According to the European Environment Agency’s (EEA) latest assessment of air quality in Europe, around 90% of city dwellers in the European Union (EU) are exposed to damaging air pollutants at levels deemed harmful by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Vehicles, industry, agriculture and homes are contributing to air pollution in Europe and, despite falling emission levels and reductions of some air pollutant concentrations in recent decades, the report demonstrates that Europe’s air pollution problem is far from solved. Read more…
The report, ‘Air quality in Europe – 2013 report’, is an EEA contribution to the European Commission’s review of air quality policy. Despite overall improvements over several decades, air pollution continues to pose a significant threat to public health, the economy and the environment. The presence of particulate matter, ozone, reactive nitrogen substances and some organic compounds can lead to ill health, premature deaths and damage to ecosystems, crops and buildings. These constitute real losses for the European economy, the productivity of its workforce, and the health of its natural systems.
The effects of poor air quality are felt most strongly in two areas – urban areas and ecosystems. Between 2009 and 2011, up to 96% of city dwellers were exposed to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations above WHO guidelines and up to 98% were exposed to ozone (O3) levels above the guidelines. These two specific pollutants continue to be a source of breathing problems, cardiovascular disease and shortened lives. In ecosystems meanwhile, air pollution impairs vegetation growth and harms biodiversity, with eutrophication (when excessive nutrient nitrogen damages ecosystems) a particularly prevalent problem.
The report notes there have also been several success stories in cutting emissions of air pollutants. For example, sulphur dioxide emissions from power plants, industry and transport have been reduced over the last decade. In addition, the phasing out of leaded petrol has also reduced concentrations of lead, which is known to affect neurological development.
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