GENEVA, Nov 29 (AFP) - Fine particles, emitted in particular by cars, reduce the life expectancy of people in Europe by up to two years and are as lethal as road accidents, a study published on Monday said.
These particles, which measure less than 2.5 thousandths of a millimetre in size, "shorten our life time over Europe by around eight months," said Markus Amann, of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and one of the authors of the report.
"They are a major reason for heart attacks," he told a news conference in Geneva, where an international meeting on air pollution is taking place.
Areas of the continent that are more urbanised, such as Benelux, northern Italy, Ukraine and Russia are exposed to much higher levels of pollution that reduces the life expectancy of inhabitants by two years, he declared.
Due to their minute size, the particles can remain in the air for 40 to 50 hours and be pushed by the wind over distances of some 3,000 kilometres (1,875 miles), the expert said.
They trigger lung and respiratory diseases as well as increased risk of cardiovascular illness as they enter the body through the lungs and also the blood, Amann explained.
Steelworks, cementworks and power stations are major sources of the deadly dust as well as diesel-powered automobiles.
At present, only the car maker Peugeot has installed special filters in its vehicles to counter the emissions but such technology will become obligatory throughout the European Union.
Delegates from 49 countries that are party to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution, implimented in 1979 by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, are meeting in Geneva from Monday until Friday to discuss the issue.
Despite the grim figure, the level of pollutants in the atmosphere was decreasing thanks to measures taken by the convention against the emission of substances such as sulphur dioxide, according to Amann.
Within 10 to 15 years, the loss of life expectancy will be reduced to five to six months, he predicted.
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