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Summer 2002 smog levels exceed critical threshold three days in four

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Levels of potentially harmful ground-level ozone exceeded a critical threshold somewhere in Europe on more than three days out of four this summer, according to preliminary information compiled by the European Environment Agency

NEWS RELEASE


Copenhagen, 16 October 2002


Summer 2002 smog levels exceed critical threshold three days in four

Levels of potentially harmful ground-level ozone exceeded a critical threshold somewhere in Europe on more than three days out of four this summer, according to preliminary information compiled by the European Environment Agency.

Ozone, the main component of summer smog, can cause serious health problems in humans and damage to ecosystems, agricultural crops and materials. It forms when certain air pollutants emitted by industry and transport react with sunlight. Ozone levels tend to be highest during warm, sunny weather, and are generally higher in southern Europe than in the north.

Under a European Union directive, governments must inform the public whenever monitoring stations detect ozone concentrations above a critical threshold, set at 180 micrograms of ozone per cubic metre of air (180 μg/m3) averaged over one hour.

Over the April-August 2002 period this threshold was exceeded in 11 of the 15 EU Member States and in six out of 12 other European countries that supplied data, a preliminary evaluation shows. An exceedance occurred in one or more of these 27 countries on 120 of the 153 days covered. June and July saw the highest numbers of exceedances.

The report has been sent for information to EU environment ministers for their meeting on 17 October.

The public information threshold was breached in France, Greece, Italy and Spain over all five months monitored. Total exceedances were highest in southern France, Italy's Po Valley and central Italy.

Austria, Germany and Switzerland saw exceedances in four consecutive months while the Netherlands and the Czech Republic recorded exceedances in three consecutive months.

Greece reported the highest number of days with exceedances -- 68 -- followed by France (56), Italy (52) and Spain (48). However, these totals do not necessarily provide a fair comparison since the number of monitoring stations differs widely from country to country. Switzerland and Greece had the highest proportion of stations reporting exceedances, at 77% and 70% respectively.

The 10 countries that recorded no exceedances of the public information threshold were Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Romania and Sweden. For Ireland and Finland, 2002 marks the sixth consecutive year without exceedances.

Public authorities are also required to issue public health warnings if ozone concentrations rise above a level of 360 μg/m3, averaged over one hour. In June 2002 this level was exceeded at three monitoring stations in Spain and at one in France and Italy respectively.

The highest concentration recorded this summer was 391 μg/m3, at Puertollano in Spain on 22 June. In 2001 the highest concentration was 470 μg/m3, reported at a Spanish station last November.

A new ozone directive taking effect next year will, among other things, introduce an "alert” threshold at 240 μg/m3. Around seven per cent of this year's exceedances of the public information threshold exceeded the future alert threshold. When the alert threshold is exceeded governments will have to set in train action plans aimed at achieving an immediate reduction of ozone pollution, where feasible.

The average of the maximum concentration recorded during this year's exceedances of the public information threshold is slightly higher than in 2001 but the average duration of exceedances is lower. Such year-to-year variations largely reflect the quality of summer weather and changes in the extent of the monitoring network.

Notes to editors

  • Ozone formation and destruction is dependent on emissions and concentrations of the pollutants, or "precursors”, that contribute to it -- mainly volatile organic compounds (VOCs), oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and carbon monoxide -- and on the amount and intensity of sunlight.
  • 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.
  • The EU directive on air pollution by ozone, Directive 92/72/EEC, was adopted in 1992 and entered into force in March 1994. It establishes procedures for harmonising monitoring of ozone concentrations, exchange of information, communication with and alerting of the population regarding ozone levels and optimising action to reduce ozone formation. It will be replaced from 9 September 2003 by a new directive on ozone in ambient air, 2002/3/EC, which includes an "alert threshold” of 240 μg/m3.
  • Information on the ozone situation in 2002 is partly based on provisional (non-validated) monitoring data, so the results should be regarded as preliminary. The evaluation takes the form of an EEA report to the European Commission called Air pollution by ozone in Europe in summer 2002: Overview of exceedances of EC ozone threshold values during the summer season April-August 2002. The report was prepared by the EEA's Topic Centre on Air and Climate Change. The report is posted on the EEA's web site at http://reports.eea.europa.eu/topic_report_2002_6
  • A day on which a threshold is exceeded for at least one hour is counted as one exceedance.
  • Besides the 15 EU Member States, the countries which provided information for this year's report were Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.
  • A total of 1718 monitoring stations across these 27 countries are assumed to have been operational during the summer 2002 season. About 33% of the stations reported one or more exceedances of the public information threshold.

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 some 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 29 member countries. These are the 15 EU Member States; Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, which are members of the European Economic Area; and 11 of the 13 countries in central and eastern Europe and the Mediterranean area that are seeking accession to the EU -- Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania, Slovenia and the Slovak Republic. Their membership makes the EEA the first EU body to take in the candidate countries. It is anticipated that the two remaining candidate countries, Poland and Turkey, will ratify their membership agreements within the next few months. This will take the Agency's membership to 31 countries. Negotiations with Switzerland on membership are also under way.




Annex

Exceedances of the EU threshold value for public information on ozone pollution in summer 2002, by country

 

Nr. of stationsI

Nr. of stations with exceedance

Nr. of days with excee-danceII

Maximum observed concentr. (µg/m3)

Averaged maximum concentr. (µg/m3)III

Occurrence

of excee-

dances IV

Average duration of excee-dances (hour)

Austria

114

26

23%

13

265

192

0.3

1.3

1.4

Belgium

34

20

59%

3

256

197

0.9

1.6

2.3

Denmark

7

0

0%

0

<180

<180

 

 

 

Finland

11

0

0%

0

<180

<180

 

 

 

France

432

187

43%

56

372

200

1.6

3.7

2.4

Germany

362

151

42%

27

292

199

0.7

1.6

2.5

Greece

23

16

70%

68

316

205

8.8

12.6

2.4

Ireland

6

0

0%

0

<180

<180

 

 

 

Italy

106

60

57%

52

377

206

4.1

7.2

3.4

Luxembourgv

5

3

60%

3

212

194

1.0

1.7

2.4

Portugal

34

9

26%

4

211

195

0.3

1.2

2.4

Spain

297

45

15%

48

391

201

0.4

2.9

2.2

Sweden

11

0

0%

0

<180

<180

 

 

 

The Netherlands

35

10

29%

5

229

197

0.3

1.1

2.5

United Kingdom

78

11

14%

4

271

195

0.2

1.5

1.6

EU area

1555

538

35%

118

391

201

1.2

3.3

2.6

Bulgaria v

5

0

0%

0

<180

<180

 

 

 

Czech Republic

59

12

20%

5

207

191

0.2

1.2

1.6

Estonia

6

0

0%

0

<180

<180

 

 

 

Hungary

2

1

50%

1

181

181

0.5

1.0

1.0

Latvia

11

0

0%

0

<180

<180

 

 

 

Lithuania

3

0

0%

0

<180

<180

 

 

 

Norway

14

0

0%

0

<180

<180

 

 

 

Poland

22

4

18%

4

203

188

0.3

1.5

2.2

Romania

2

0

0%

0

<180

<180

 

 

 

Slovakia

20

1

5%

1

184

184

0.1

1.0

1.0

Slovenia

6

2

33%

5

219

197

1.2

3.5

4.3

Switzerland

13

10

77%

28

273

201

4.6

6.0

3.5

Whole Area

1718

568

33%

120

391

201

1.1

3.3

2.6

I    Number of stations implemented in the framework of the 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    Left figure: averaged over all implemented stations, right figure: averaged over all stations

     which reported at least one exceedance.

v Incomplete information delivered



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European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100