Health impact assessment of air pollution in Italian cities

Over the last few decades, evidence has been established about a broad range of air pollution’s adverse effects on health. These effects are associated with short- and long-term exposure to levels usually experienced by urban populations throughout the world.

Health impact of PM10 and ozone in 13 Italian cities (2006)

Average levels of particulate matter of 10 μm or less (PM10) in Italian cities in 2002–2004 ranged from 26.3 to 61.1 mg/m3. The health impact of air pollution is large: 8220 deaths a year, on average, are attributable to PM10 concentrations above 20 mg/m3. This corresponds to 9% of the mortality for all causes (excluding accidents) in the population over 30 years of age. The impact on short-term mortality is 1372 deaths, or 1.5% of the total mortality in the whole population. Hospital admissions attributable to PM10 are of a similar magnitude.

The presence of ozone at concentrations higher than 70 mg/m3 accounts for 0.6% of all causes of mortality. Higher figures were obtained for effects on health that result in morbidity.

This study, following one carried out on the eight largest Italian cities, used an updated and extended set of data and considered 25 adverse health outcomes and various exposure scenarios.

The magnitude of the estimated impact underscores the need for urgent action to reduce the health burden of air pollution. Compliance with European Union legislation can result in substantial savings in terms of ill health avoided. Local authorities, through policies that aim mainly to reduce emissions from urban transport and energy production, can also help achieve sizeable health gains.

Health impact assessment of air pollution in the eight largest Italian cities (2002)

The results of this study, carried out by WHO/Europe in the eight largest Italian cities (Bologna, Florence, Genoa, Milan, Naples, Palermo, Rome and Turin), confirm the findings from several investigations worldwide: in large cities of industrialized countries, a sizeable proportion of several adverse health outcomes, including mortality, is due to air pollution.

For the eight largest Italian cities, the estimates suggest that there are thousands of excess deaths, hospital admissions, cases of bronchitis and other respiratory conditions compared to the rates that can be predicted at lower PM10 concentrations. PM10 was used as a summary indicator of air quality, given its importance as a health determinant and the correlation between different urban pollutants. While how to estimate impacts from various pollutants is unclear, pollutants other than PM10 are likely to have additional impact on health. For this reason, the methods used for the study produce estimates that describe only part of the true health impact.

The study:

  • described the air quality in different urban contexts and in relation to sources of pollution;
  • evaluated the burden of atmospheric pollutants on human health; and
  • assesses the economic costs related to air pollution.