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You are here: Home / News / How clean is Europe's air?

How clean is Europe's air?

Particulate matter and ground-level ozone remain important air pollutants in Europe. Despite improvements due to EU legislation, they continue to have a heavy toll on human health especially in southern and eastern Europe. Two reports released today by the European Environment Agency (EEA) shed light on Europe’s air quality.

One in four Europeans endured many days of frequent and high concentrations of particulate matter (PM10) in 2005, according to the EEA technical report "Spatial assessment of PM10 and ozone concentrations in Europe (2005)". In addition to these daily peaks above EU thresholds, one in ten Europeans was exposed throughout the year to persistent PM10 levels higher than the EU’s annual mean limit.

Across the EU, PM10 is estimated to have caused approximately 373 000 premature deaths in 2005. Large areas of eastern Europe and the Po Valley in northern Italy but also parts of the Balkans, Belgium, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain were particularly likely to record daily levels above the limit, especially in more urbanized environments. Urban areas of the Balkans, the Czech Republic, Hungary, southern Poland and southern Spain were especially likely to report excessive levels throughout the year.

The report records similar findings for ground-level ozone, with more than a third of the European population exposed to ozone levels higher than the EU’s target value. Health impacts of ozone appear to be lower than those of PM10, ranging from 75 premature deaths per million inhabitants (for south-eastern and southern Europe) to less than 10 per million (northern and north-western Europe) in 2005.

Number of ozone episodes down but…

The second technical report "Air pollution by ozone across Europe during summer 2008" asserts that, by several measures, ozone levels during last summer were the lowest since Europe-wide reporting began in 1997. Nevertheless, all EU Member States and eight other European countries exceeded the long-term objectives set by EU legislation.

With measurements of 399 and 302 μg per cubic metre, the highest one-hour concentrations were recorded in Lazio region in Italy. Several measuring stations in Belgium, Greece, Italy, Spain and Switzerland also reported high concentrations of between 240 and 300 μg per cubic metre.

Overview of air quality limits

EU air quality legislation sets two legally binding limit values for PM10 mass concentrations:

  • annual mean levels exceeding 40 μg PM10 per cubic metre;
  • PM10 concentrations exceeding 50 μg cubic metre on more than 35 days per year.

A new air quality directive was adopted in April 2008. For the first time, it sets legally binding limit values for PM2.5 levels (fine particulate matter) to be attained in 2015.

Regarding ground-level ozone concentrations, EU legislation sets one target value, which is not legally binding:

  • Eight-hour average ozone concentrations shall not exceed 120 μg per cubic metre on more than 25 days per calendar year.

Geographical coverage

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