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Urban Pollution from Traffic Still Pressing Problem in European Cities

Number of daily exceedances of the 50 µg/m3 limit value for PM10 in 20 European cities: observed and modelled.

A new study released by the European Environment Agency (EEA) highlights that human exposure to increased pollutant concentrations in densely populated urban areas remains high.

Air quality limit values, which are aimed at protecting public health, are frequently exceeded especially in streets and other urban hotspots. The study examined studied the air pollution levels at traffic hotspot areas in 20 European cities compared to the urban background concentrations for NO2, NOx, PM10 and PM2.5 and found air pollution above recommended levels in every one.

The researchers prepared gridded urban emission inventories for the reference year 2000, and made projections for the year 2030 according to several emission control scenarios.

For the 2030 air quality projection the indicative limit value (based on 2010 targets) for PM10 is not expected to be met even in the more aggressive scenario. For PM2.5 the reduction is in line with the significant reductions in the urban and in the street scale PM emissions attributed to the introduction of Euro-5 and Euro-6 compliant vehicles.

The cities surveyed were: Antwerp, Athens, Barcelona, Berlin, Brussels, Budapest, Copenhagen, Gdansk, Graz, Helsinki, Katowice, Lisbon, London, Marseilles, Milan, Paris, Prague, Rome, Stuttgart and Thessaloniki.



Joseph Willemssen

Probably has a lot to do with diesels.


probably has a lot to do with older diesels.

Rafael Seidl

It's important to distinguish between emissions (e.g. from motor vehicles) and immissions into a particular location. Much of the recent hubbub has been caused by an EU directive mandating action by city governments if immissions of particulate matter exceed certain levels for more than 35 days in a given year. The highest levels tend to occur in winter.

The bulk of particulate immissions stems from power plants, heavy industry, agriculture, pollen and atmospheric transport. Only 15-20% are due to diesel engines, brakes and tires. Vehicle traveling at speed can also raise dry dust already on the ground.

However, it is politically easier to focus on diesel exhausts than to confront more powerful industrial lobbies. This is especially true now that particulate filters have become available. Customers are demanding them to avoid the embarassment of visible smoke and, to safeguard resale value down the road. Retrofit kits are on offer for some models, at a price.

In addition, engine-out emissions can be reduced by engine design and, by blending biodiesel into the fuel. The EU-wide target is 5.75% by 2007, which Austria is already meeting today. The recent switch to extremely low sulphur diesel (<50ppm) has sharply reduced the toxicity of the remaining emitted particulate matter.

Ergo, toxic particulate emissions from the total fleet of diesel vehicles on Europe's roads are expected to fall rapidly in the coming years due to normal churn. Unfortunately, particulate immissions could still rise if those other sources are not addressed with similar vigor.

The more northerly latitudes, combined with dispersion due to wind patterns, limit serious concerns about NOx-related smog to just a few places in Europe, e.g. Athens and Barcelona in mid-summer. Diesel engines account for much of the NOx near the ground, but there are fewer of them in those countries.

henk daalder

Rafael Seidl is WRONG.
There is no safe low level for PM.
Biodiesel does prodiuce toxic PM too.
Lean burn petrol engines seemto produce even more PM than older not lean burn models.
So this report is a prediction that thousands of europeans will continue to die earlier.

ICE are such stupid choices.
Like target practice in the middle of a crowd.
Even if you are a very safe driver, you are sure to kill others and harm your own health.
How long do the car makers want to wait before they meet their customers in court?

Drivers are driving through the most polluted air.
How long before all models have absolute interiour air filters?

henk daalder

In the Netherlands, 60% of the air pollution in cities is produced by traffic.
Cities can be seen as vulcanoes for polluted air, not that one time they have an eruption, but every day, all the time.
That polluted air flows over the city limits, and then its suddenly called "background" pollution.
And foolish administrations keep thinking and saying that background pollution can not be fought.
Of course, the neighbours are saying the same thing, and add their pollution.

Cities should ONLY allow electric vehicles, as a start.

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