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You are here: Home / Media / News / Summer 2003 ozone pollution hits high; levels could recur for several more years

Summer 2003 ozone pollution hits high; levels could recur for several more years

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Harmful ozone pollution was the worst for almost a decade in large parts of Europe this summer, particularly during the long August heatwave, according to a preliminary assessment by the European Environment Agency.

NEWS RELEASE


Copenhagen, 24 October 2003


Summer 2003 ozone pollution hits high; levels could recur for several more years


Harmful ozone pollution was the worst for almost a decade in large parts of Europe this summer, particularly during the long August heatwave, according to a preliminary assessment by the European Environment Agency.


The unusually hot and sunny weather, combined with air pollutants emitted mainly by traffic, industry and vegetation, caused very long lasting and geographically extensive ‘episodes’ with high concentrations of harmful ground-level ozone.


And this situation is likely to repeat itself in any future summers with above-average temperatures until measures taken under current legislation result in a much larger cut in emissions of the ‘precursor’ pollutants that cause ground-level ozone towards the year 2010.


Emissions of the main precursors – nitrogen oxides and non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) – fell by around 30% between 1990 and 2000 in the 15 European Union Member States. EU legislation setting national ceilings, to be met by 2010, on emissions of these and certain other pollutants will bring a further 30% cut.


A summary of the assessment has been sent to EU environment ministers who will discuss the summer ozone episodes at their meeting on Monday (27 October).


In contrast to the stratospheric ozone layer that protects against harmful solar radiation, ground-level ozone can cause serious human health problems and damage to ecosystems, crops and materials. It forms when the precursor pollutants react with sunlight.


High temperatures worsen the situation by increasing emissions of NMVOCs from vegetation and man-made sources such as solvents.


Out of 31 European countries reporting monitoring results this year, 23 suffered ground-level ozone pollution at concentrations well above an important human health threshold on one or more days between April and August.


Beyond this threshold, set at 180 micrograms of ozone per cubic metre of air (180 µg/m3) averaged over one hour, exposure for a short period can have limited, temporary effects on the health of children as well as of adults who are particularly sensitive to ozone.


Governments are required by European Union law to inform the public whenever the 180 µg/m3 threshold is breached.


The threshold was exceeded in at least one of the 23 countries on 137 of the 153 days monitored between April and August. Only the Nordic countries, the Baltic States and Ireland reported no exceedances (see Annex).


Breaches of the threshold lasted an average of 3.5 hours, the longest average period since 1995, with a high of 4.2 hours on average recorded in the Slovak Republic. The ozone concentration during the episodes averaged 202 µg/m3 in the 23 countries affected and reached an average of 246 µg/m3 in Romania.


The number of hours during spring and summer when ozone concentrations at each monitoring station were above the 180 µg/m3 threshold averaged 31 for the EU, its highest number ever. In France the number was one-third higher than the previous record set nine years ago.


The areas with the most exceedances of the threshold were south-west Germany, Switzerland, northern and south-eastern France, Belgium, northern and central Italy and central Spain.


These are also among the regions with the highest density of emissions from traffic and industry of the main pollutants contributing to ozone.


Under revised EU ozone legislation that took effect in September, the ozone concentration above which brief exposure is considered to pose a health risk for the general population has been tightened from 360µg/m3, averaged over one hour, to 240µg/m3.


Governments are required to warn the general public to take precautions whenever the threshold is exceeded.


The 360 µg/m3 threshold, which still applied this spring and summer, was breached four times - twice in mid-June, at stations in northern Italy (Varenna) and Romania (Chiciu), and twice in early August at one monitoring station in south-east France (Sausset les Pins). This number of exceedances is in line with previous years, despite this year’s hotter temperatures.


The highest ozone concentration was 417 µg/m3, reached at Sausset les Pins during the heatwave that affected much of Europe in the first half of August.


The new 240 µg/m3 threshold, which was not yet in force this summer, was exceeded in 15 countries and in around 6% of the episodes where the 180 µg/m3 information threshold was breached.


Notes for Editors


  • This summary of the ozone situation in 2003 is based on the forthcoming EEA report to the European Commission titled Air pollution by ozone in Europe in summer 2003: Overview of exceedances of EC ozone threshold values during the summer season April-August 2003 and comparisons with previous years. The report was prepared by the EEA’s Topic Centre on Air and Climate Change.
  • A day on which a threshold is exceeded for at least one hour is counted as one exceedance.
  • Human exposure to elevated ozone concentrations can give rise to adverse effects on the breathing system and decreases in lung function. Symptoms observed during smog events are coughing, chest pain, difficulty in breathing, headache and eye irritation. Exposure of ecosystems and agricultural crops to ozone results in visible injury to foliage and reductions in crop yield and seed production. Adverse effects on vegetation can be noted at relatively low ozone concentrations which occur frequently in Europe.
  • EU legislation on ozone pollution was established in 1992 by directive 92/72/EEC. This was replaced on 9 September 2003 by directive 2002/3/EC on ozone in ambient air.
  • Besides the 15 EU Member States, the countries which reported on their ozone levels this year were Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, FYROM, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Malta, Norway, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Switzerland.
  • A total of 1,805 monitoring stations across these 31 countries are assumed to have been operational during the spring and summer.

About the EEA


The European Environment Agency is the main source of information used by the European Union and its Member States in developing environment policies. The Agency aims to support sustainable development and to help achieve significant and measurable improvement in Europe’s environment through the provision of timely, targeted, relevant and reliable information to policy-making agents and the public. Established by the EU in 1990 and operational in Copenhagen since 1994, the EEA is the hub of the European environment information and observation network (Eionet), a network of around 300 bodies across Europe through which it both collects and disseminates environment-related data and information.


The Agency, which is open to all nations that share its objectives, currently has 31 member countries. These are the 15 EU Member States; Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, which are members of the European Economic Area; and the 13 EU accession and candidate countries, namely Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, the Slovak Republic and Turkey. The EEA is the first EU body to take in the accession and candidate countries. Negotiations on EEA membership are also under way with Switzerland.




Annex


Exceedances of the EU threshold value for public information (180 µg/m3) in spring and summer 2003, by country


 

Nr. of stations
I

Nr. of stations with excee- dance

Nr. of days with excee-
danceII

Maxi-
mum obser-
ved con-
centr. (µg/m3)

Aver-
aged maxi-
mum con-
centr. (µg/m3)
III

Occur-
rence of excee-
dances
IV

Aver-
age dura-
tion of excee-
dances (hours)

Austria

116

94

81%

47

263

195

4.3

5.2

3.1

Belgium

38

37

97%

20

296

207

8.6

8.9

3.9

Denmark

7

0

0%

0

<180

<180

 

 

 

Finland

11

0

0%

0

<180

<180

 

 

 

France

451

367

81%

78

417

200

7.4

9.1

3.1

Germany

363

303

83%

62

334

203

5.7

6.9

4.1

Greece

23

17

74%

92

302

208

19.3

26.1

2.8

Ireland

7

0

0%

0

<180

<180

 

 

 

Italy

122

82

67%

108

368

205

13.4

19.9

4.0

Luxembourg

6

5

83%

21

254

199

9.5

11.4

3.2

The Netherlands

36

30

83%

13

276

208

3.4

4.1

3.2

Portugal

42

30

71%

23

297

206

3.0

4.2

2.1

Spain

310

111

36%

69

310

200

1.6

4.6

2.5

Sweden

12

0

0%

0

<180

<180

 

 

 

United Kingdom

80

45

56%

37

249

201

2.0

3.5

3.0

EU area

1624

1121

69%

134

417

202

5.7

8.3

3.5

Bulgaria

2

2

100%

3

240

203

1.5

1.5

4.0

Cyprus V

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Czech Republic

61

49

80%

27

236

192

2.1

2.6

2.8

Estonia

7

0

0%

0

<180

<180

 

 

 

Hungary

2

2

100%

4

186

185

2.0

2.0

2.5

Latvia

6

0

0%

0

<180

<180

 

 

 

Lithuania

3

0

0%

0

<180

<180

 

 

 

Malta

1

1

100%

4

195

187

4.0

4.0

1.8

Poland

23

11

48%

19

227

193

1.4

3.0

2.6

Romania

10

3

30%

8

394

246

0.8

2.7

2.1

Slovak Republic

23

8

35%

37

301

198

3.2

9.3

4.2

Slovenia

10

7

70%

25

243

193

3.9

5.6

3.3

Candidate countries

143

83

56%

68

394

195

2.0

3.5

3.1

Iceland

2

1

50%

1

214

214

0.5

1.0

1.0

Lichtenstein

1

1

100%

2

209

196

2.0

2.0

2.5

Macedonia, FYR of

5

2

40%

27

235

199

5.6

14.0

2.8

Norway

12

0

0%

0

<180

<180

 

 

 

Switzerland

13

12

92%

58

266

203

15.2

16.5

3.8

Whole Area

1805

1220

68%

137

417

202

5.4

8.0

3.4


I Number of stations implemented in the framework of the EU ozone directive.
II The number of calendar days on which at least one exceedance was observed.
III Average of all maximum concentrations recorded during exceedances.
IV 'Occurrence of exceedance' reflects the total number of exceedances divided by the total number of operational monitoring stations. This concept gives a better comparison of the situation from country to country than the absolute number of exceedances since the number of stations differs widely.
Left figure: averaged over all stations. Right figure: averaged over all stations which reported at least one exceedance.
V No information available.



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