outdoor air pollution across those Alpine countries.
He used the level of invisible inhalable particles floating in
the air to measure outdoor air pollution. Many experts believe that
about half of those come from traffic pollution, which includes not
only exhaust emissions but also dust from tires and debris
disturbed by traffic. On that basis, Kunzli assigned half the blame
"More than 60 studies now have come up with virtually the same
result" of 6 percent, said Daniel Costa, chief of the pulmonary
toxicology branch at the National Health and Environmental Effects
Research laboratory of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"This is an international confirmation."
Previous research has focused on cities, a collection of cities
or single countries. Not all of them used the same methods to
measure the impact of air pollution on health.
The new study emerged from a World Health Organization project
to create a coordinated European transport policy to reduce
"Despite unavoidable uncertainties, the authors have reported a
straightforward method for estimating health costs of
traffic-related air pollution," Stephanie London and Isabelle
Romieu of the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health
Sciences wrote in a critique of the work published in The Lancet
medical journal. They said the results were a first step toward the
European goal of making motorists pay for the true costs driving
imposes on society.
The study estimated that each year, traffic pollution causes
more than 25,000 new cases of chronic bronchitis in adults, more
than 290,000 episodes of bronchitis among children and more than
500,000 asthma attacks. Costa said Kunzli used the best method
available to make his estimates.
"The higher the level of pollution, the higher the fraction
attributable to traffic," Kunzli said. "But Switzerland, Austria
and France is a rather good example for conditions in mid-Europe."
Air pollution has been blamed both for aggravating illnesses and
for bringing on heart and lung diseases. Most of the deaths are
from heart or lung complications.
Research has shown that because pollution affects different
people in different ways, there is no threshold that is "safe"
for everybody. A pollution level that may trigger a reaction in one
person may be fine for another, experts say.