In the report, he EEA warns that the health of Europe’s most vulnerable citizens remains disproportionately affected by these hazards, despite overall improvements in Europe’s environmental quality.

According the report, poorer regions (when compared with northern European nations) including Portugal, are where potential problems are the worst.

The EEA report ‘Unequal exposure and unequal impacts: social vulnerability to air pollution, noise and extreme temperatures in Europe’ draws attention to the close links between social and environmental problems across Europe.

The distribution of these environmental threats and the impact they have on human health closely mirror differences in income, unemployment and education levels across Europe.

“The European Environment Agency is to be commended for this report that examines how the poor, the old and the very young are those most at risk from poor air quality, excessive noise and extremes of temperatures. It informs our efforts to make sure that we are a Europe that protects all”, said Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

Eastern European regions and regions in southern Europe (including Portugal), where incomes and education are lower and unemployment rates higher than European averages, were more exposed to air pollutants including particulate matter (PM) and ground level ozone (O3), researchers found.

Wealthier regions, including large cities, tend to have on average higher levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), mostly because of the high concentration of road traffic and economic activities. However, within these regions themselves, it is still the poorer communities that tend to be exposed to higher local levels of NO2.

Exposure to noise is much more localised than exposure to air pollution and ambient levels vary considerably across short distances.

The analysis did find a tentative link between noise levels in cities and lower household incomes, suggesting that cities with poorer populations have higher noise levels.

Southern and south-eastern European regions are more affected by higher temperatures, the EEA said.

Many regions in Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain are also characterised by lower incomes and education, higher levels of unemployment and larger elderly populations.