EEA report shows 90% of EU city dwellers are exposed to harmful air pollutants, including particulate matter and ground-level ozone
An estimated 90% of city residents within the European Union are exposed to harmful air pollutants, an annual report published this week by the European Environment Agency has warned.
The ‘Air quality in Europe – 2013 report’ found up to 96% of those living in cities were exposed to fine particulate matter concentrations above World Health Organisation guidelines between 2009 and 2011. Up to 98% of city dwellers were also exposed to ozone levels above WHO guidelines.
However, lower proportions of EU citizens were exposed to levels of these pollutants exceeding the limits or targets set out in EU legislation, although in some cases these limits are found to be less strict than WHO expectations.
National differences across Europe are also highlighted in the findings, with cities in the UK, Latvia and Sweden exceeding the daily limit value for particulate matter, although not exceeding the 2005 annual limit set out in the air quality directive. The report also notes that some rural areas of Europe have significant levels of air pollution.
As well as health concerns, the report highlighted the environmental impact of pollution with problems such as eutrophication, when excessive nutrient nitrogen damages ecosystems, threatening Europe’s biodiversity.
The report, produced to assess the status of air quality and recent air quality trends, aims to support policy development and implementation in the field of air quality at both European and national levels, including a review of the progress on meeting the two outstanding EU air quality directives.
Hans Bruyninckx, EEA executive director, said: “Air pollution is causing damage to human health and ecosystems. Large parts of the population do not live in a healthy environment, according to current standards. To get on to a sustainable path, Europe will have to be ambitious and go beyond current legislation.â€?
Environment commissioner Janez PotoÄ?nik added: “Air quality is a central concern for many people. Surveys show that a large majority of citizens understand well the impact of air quality on health and are asking public authorities to take action at EU, national and local levels, even in times of austerity and hardship. I am ready to respond to these concerns through the Commission’s upcoming Air Policy Review.
Last month, a world map produced by Nasa’s Earth Observatory showed the number of premature deaths attributable to particulate matter, which can cause respiratory illness (see airqualitynews story).
While the map showed Europe, India and China to be most at risk from particulate matter, the UK appeared to show a mix of areas which had seen large numbers of premature deaths and an improvement in air quality, relative to 1850.