Israel Pollution Causes 2,500 Premature Deaths Annually, Says WHO

Comprehensive study centered around the new findings regarding the consequences of pollution in 53 European countries and in Israel.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
Chimneys are seen at an oil refinery plant in the northern city of Haifa, 2013.
Chimneys are seen at an oil refinery plant in the northern city of Haifa, 2013.Credit: Reuters
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

According to a comprehensive study by the World Health Organization, which is scheduled to be presented Wednesday in Haifa, in Europe and Israel there are 482,000 cases of premature death annually as a result of exposure to air pollution. The total annual damage is estimated at $1.6 trillion, a sum equal to almost one tenth of the gross domestic product of the European Union. In Israel there are an estimated 2,500 premature deaths a year from air pollution.

WHO representatives arrived in Israel for a conference on the connection between health and the environment, the European Environment and Health Process Midterm Review, which centered around the new findings regarding the consequences of pollution in 53 European countries and in Israel. The directors general of Israel’s health and environmental protection ministries are expected to participate.

The report includes economic assessments based on the sum that the countries are willing to pay in order to prevent these cases of death and illness. The Environmental Protection Agency in Europe recently reported that the economic damage from industrial installations alone, mainly power plants, is estimated at 300 billion to 1 trillion euros annually.

The WHO report includes individual assessments for each country. In Israel there are an estimated 2,500 cases of premature death from air pollution annually, with damage totaling 3.3 percent of GDP. For comparison: In Belgium, which is similar in size, there are over 6,000 deaths. In Norway, with a population similar in size to Israel’s, there are an estimated 353 cases – the population dispersal there reduces exposure to major sources of pollution.

An estimated 90 percent of citizens are still exposed to higher pollution levels than recommended by the WHO. In Europe there are also many deaths from pollution inside buildings, mainly due to heating, a problem almost unknown in Israel.

The Environmental Protection Ministry said that Israel has had a Clean Air Law since 2011, which can reduce damage by increasing demands made of polluters. The ministry did not specifically discuss the pollution problems in Haifa that recently made headlines.

All the professional organizations estimate that air pollution from transportation is the main cause of morbidity and mortality. According to the new report the main sources are air pollution from transportation and from coal-burning power plants. Israel is now conducting a comprehensive project in the Israel Electric Corporation’s coal-burning power plants that is supposed to improve the situation.

Last week a study published in the United States demonstrated the far-reaching health consequences of air pollution. The study found a connection between moderate levels of air pollution and the acceleration of aging processes in the brain and possible damage to cognitive abilities. But the researchers emphasized that more research is needed.

The new study was published in the journal Stroke and was conducted by scientists from the Boston University School of Medicine and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. They studied 900 people aged at least 60 who didn’t suffer from dementia or stroke.

Then they examined whether there is a connection between these findings and the frequency of brain damage and proximity to areas with major roadways where there is an increase in air pollution. The index for pollution that was studied is ambient fine particulate matter that penetrates the respiratory system and other body organs.

The findings demonstrate that there are structural changes in the brain during exposure to an increase in particulate pollution of 2 micrograms per cubic meter. This change is considered moderate and is typical of city centers in many regions in the world on many days. Among other things, the moderate increase in particulate pollution caused changes that could damage cognitive ability and increase the risk of strokes.

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