Air pollution (Finland)
Why should we care about this issue
- Air pollution
The concentrations of most air pollutants are low in Finland. For example, the occurrences of values over the limit, threshold and target concentrations set by EU are very rare. However, air pollution still is a potential threat. The background concentration of ozone is high, even in the remote northern parts of the country. In urban areas, including minor towns, local concentrations of particulate matter (PM) may persist at highly elevated levels for weeks during the so-called springtime dust period; small-scale wood combustion increases wintertime concentrations of benzo(a)pyrene in residential areas; episodic transboundary pollution from wildfires may cause high PM concentrations over large areas, potentially enriched with carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
The state and impacts
Air quality in Finland is generally good, so the local impacts of air pollution are fairly limited. However, during periods when certain atmospheric conditions prevail – particularly atmospheric inversions in winter and spring – concentrations of pollutants in the air in Finnish cities may compare to those observed in cities of similar size elsewhere in Europe.
Air quality monitoring is a responsibility of the municipalities. In some cases, also the enterprises are involved. The Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI) takes care of the national background air quality monitoring. Air quality information is collected in the national air quality portal established and maintained by the FMI. The portal displays a real time air quality map of Finland (Air quality now) and the results of the air quality measurements over time. The full set of data and graphs can be found in Pollutants in the air (in Finnish).
Below are two figures showing the situation with concentrations well below the EU limit values.
Figure 1. Annual means of SO2 in 1985–2008 in Finland
Figure 2. Annual mean and number of exceedance days of PM10 in 2008 in Finland
Even if the annual averages of PM10 are below the limit value, the daily values, especially in the springtime, may be too high.
Nitrogen dioxide is one example of a pollutant where Finland may have problems in reaching the EU limit value in 2010. Nowadays, nitrogen dioxide concentration levels in the largest city centres are mainly below the EU annual limit value (40 µg/m3). However, in certain street canyons in downtown Helsinki with the highest traffic volumes, the annual limit value may be exceeded.
Figure 3. Monthly mean NO2 concentrations in 1994–2008 (grey lines) and the modelled seasonal component combined with the generalized least-squares regression trend (black lines). The yearly changes of NO2 concentrations are also given (%/yr)
Ozone concentrations in the air
In Finland, the highest ozone concentrations are usually measured in background areas in spring and summer. The citizens must be informed when the hourly value of the ozone concentration exceeds 180 µg/m3 but such concentrations have occurred very rarely. The EU target value for 2010 to protect the human health means that the ozone concentrations (8 hour moving average) should be below 120 µg/m3 with a maximum of 25 exceedances annually. Concentrations over 120 µg/m3 occur in the rural background stations less than 25 times in a year. (Ozone)
The EU target value for 2010 for the protection of vegetation is (AOT40) 18 000 μg/m3·h averaged over five years and it has not been exceeded.
Figure 4. Number of exceedances of O3 in 2006–2008 in Finland
It is not clear that Finland will meet the EU long-term objectives for ozone concentrations. Until now the long-term objective for the protection of human health has been exceeded everywhere in Finland, and the objective for the protection of vegetation is exceeded in a greater part of Finland. There is clear variation in the ozone concentrations between the years.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
Monitoring of concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) is still too scarce to draw conclusions. However, there are indications that short periods of elevated concentrations both in urban and rural environments are possible. They are related to either wintertime increase of PAH emissions from residential wood combustion for heating, industrial emissions or summertime regional transportation from wildfires.
Figure 5. Examples of benzo(a)pyrene concentrations in 1999-2006 in Finland
Human health problems are caused by particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulphur dioxide and total reduced sulphur, volatile organic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and heavy metals. In connection with the urban air pollution, fine particles (PM2.5) pose the most severe health threat.
In the concluding report of a recent Finnish study (PILTTI) it is estimated that fine particles from domestic combustion and road traffic caused slightly over 1 000 premature deaths in Finland in 2000. The estimate for 2020 is lower: about 450 cases of premature death (pp 43–48). According to an earlier Finnish estimate, air pollution, especially by particles, causes 200–400 premature deaths annually, 30 000 cases of increased asthma symptoms, and 30 000–40 000 respiratory infections in children. The estimate of premature deaths is clearly higher in the results of PILTTI than in the older estimates. Some European studies suggest even higher numbers of premature deaths. A report from the European Topic Centre on Air and Climate Change presents a map of Europe showing an estimate of 1 500–2 500 premature deaths in Finland.
The sulphur deposition has decreased by 50–60 % since the late 1980s. The decrease in deposition of nitrogen compounds is less significant: 30–40 % (Graphs and maps of acid deposition, Finnish Environmental Administration (in Finnish)). The acidity critical load is exceeded in southern Finland and in parts of central and northern Finland (Critical loads, Finnish Environmental Administration (in Finnish)). The ecosystems most sensitive to acidification are the nutrient-poor lakes and forests of northern Finland, whose natural buffering capacity is already weak. Some 5 000 smaller lakes in Finland are now considered to be recovering well from serious acidification problems. Finland’s vital groundwater reserves are recovering, too, although it may take decades for groundwater to recover completely.
The area and volume of the Gulf of Finland is only a tenth of the whole Baltic Sea. In proportion to the area, Gulf of Finland receives a three-fold load compared to the other parts of the Baltic Sea. The annual load to the Gulf of Finland is more than 7 000 tonnes of phosphorus and nearly 120 000 tonnes of nitrogen. The airborne load of nitrogen is almost 20 % of the total load. (Eutrophication in the Baltic Sea, Eutrophying loads (in Finnish)). The airborne nitrogen affects more directly the eutrophication process than the pollution load from land. A recent study proposes that during summer ships may cause up to 50 % of the nitrogen deposition in some areas of the Baltic Sea.
 For more information see Anttila and Tuovinen, doi:10.1016/j.atmosenv.2009.09.041
 Pauliina Ahtoniemi et al.: Health Risks from Nearby Sources of Fine Particulate Matter: Domestic Combustion and Road Traffic. Report 3/2010, National Institute for Health and Welfare
 Assessment of the health impacts of exposure to PM2.5 at a European level. ETC/ACC Technical Paper 2009/1
The key drivers and pressures
Emissions are the main drivers affecting air pollution.
A more detailed description of the greenhouse gas emissions in Finland is under the theme ’Climate change mitigation’.
In general, energy and transport are the biggest sources of emissions of other pollutants than greenhouse gases (Air pollutant emissions in Finland by sectors in 2007). However, there is much variation between the different pollutants when it comes to the source sectors (Air pollutant emissions in Finland by sectors in 2007 – chart).
The total energy consumption is now about five-fold compared to the consumption in 1950. The increasing trend has been quite stable (Total energy consumption 1970 – 2008, Finland - State of environment 2008, p 6). In general, total energy consumption and electricity consumption correlate rather well but the changes in the GDP do not always directly reflect the consumption levels. The latest economic recession, however, caused a remarkable decrease in all three (Changes in GDP, Final energy consumption and electricity consumption 1995–2009).
Transport is also a driving force behind the emissions to air, thus affecting air pollution and air quality. The vehicle mileage has been increasing steadily (Finland State of environment 2008, p 12, Finnish Road Statistics 2009, p 14-16). The amount of emissions has, however, decreased in many cases. Carbon dioxide and another greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide N2O are exceptions in this respect. The CO2 emissions have been steadily increasing which is estimated to continue. The N2O emissions have also been increasing but it is expected that the emissions will start to decrease around 2009-2010.
LIPASTO is a calculation system for traffic exhaust emissions and energy consumption in Finland (LIPASTO). The main page of LIPASTO gives access to the information also by transport mode.
The 2020 outlook
The estimates for the greenhouse gas emissions are presented under the theme ‘Climate change mitigation’.
The projected emission values for sulphur dioxides, nitrogen oxides, ammonia and NMVOC emissions (2010, 2020, and 2050) as well as for PM10 and PM2.5 (2020, 2050) are presented in the Informative Inventory Report to the Secretariat of the UNECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (Table 3.1a, p. 53). It is expected that the emissions of these pollutants will be lower in 2020 than in 2007 and still lower in 2050.
Existing and planned responses
In general, Finland’s air pollution control policies aim to maintain high air quality in order to preserve healthy and pleasant residential environments and viable natural ecosystems (Air pollution control). It seems that the traditional gaseous emissions are not the main problem in the future, but the (fine) particles will remain a concern. The different factors connected to the climate change will affect the air quality. How climate change will affect the air pollution situation is being studied.
Many of the national policies and activities strive to reduce emissions of air pollutants and thus indirectly affect air quality. Finland's national Air Pollution Control Programme 2010 transposes the National Emission Ceilings Directive (Finland's National Air Pollution Control Programme 2010)
National Climate and Energy Strategy (Long-Term Climate and Energy Strategy, Strategy 2008) presents new climate and energy policy measures aiming, e.g., to stop or limit the increase in the final energy consumption and electricity consumption. This is closely connected to climate change mitigation.
Transport is one of the driving forces having a direct effect on air quality. In Finland, no road-user charging systems or congestion charges are in use. Different solutions have been studied, however, and a recent study examined different methods and their impacts in the Helsinki region (Study on introduction of congestion charges). The wintertime sanding of streets and roads to avoid skidding is one of the reasons for elevated particulate concentrations in spring in urban areas. The municipalities keep on developing more effective methods to collect the sand and clean the streets to curb the negative effects of the sanding.
The Helsinki Metropolitan area has a new transport system plan that extends to 2030 (Helsinki Metropolitan Area Transport System Plan 2007). Regarding air pollution, the plan sets two targets: health hazards caused by emissions as well as CO2 emissions per inhabitant must remain at current level.
The first national transport policy with an integrated environmental aspect was prepared in the beginning of the 1990s. From an air pollution point of view, both the existing transport policy (Liikenteen toimintalinjat ympäristökysymyksissä vuoteen 2010) and the proposal for a new Finnish transport policy framework (Transport 2030) address the quality of the local environment and climate change.