By improving air, water, and soil quality and limiting pollution released to nature, the EU has significantly contributed to enhancing human health in the last five decades. Yet, many vulnerable groups continue to be impacted by environmental degradation and climate change. Further improvements can help keep Europeans healthier and better equipped to cope with climate change impacts.

A healthy and pollution-free nature allows Europeans to live longer and healthier lives. But despite significant progress, harm to the environment and a changing climate continue to affect public health.

Climate change is also aggravating the health effects of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves and flooding. And these effects are far from equal across the EU. Some groups, like low-income communities, the elderly, and children, have a much higher chance of suffering the consequences of an unhealthy environment and climate change.

The EU’s Zero Pollution Action Plan aims for pollution levels that are no longer considered harmful to our health and ecosystems. Other initiatives under the European Green Deal also aim to reduce exposure to pollution and its health impacts.

Overall, Europeans enjoy high-quality drinking and bathing water and cleaner air than almost all other regions in the world. Still, European pollution levels and other environmental risks continue to affect Europeans’ health.

By improving the environment and reducing pollution, we can improve the quality of life, well-being and overall health of citizens in Europe and abroad.

A lot is being done to reduce pollution and the burden of disease in Europe. The zero pollution action plan, a key element of the European Green Deal, aims to reduce air, water, and soil pollution to levels that are no longer considered harmful to health and nature. The plan’s 2030 targets include:

  • 55% reduction in premature deaths caused by air pollution;
  • 30% improvement in water quality by reducing waste, plastic litter at sea and microplastics;
  • 50% improvement in soil quality by reducing nutrient losses and chemical pesticide use;
  • 25% reduction in air pollution-effected ecosystems;
  • 30% fewer people who are chronically disturbed by transport noise;
  • 50% less residual municipal waste.

Other legislation, like the Ambient Air Quality Directives, the Noise Directive, and the EU Adaptation Strategy also serve to protect and improve the health of Europeans.

How is the quality of the environment where you live and how does it affect you?

Who benefits from nature in cities? 

Parks, urban forests, tree-lined streets and riverbanks support urban well-being by providing space for rest, relaxation and exercise, and by keeping temperatures down. However, not everyone across Europe enjoys equal access to green space in cities.

The EEA briefing reviews the evidence of socio-economic and demographic inequalities in access to the health benefits derived from urban green and blue spaces across Europe. It showcases examples of green spaces that were designed to meet the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged social groups.

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What is the air quality like where you live?

One out of ten cancer cases in Europe are preventable

Cancer impacts the lives of many Europeans, with nearly 2.7 million new patients diagnosed and 1.3 million deaths each year in the EU-27.

Environmental and occupational exposure to pollutants and others risks contributes significantly to the high burden of cancer in Europe. However, all environmental and occupational cancer risk factors are largely preventable. Our report 'Beating cancer' provides a brief overview of the evidence on the environmental and occupational determinants of cancer in Europe and of EU policy responses.

Cross agency knowledge for One Health action

Addressing threats to health and well-being requires implementing a One Health approach, recognising the interdependence of people, animals, plants and ecosystems. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), European Environment Agency (EEA), European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and European Medicines Agency (EMA) issued a joint statement to express their joint commitment as EU agencies to fully support the One Health agenda in Europe.

A comprehensive One Health approach, which includes tackling drivers of environmental degradation, preventing risks at source by prioritising upstream prevention and investing in preparedness interventions, is essential to deliver health security. There is evidence thatapplying such an approach can reduce the incidence and societal costs of disease outbreaks and other health threats, or even prevent their emergence. At the same time, the One Health approach helps reduce human pressures on the environment.

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