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Air pollution "could cause 5,000 Swedish deaths a year"

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14:13 CET+01:00
Swedes living in the south of Sweden are at greater risk of becoming ill or dying prematurely from respiratory diseases brought on by so-called "transboundary air pollution" than was previously thought.

A joint study by Umeå and Stockholm universities in conjunction with IVL, the Swedish Environmental Research Institute, has shown that microscopically small air particles from the the rest of Europe could cause some 3,500 premature deaths in Sweden this year. This corresponds to an average reduction in life expectancy in the region of up to seven months.

"One explanation why the risk increases is that the finer and lighter air particles are a lot more dangerous that the heavier particles," said Professor Hans-Christen Hansson from Stockholm University.

"This study shows incredibly high numbers and no other study has showed such high number before."

The study also indicated that up to 1,800 deaths could result from local sources of pollution, such as road dust, winter tires, wood stoves and exhaust fumes.

When the "particulate matter" from these kinds of sources is inhaled, it can cause heart and lung problems, and aggravate respiratory conditions such as asthma.

EU-wide figures predict that in the whole of Europe air particle pollution will cause some 100,000 premature deaths each year. However, according to Peringe Grennfeldt of Gothenburg University, the control of "transboundary air pollution" in Europe has been successful, with emissions of many key pollutants decreasing and signs of improvements in damaged ecosystems.

While researchers knew that particles from further afield played a role, this is the first time that they have been able to put figures on locally produced and "foreign" components.

The continental particles contain large amounts of suplhur and nitrates, from pollution sources such as diesel motors, power plants and boats.

However, moving up north, away from the imported air pollution is not a solution.

While provinces such as Norrbotten and Västerbotten are not easily reached by transboundary pollution, the local sources of pollution play a greater role.

"In the winter the air is cold and static, and the local pollution sources are more dangerous," said Professor Hansson.

"It doesn't take that many wood-burning stoves for the levels to be quite high anyway."

Sources: Svenska Dagbladet, Ambio

Lysanne Sizoo

Lysanne Sizoo is a certified Counsellor, specialising in bereavement, fertility and cultural assimilation issues. She also runs a support and discussion group for English speaking women. You can contact her on sizoo@swipnet.se, or 08 717 3769. More information on www.sizoo.nu.

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