Brussels, 03 Jun 2004
A recent report published by the French Agency for Health and Environmental Safety (AFSSE) claims that the unrestrained consumption of fossil fuels is killing tens of thousands of people in Europe. In France alone, automobile emissions kill up to 10,000 people per year, says the report.
Furthermore, between six and 11 per cent of all lung cancer cases in France are caused by automobile emissions, which could represent up to 1,713 deaths a year. One can also add the cases of cardio-respiratory diseases of which 'seven per cent are directly imputable to urban pollution', representing 4,876 deaths a year.
The report estimates that each death linked to atmospheric pollution costs 900,000 euro of tax payer's money and underlines that 'the negative consequences resulting from automobile traffic are superior to the sums paid via tolls and taxes on fuels.'
A study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) reached similar conclusions. In a report covering Austria, Switzerland and France, the WHO found that some 40,000 people die every year as a result of automobile emissions or particulate matter (PM).
Particulate matter is the fine airborne particles that result from the combustion of fossil fuels in automobiles, heavy industries and heating and which go on to form smog. The finer the particles, the more noxious they are. In 2002 between two and five per cent of deaths of adults above 30 years of age was caused by exposure to those polluting agents.
PM is generally divided into two categories: the fine particulate matters, or PM2.5, have a diameter smaller than 2.5 micrometers. A second category is PM10, meaning its diameter goes between 2.5 and 10 micrometer.
Scientists see PM2.5 as responsible for the worst damages to human health. It settles deep into the lungs, blocking reproduction of human cells and causing respiratory diseases.
Germany, which has a population roughly the same size of the three countries included in the WHO report, is also extremely worried about the situation.
'Human natural defence mechanisms fail to prevent airborne fine particulate matter from automobile emissions from penetrating into the lungs,' the German Council for Environmental Questions said in a report in July last year. The report adds that PM2.5 is 'the most important health problem linked with air pollution.'
Despite such evidence, some have accused European governments of failing to address the issue of health dangers from automobiles, for fear of upsetting the industry's powerful lobby. According to the magazine Le Point, the French government tried to block the release of the AFSSE report last month because of 'the embarrassment the survey causes to the automobile industry.'
To improve the situation, the report proposes restrictions on traffic, for example through the introduction of tolls such as exist in London and Tokyo. The report also suggests a new tax on automobiles proportionate to their fuel consumption and toxic emissions.
According to the French government, the automobile industry is going through a difficulty period and at this time it would be inopportune to propose restrictions on traffic. In Germany, the situation is very similar - a proposal by the Green Party, for a tax on highly polluting cars was rejected.
'I really cannot understand that Germany does not have as yet a comprehensive measuring and controlling system for fine particulate matter,' says Erich Wichmann, director of the Epidemiological Institute at the Research Centre for Environment and Health.
'By now it is well known that airborne particulate matter coming from the combustion of fossil fuel is responsible for the most dangerous lung and heart diseases,' he concluded.
To read the full report, please visit: http:///www.afsse.fr/