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Friday, 1 September, 2000, 04:18 GMT 05:18 UK
Traffic pollution 'kills thousands'
Traffic fumes
Traffic fumes are linked to respiratory diseases
Traffic pollution has been blamed for tens of thousands of deaths every year across Europe.

Research published in The Lancet medical journal estimates that 6% of deaths per year in Austria, France and Switzerland are due to air pollution.

Half these deaths - some 20,000 - were linked to traffic fumes.

Traffic-related air pollution remains a key target for public health action in Europe

Dr Nino Kunzli, University of Basel, Switzerland

The researchers also estimated that traffic fumes were responsible for more than 25,0000 new cases of chronic bronchitis and more than 500,000 asthma attacks.

The cost of treating illness associated with traffic pollution across the three countries amounted to 1.7% of their gross domestic product, exceeding the costs arising from traffic accidents.

The study was led by Dr Nino Kunzli, from the Institute for Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Basel, Switzerland.

His team quantified the effects of air pollution by measuring specific increases in the concentration of inhalable particles less than 10 micrometres (10 millionths of a metre) across.

These particles, called PM10s, have been linked with illness and mortality before.

Cases of illness and death in different areas were matched against PM10 levels.

The results showed that although the risk for the individual was small, the population-wide impact was very significant.

Key target

Dr Kunzli said: "Traffic-related air pollution remains a key target for public health action in Europe.

"Our results, which have also been used for economic valuation, should guide decisions on the assessment of environmental health-policy options."

These startling figures show that road traffic is having a dreadful toll on our health

Tony Bosworth, Friends of the Earth

Friends of the Earth transport campaigner Tony Bosworth said: "If the impacts are the same in Britain, then nearly 19,000 deaths every year are due to road traffic.

"That's equivalent to a jumbo jet crashing every ten days. The government must take tougher action on traffic levels to reduce this appalling death toll."

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