Air pollution as a risk factor
Photo: Martin Meissner/ AP
According to a report by the European Environment Agency (EEA), pollutants and other external influences are responsible for around one in ten cancers in Europe.
Air pollution, certain chemicals, the radioactive gas radon, natural ultraviolet radiation, asbestos and other pollutants lead to more than 10 percent of all cancer cases, the EEA said.
The EEA is the first to examine how cancer and the environment are linked.
Among other things, the EU authority examined the latest scientific findings on air pollution, radon, asbestos, UV radiation and other man-made and natural environmental factors that can have a negative impact on health.
The EEA's findings clearly show how closely the health of the planet is linked to the health of citizens, said EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides.
"We must work with nature, not against it."
Individual citizen can not do much
The Environment Agency pointed out that the data was incomplete and the associated uncertainties were great.
There is not much that individual citizens can do to prevent exposure to pollutants, said EEA expert Gerardo Sanchez.
What is needed are more political measures, regulations and a push to implement them.
There are enough suggested solutions.
With almost 2.7 million new diagnoses and 1.3 million deaths each year, the EU is more affected by cancer than other regions of the world.
Although less than 10 percent of the world's population lives in Europe, according to the EEA, almost 23 percent of new cases and 20 percent of deaths worldwide occur here.
Only circulatory diseases are an even more common cause of death.
According to the EEA, this high incidence of cancer can be explained by several factors, including lifestyle including smoking, alcohol consumption and diet, but also aging – and also the fact that people are permanently exposed to pollutants.
"The lives of almost all Europeans are bound to be affected in some way by cancer, whether they themselves or their family, friends or community," writes the EEA.
There are also significant economic costs: According to a study, they were estimated at 178 billion euros in 2018, as the agency stated.
According to the information, most of these cancer risks could be significantly reduced, for example by avoiding pollution or by changing behavior.
The reduction in pollution through the EU action plan "Zero Pollution", the chemicals strategy for sustainability and the consistent implementation of existing EU measures would make a major contribution to reducing the number of cancers, said EEA Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx, according to the dpa news agency.
»That would be an effective investment in the well-being of our citizens.« The EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius emphasized: »What is better for the environment is also better for us.«