Forum warns of dangers posed by polluted EU air

Tue, Jan 8, 2013, 00:00

Air pollution causes nearly half a million premature deaths in Europe each year, with high economic costs, hospital admissions, lost working days and damage to ecosystems, according to the European Environment Bureau.

At a conference in Brussels yesterday, under the banner of Blowing the Winds of Change into European Air Policy, the EEB called for EU air policies to be tightened up to protect health and the environment.

The EEB describes itself as Europe’s largest federation of environmental citizens’ organisations – the “environmental voice of European citizens, standing for environmental justice, sustainable development and participatory democracy”.

To mark the designation of 2013 as European Year of Air, it released a new Eurobarometer poll showing that air pollution remains a key concern for EU citizens – even after years of directives and improvements.

The poll found that 72 per cent of Europeans believe that public authorities are not doing enough to promote good air quality while 87 per cent think that respiratory diseases – associated with air pollution – are a serious problem. Current EU air quality standards are significantly weaker than those recommended by the World Health Organisation, which are intended to minimise the impacts on health of air pollutants, such as nitrous oxide.

Fine particles

For fine particles, one of the pollutants with the highest impact on health, PM2.5, the maximum concentration allowed is 25 microgrammes per cubic metre – 2.5 times weaker than WHO recommendations.

According to a recent study by the European Topic Centre on Air and Climate Change, pollution of fine particles is associated with more than 455,000 premature deaths every year in the EU’s 27 member states.

“Weak as they are, the EU standards – some of which were agreed more than 10 years ago – are still breached by most EU member states,” according to Jeremy Wates, the EEB’s secretary general.

“Air pollution emanates from sources all around us, be they cars, industrial plants, shipping, agriculture or waste. The EU must propose ambitious legislation to address all of these sources if it is to tackle the grave public health consequences.”