Atmospheric pollution is the fourth cause of premature mortality in 2019, according to the recent evaluation of the Global Burden of Disease 2020. The global costs associated with air pollution by particulate matter were estimated at 4.5% Gross Domestic Product by the World Bank 2016. In Europe, the European Environmental Agency recently reported almost 0.4 million premature deaths in EU during 2018. Due to the success of European Air Quality policy this number has reduced dramatically since 1990, when as many as 1.0 million premature deaths were estimated to have been caused by poor air quality.
The significant efforts in Europe to abate air pollution have remarkably improved urban air quality, to the extent that, in the last decades, ambient levels of several pollutants decreased markedly (by more than 80% in the case of SO2). For other pollutants such as NO2 and particulate matter, the decrease reached 30-50%, especially from 2000 to 2010, but much less since then, and for O3, NH3, and Benzo[a]Pyrene, the decrease was very small or negligible. The last report of the European Environmental Agency shows that in 2018 large proportions of the EU urban population were exposed to NO2, PM10, PM2.5, and O3 levels exceeding the respective current WHO air quality guidelines.
Changes in emissions in the last decades prompted new urban pollution patterns to be considered in new policy developments and health impact studies.