Deadly pollution is not a problem that is consigned to the developing world.

As new data from the European Environment Agency shows, it's a significant issue in Europe as well.

Across the 28 EU member states there were nearly half a million premature deaths in 2015 as a result of exposure to fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), ozone and nitrogen dioxide.

Fine particulate matter was responsible for the highest number of deaths – nearly 400,000 in the EU-28 alone – and the following chart from Statista shows the countries worst affected.

Early deaths from air pollution

Image: Statista

Germany saw over 62,000 deaths attributable to exposure to PM 2.5 in 2015, followed closely by Italy.

It’s probably unsurprising that Germany comes top overall, given it has the largest population of any EU country. But if you calculate deaths linked to air pollution per 100,000 population, countries such as Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary fare far worse.

Europe’s ‘biggest environmental risk’

A separate report from the EU Court of Auditors has called air pollution “the biggest environmental risk to public health” in Europe.

The report also said that governments weren’t doing enough to tackle the issue. It described European air pollution limits as “much weaker” than WHO guidelines.

The global picture

Around the world, nine in 10 of us live in areas with unsafe levels of air pollution, and some 7 million people die prematurely each year as a result of breathing dirty air.

A recent report from the Health Effects Institute showed that China and India have the highest total numbers of deaths attributable to air pollution. Though when you account for population size, Afghanistan and Pakistan have the highest death rates.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently put the scale of the problem into stark relief, attributing one-third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease to air pollution.

The WHO’s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has described air pollution as the “new tobacco”.