Air pollution: 2,300 deaths avoided in France with the first confinement



Despite the improvement in air quality, 40,000 deaths per year are still attributable to exposure to fine particles, according to Public Health France which calls for not being satisfied with a slight improvement in the toll of victims of this pollution.

On the contrary, it is necessary “Continue or even strengthen efforts to reduce this burden”, argues Sébastien Denys, a manager of the agency, who underlines the significant impact on health of a drop in pollution, even in the short term. Proof of this is the impact of the first containment in spring 2020 which prevented 2,300 deaths linked to air pollution, according to figures published Wednesday, April 14.

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In 2016, Public Health France, based on the period 2007-2008, estimated at 48,000 the number of premature deaths per year linked to the concentrations of fine particles PM2.5 (less than 2.5 microns), microscopic matter in suspension in the air that enter the branches of the respiratory tract and into the blood.

” Downward trend “

The new estimate suggests “A downward trend” : nearly 40,000 deaths per year attributable to PM2.5 between 2016 and 2019, i.e. 7% of total mortality over this period, against 9% in 2007-2008.

Exposure to these particles, which can cause cancer, asthma, allergies or cardiovascular disease, also reduces the life expectancy of an adult from the age of 30 by eight months. “We can be satisfied with the slight decrease. But from a public health perspective, what worries us is an estimate of 40,000 preventable deaths. And I insist on this avoidable term: actions are possible to reduce this impact ”, emphasizes Sébastien Denys.

The annual number of deaths attributed to nitrogen dioxide (NO2), calculated for the first time, is 7,000. But we cannot fully add these deaths to those linked to PM2.5, insists the public health agency , an undetermined part of the deaths being linked to the joint action of the two pollutants. The decrease in the health impact since the 2016 study is explained by different exposure models but also by the improvement in air quality: according to the 2019 report, PM2.5 emissions have decreased by 61% between 2000 and 2019 and those of nitrogen oxides by 56%.

Leads to pursue

Pollution also greatly decreased during the first containment of 2020, especially in urban areas. This prevented 2,300 deaths linked to exposure to fine particles, which are more harmful, and 1,200 deaths linked to nitrogen dioxide (the figures cannot be added).

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“Obviously, we do not recommend the implementation of such drastic conditions”, notes Sébastien Denys. But it helps to draw some “Teachings”, in terms of public actions, such as reducing road traffic in urban areas or industrial emissions, insists Public Health France. As well as in terms of behavioral changes, such as teleworking. Other avenues must also be pursued, in particular “Improving wood-burning practices”, and the development of good agricultural practices, notes the agency.

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