A clean air supply is essential to our own health and that of the environment. But since the industrial revolution, the quality of the air we breathe has deteriorated considerably - mainly as a result of human activities. Rising industrial and energy production, the burning of fossil fuels and the dramatic rise in traffic on our roads all contribute to air pollution in our towns and cities which, in turn, can lead to serious health problems. For example, air pollution is increasingly being cited as the main cause of lung conditions such as asthma - twice as many people suffer from asthma today compared to 30 years ago.
The issue of air quality is still a major concern for many European citizens. It is also one of the areas in which the European Union has been most active. Since the early 1970s, the EU has been working to improve air quality by controlling emissions of harmful substances into the atmosphere, improving fuel quality, and by integrating environmental protection requirements into the transport and energy sectors.
As the result of EU legislation, much progress has been made in tackling air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, lead, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and benzene. However, despite a reduction in some harmful emissions, air quality continues to cause problems. Summer smog - originating in potentially harmful ground-level ozone - regularly exceeds safe limits. Fine particulates also present a health risk which is of increasing concern. Clearly, more needs to be done at local, national, European and international level.
The European Commission is currently undertaking a comprehensive review of EU air policy, building on the 2005 Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution and Clean Air for Europe (CAFE) initiative. Find out more about the Air Policy Review here.