Brussels’ poorest neighbourhoods also have worst air quality


A study by VUB researchers has concluded that the neighbourhoods in Brussels affected the most by poverty are also affected the most by pollution

Narrow streets and less green space

The poorest neighbourhoods in Brussels also have the highest concentrations of fine particulates in the air. That is the conclusion of a study carried out by the Interface Demography research group at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB).

The team mapped the relationship between air pollution and mortality in the Brussels-Capital Region, paying particular attention to socio-economic factors. They linked population data and mortality to concentrations of air pollution.

The study found that the higher concentrations of particulate matter in Brussels are mainly found in the poorer neighbourhoods. The data also show that the mortality risk from exposure to higher concentrations of air pollution is higher in poorer neighbourhoods compared to neighbourhoods where residents have a higher socio-economic status.

‘Damage is considerable’

“The damage to health and well-being caused by air pollution is considerable,” said the research group in a statement. One of the most harmful pollutants is fine particulate matter (PM2.5). Over-exposure to PM2.5 raises the risk of respiratory and heart disease.

“In addition to a considerable direct health cost, air pollution also creates numerous social and economic costs,” the statement reads, “including medical costs and reduced productivity.”

An increase of 5µg/m3 in the concentration of PM2.5, for example, results in a 16% increase in the mortality risk in poorer neighbourhoods compared to 7% in wealthier neighbourhoods.

According to the study, higher concentrations of particulate matter are mainly explained by the structure of the neighbourhoods, with many narrow streets and less green space, as well as by the transport infrastructure.

People’s knowledge of the air quality and the impact of this on their health is limited

- Researcher Charlotte Noël

But the circumstances in which they live and work also contributes to the problem. “Socially vulnerable people tend to live in low quality housing with poor ventilation and insulation and they often work in jobs that are performed in public spaces,” the team says. “This leads to higher exposure to air pollution.”

These unfavourable conditions combined with financial stressors and lack of proper nutrition reinforce the negative effects of air pollution on their health, the team concludes.

“We call on policymakers to work together to focus on the source of the pollution and to inform the population about the health risks,” says researcher Charlotte Noël. “Our research shows that people’s knowledge of the air quality and the impact of this on their health is limited. The government could better inform and raise awareness among the population about the health risks of air pollution. Again, prevention is better than cure.”

The study was part of the Green & Quiet project, which is investigating the social inequalities and health-related factors of Brussels’ environmental characteristics.

Photo (c)Jean-Marc Quinet/BELPress