Transport remains main source of health-damaging pollutants

News Published 14 Jul 2008 Last modified 21 Jun 2016
2 min read
A report launched today by the European Environment Agency shows that road transport remains the single main source of nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO) and non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), and the second-most important source of fine particulate emissions (PM10 and PM2.5) in the EU-27. This report contains essential data that helps understand the evolution of air pollutant emissions since 1990.

The report acknowledges that most EU-27 countries have reduced their emissions of air pollutants over the past decades. However, other studies show that pollution continues to undermine local air quality, particularly in urban areas. The report identifies road transport, manufacturing industries and construction, the residential sector and agriculture as the main sources of air pollution in Europe today.

Exposure to air pollutants may damage health in the short and long term, affect natural ecosystems, and corrode buildings and materials. Particulate matter from sources such as vehicle exhausts and residential heating can affect the lungs and harm people of all ages, but it is known to pose an extra risk to those with existing heart and respiratory problems. Air pollutants are also responsible for the acidification of forests and water ecosystems, and eutrophication of soils and waters — leading to limited supply of oxygen in rivers and lakes.

Between 1990 and 2006, nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions decreased by 35 %, although the change of total NOx emissions between 2005 and 2006 was small, with a decrease of just 1.8 %, due to reductions that occurred in Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. Nitrogen oxides are one of the main contributors to the formation of ground-level ozone, high levels of which can trigger severe respiratory problems. It also makes an important contribution to acidification and eutrophication.

Electricity and heat production (e.g. at power stations) constitutes the main source of sulphur oxides (SOx) emissions (58.4 %), followed by manufacturing industries and construction sources (14.3 %). SOx is an acidifying pollutant which can also aggravate respiratory diseases.

In contrast, agricultural activities are responsible for the vast majority of ammonia (NH3) emissions in EU-27. NH3 is an important pollutant which causes acidification and eutrophication. Livestock manure, together with emissions from the application of fertilisers account for more than 90 % of the NH3 generation.

Each year, the European Environment Agency assists the European Commission by preparing the European Community’s inventory report which is reported to the Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution Convention (LRTAP).

What is the LRTAP Convention?

Since 1979, the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution has addressed some of the major environmental problems of the member countries of the UN Economic Commission for Europe. The Convention has 51 Parties and aims to limit and, as far as possible, gradually reduce and prevent air pollution including long-range transboundary air pollution.

Which air pollutants are covered by the inventory?

Under the LRTAP Convention, Parties (including the European Community) are requested to report emissions data for a number of important air pollutants, including sulphur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), ammonia (NH3), carbon monoxide (CO), primary particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), heavy metals (HMs) and persistent organic pollutants (POPs).


EU-27: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.


Data in the report will be made available through the EEA’s Dataservice later in 2008. The data is also used in assessments performed by EEA, and will be used to update emission indicators from the EEA’s Core Set of Indicators.





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