EEA report finds most Europeans in cities still exposed to levels of air pollution exceeding WHO guidelines
The European Environment Agency’s (EEA’s) “Air quality in Europe — 2019 report” shows that almost all Europeans living in cities are still exposed to air pollution levels that exceed the health-based air quality guidelines (AQGs) set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The new EEA analysis is based on the latest official air quality data from more than 4,000 monitoring stations across Europe in 2017.
Among the findings:
Concentrations of particulate matter (PM) continued to exceed the EU limit values and the WHO AQGs in large parts of Europe in 2017. For PM with a diameter of 10 μm or less (PM10), concentrations above the EU daily limit value were registered at 22% of the reporting stations in 17 of the 28 EU Member States (EU‐28) and in six other reporting countries. For PM2.5, concentrations above the annual limit value were registered at 7% of the reporting stations in seven Member States and three other reporting countries.
The long-term WHO AQG for PM10 was exceeded at 51% of the stations and in all of the reporting countries, except Estonia, Finland and Ireland. The long-term WHO AQG for PM2.5 was exceeded at 69% of the stations located in all of the reporting countries, except Estonia, Finland and Norway.
17 % of the EU‐28 urban population was exposed to PM10 levels above the daily limit value and 44% was exposed to concentrations exceeding the stricter WHO AQG value for PM10 in 2017.
About 8% of the urban population in the EU-28 was exposed to PM2.5 levels above the EU annual limit value, and approximately 77% was exposed to concentrations exceeding the WHO AQG value for PM2.5 in 2017.
20 % of stations registered concentrations above the EU ozone (O3) target value for the protection of human health. These stations were located in 17 of the EU-28 and six other European reporting countries. The long‐term objective was met in only 18% of the stations in 2017. The WHO AQG value for O3 was exceeded in 95% of all the reporting stations.
About 14 % of the EU‐28 urban population was exposed to O3 concentrations above the EU target value threshold. The percentage of the EU-28 urban population exposed to O3 levels exceeding the WHO AQG value was 96% in 2017—showing scarcely any fluctuation since 2000.
In 2017, around 10 % of all the reporting stations recorded NO2 concentrations above the EU annual limit value, which is the same as the WHO AQG. These stations were located in 16 of the EU-28 and four other reporting countries. In total, 86 % of concentrations above this limit value were observed at traffic stations.
Around 7% of the EU‐28 urban population was exposed to NO2 concentrations above the annual EU limit.
Poor air quality continues to damage Europeans’ health, especially in urban areas, with particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ground-level ozone (03) causing the largest harm.
According to the EEA analysis, fine particulate matter (PM2.5) alone caused about 412,000 premature deaths in 41 European countries in 2016. About 374,000 of those deaths occurred in the European Union (EU).
As well as damaging health and reducing life expectancy, poor air quality also causes economic losses, for example, through higher health care costs, reduced yields from agriculture and forestry, and lower labor productivity. An earlier EEA assessment showed how air and noise pollution and extreme temperatures disproportionately affect Europe’s most vulnerable citizens.
Despite persisting pollution, the new EEA data confirm that binding regulations and local measures are improving Europe’s air quality with positive health effects. For example, fine particulate matter caused about 17,000 fewer premature deaths in the EU in 2016, compared with 2015. Even though weather differences between years can affect pollution levels and their impacts, the reduction is consistent with the EEA’s earlier estimate that the number of premature deaths caused annually by PM2.5 in Europe have been reduced by about half a million since 1990.
Road transport, power plants, industry, agriculture and households are the main sources of air pollutants. These sources are closely linked to Europe’s core systems of production and consumption, and are also key drivers of greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss.
The European Commission is organizing the second EU Clean Air Forum, hosted by the Government of Slovakia in Bratislava, on 28–29 November 2019, to discuss the development and implementation of European, national and local air policies, projects and programs. The 2019 Forum will focus on energy, agriculture, and clean air funding mechanisms.