We breathe from the moment we are born until the moment we die. It is a vital and constant need, not only for us but for all life on Earth. Poor air quality affects us all: it harms our health and the health of the environment, which leads to economic losses. But what does the air we breathe consist of and where do the various air pollutants come from?
Many of us might spend up to 90 % of our day indoors — at home, work or school. The quality of the air we breathe indoors also has a direct impact on our health. What determines indoor air quality? Is there any difference between outdoor and indoor air pollutants? How can we improve indoor air quality?
Europe has improved its air quality in recent decades. Emissions of many pollutants were curbed successfully, but particulate matter and ozone pollution in particular continue to pose serious risks to the health of Europeans.
‘African dust’ from the Sahara is one of the natural sources of particulate matter in the air. Extremely dry and hot conditions in the Sahara create turbulence, which can propel dust upwards to a height of 4–5 km. Particles can stay at these heights for weeks or months, and are often blown across Europe.
The chemistry of our atmosphere is complex. The atmosphere contains
layers with different densities and different chemical compositions. We asked
Professor David Fowler from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology of the Natural
Environment Research Council in the United Kingdom, about the air pollutants
and chemical processes in our atmosphere that impact our health and the
Our knowledge and understanding of air pollution is growing every year. We have an expanding network of monitoring stations reporting data on a wide range of air pollutants, complemented with results from air quality models. We now have to make sure that scientific knowledge and policy continue to develop hand in hand.
Martin Fitzpatrick is a Principal Environmental Health Officer in the air quality
monitoring and noise unit of Dublin City Council, Ireland. He is also the Dublin
contact point for a pilot project run by the European Commission DG Environment
and the EEA aimed at improving the implementation of air legislation. We asked
him how Dublin tackles the health problems linked to poor air quality.
Air pollution is not the same everywhere. Different pollutants are released into
the atmosphere from a wide range of sources. Once in the atmosphere, they
can transform into new pollutants and spread around the world. Designing and
implementing policies to address this complexity are not easy tasks. Below is an
overview of air legislation in the European Union.
The extent of the sea ice in the Arctic reached a new record low in September 2012. Climate change is melting the sea ice in the region at a rate much faster than estimated by earlier projections. The snow cover also shows a downward trend. The melting Arctic might impact not only the people living in the region, but also elsewhere in Europe and beyond.
With population growth, urbanisation and economic development, the demand for freshwater in urban areas are increasing throughout Europe. At the same time, climate change and pollution are also affecting the availability of water for city residents. How can Europe's cities continue providing clean freshwater to their residents?
We need food and we need clean freshwater to produce our food. With growing demand from human activities on the one hand and climate change on the other, many regions especially in the south struggle to find enough freshwater to meet their needs. How can we continue growing food without letting nature go thirsty for clean water? A more efficient use of water in agriculture would certainly help.
When faced with scarcity or increasing pressures on vital resources such as water and land, the question of who decides can be as important as how natural resources are managed and used. Global coordination is often essential but without local endorsement and involvement, nothing can be done on the ground.
Clean water is a natural resource vital not only for life on Earth but also for the wellbeing of our societies and economy. However, in many parts of Europe, this valuable resource is coming under increasing pressure, often seen in the form of over-exploitation and pollution.
Copenhagen, 2 July 2011. Up to 150 mm of rainfall in two hours – a city record since measurements began in the mid-1800s. Homes destroyed. Citizens and emergency services struggled to cope. This is one example of how excessive extreme weather events can affect a European capital – events that are expected more often under climate change.
Forests are essential to our survival and well-being. Forests clean our air, our water, our soil and they regulate our climate, amongst many other things. Trees and forests are not always associated with urban landscapes. However, there too they provide invaluable, often invisible, services. Simply by acting as 'green oasis' in our concrete jungles, they offer recreation and health services for many European citizens.
Global food, energy and water systems appear to be more vulnerable and fragile than was thought a few years ago, due to increased demand for food, and a decreased and unstable supply, according to an EEA analysis. But we can make our food systems more resilient if we rethink what we eat and how we produce it.
This year as we celebrate the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day, Congo Remains our Most Daunting Challenge
Bisie is the biggest mine in the area. It is located approximately 90 kilometres inside dense forest and reaches 100 metres underground. The mines are often little more than a hole in the ground. Dozens of men and boys crowd each mine and conditions are atrocious.
'…the sheer weight of the combined aspirations and lifestyles of 500 million Europeans is just too great. Never mind the legitimate desires of many other billions on our planet to share those lifestyles.... We will need to change the behaviour of European consumers. To work on people's awareness and to influence their habits.' Janez Potočnik, European Union Commissioner for Environment (March 2010).
1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods. Forests are home to 300 million people worldwide