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Cutting pollution would prevent a thousand deaths a year in the city

19 October 2020

Air quality. The excess in pollution causes one in every three new cases of asthma among children and 11% of lung cancer cases.

Pollution affects people’s health, and detailed figures on the extent of this are now available thanks to an in-depth study by the Barcelona Public Health Agency. The excess in pollution causes 7% of natural deaths. That’s 1,000 deaths a year which could be avoided if the city fulfilled the WHO recommendations on air quality without levels going of the threshold.

Pollution affects people’s health

The report notes that continued exposure to the pollution levels in the city is a serious problem for public health. Pollution causes 33% of new cases of asthma in children (525 a year) and 11% of new cases of lung cancer (110 a year). Asthma is one of the most common chronic conditions among children and is linked to a high social and economic cost, while lung cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed forms of cancer among men and women alike.

L’Eixample, the district most exposed to pollution

The document also notes that the impact that pollution has on health is not the same in all parts of the city. The district with the highest level of air pollution and the highest number of inhabitants exposed to it is L’Eixample, with 23% of the deaths attributable to pollution in the city. Half of the 26% of schools exposed to NO2 levels above the legal limit are in the district of L’Eixample, accounting for around 15,000 children.

Less traffic, better health

Reducing traffic in the city and the space used by private vehicles plays a key part in improving air quality. The Barcelona Public Health Agency recommends applying urgent measures across the board to reduce traffic, with more green space and vegetation and special measures around schools and centre for the elderly.

In this respect, Barcelona is implementing a series of measures such as the Low Emission Zone to limit pollutant vehicles; the Open Streets initiatives to win back space for pedestrians, and the Protegim les escoles programme, which revamps areas around schools by winning pedestrian space back from traffic.