Spain spends more than 3.6 billion euros a year treating illnesses related to air pollution from traffic. This is the second highest amount in Europe (Germany spends 13.38 billion), according to a report carried out by the European Public Health Alliance for a project in which the Spanish Heart Foundation (FEC) is participating.
The study has analysed in detail the amount of money that nine member states of the European Union spend on health costs associated with traffic: Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Spain. In total, atmospheric contamination caused by traffic is resulting in EU countries spending more than 72 billion euros a year in health costs, of which 52.86 billion are subsidised by the governments.
The report also estimates the saving in health costs which could be achieved if measures were implemented to reduce traffic emissions on the roads by 2030. The most ambitious plan, which includes a significant increase in electric vehicles, the prohibition of diesel cars on highways and higher taxes on diesel, would save Spain around 2.83 billion euros, reducing its spending to about 770 million euros a year. In the EU as a whole, the saving would be about 58 billion euros a year.
Although traffic is not the only source of air pollution, the European Commission considers it one of the main factors, especially in urban areas.
"Ninety-three per cent of the Spanish population is breathing air which exceeds levels considered dangerous for health," says the vice-president of the FEC, José Luis Palma.
In fact, according to the World Health Organization, around seven million people a year die prematurely through air pollution. This represents 25 per cent of deaths from heart problems and 24 per cent of those after a stroke.
"Environmental pollution has become one of the main challenges for public health on a worldwide level. At the FEC we are well aware of this problem and its impact on cardiovascular health, and we are working on raising awareness and issuing guidelines about the matter, because it is of maximum importance. We are urging regional governments and local councils to take urgent measures to reduce the contamination figures for the sake of the health of the population," says Dr Palma.