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Upwards of 90% of EU city dwellers exposed to PM2.5 and O3 pollution at levels deemed harmful by WHO

Despite a decline in emissions of the main air pollutants in Europe in the period 2002–2011, around 90% of city dwellers in the European Union (EU) are exposed to PM2.5 and O3 pollution at levels deemed harmful to health by the World Health Organisation (WHO), according to the latest assessment of air quality in Europe, published by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

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 WHO guidelines. Lower proportions of EU citizens were exposed to levels of these pollutants exceeding the limits or targets set out in EU legislation. These EU limits or targets are in certain cases less strict than WHO guidelines.

Source: Air Quality in Europe 2013 Report. Click to enlarge.

Despite the overall decline in emissions, certain individual sectors have seen emissions of some pollutants increase during this period, the report found. For example, PM emissions from fuel combustion in the commercial, institutional and household sector, has increased by around 7% since 2002 and is now the most important contributor to total European Union PM emissions.

The emission reductions resulted in a notable reduction of ambient concentrations of SO2, CO, and Pb. However, due to the complex links between emissions and air quality (which include emission heights, chemical transformations, reactions to sunlight, additional natural and hemispheric contributions and the impact of weather and topography), emission reductions do not always produce a corresponding drop in atmospheric concentrations, especially for PM and O3. For example, while reductions of O3 forming substances (O3 precursor gases) have been substantial in Europe, ozone concentrations (in relation to the target value for the protection of health) have generally decreased slowly but have increased in places between 2002 and 2011.

—“Air Quality in Europe 2013 Report”

Emissions of primary PM10 and PM2.5 decreased by 14% and 16% respectively in the EU between 2002 and 2011. The reductions in the same period for the EEA-32 member countries were 9% for PM10 and 16% for PM2.5. PM precursor emissions also decreased between 2002 and 2011.

Despite these emission reductions, 22–44% of the EU urban population was exposed to concentrations of PM10 in excess of the EU air quality daily limit value in the period 2002–2011. Although ambient concentrations of PM10 have slightly decreased during the past decade, there was no discernible downward trend in this particular indicator. Between 41% and 49% of the urban population in EEA-32 countries was exposed to PM10 concentrations in excess of the daily limit value in the same period.

The EU limit and target values for PM were exceeded widely in Europe in 2011, with the PM10 24-hour limit value being exceeded in 22 European countries. The non-legally binding WHO guidelines for PM10 and PM2.5 annual mean concentrations—which are stricter than the limit and target values set by EU legislation—were exceeded at the majority of monitoring stations across continental Europe.

—“Air Quality in Europe 2013 Report”



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