Urban air quality

Page Last modified 18 Dec 2019
3 min read
Air pollution affects all areas of the world, with the population in urban areas particularly exposed to high concentrations of small particulate matter (PM2.5). Exposure to these concentrations can lead to major health problems.

According to the European Environment Agency’s 2019 Air Quality Report, cities regularly exceed the European air quality standards for PM2.5 levels prescribed by the Air Quality Directives and by the Air Quality Guidelines  recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Key messages:

  • A total of 8 % of the EU-28 urban population are exposed to PM2.5 concentrations that exceed the EU limit value. Moreover, 77 % of the EU-28 urban population is exposed to PM2.5 concentrations above the WHO Air Quality Guidelines value.
  • The European cities with the highest levels of PM2.5 air pollution are in Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, Poland, Croatia and Czechia.
  • PM2.5 is mostly generated through the combustion of fossil fuels and by agricultural activities.


PM2.5 concentrations are partly created by chemical reactions involving NOx emissions. It is estimated that, in 2017, about 8 % of the EU-28 urban population were exposed to concentrations that exceeded the EU annual average limit value (25 µg/m3) and 77% were exposed to concentrations that exceeded the equivalent and more stringent WHO Air Quality Guidelines (10 µg/m3).

Figure 1. Annual mean concentrations of PM 2.5 in some cities of EEA‑33 countries in 2017 (average of (sub)urban background stations

Annual mean concentrations of PM 2.5  in some cities of EEA‑33 countries in 2017

 Source: Air quality in Europe 2019

In the EEA’s 2019 Annual Air Quality Report, the information provided on urban air pollution is based on the average of the urban and suburban background concentrations of PM2.5 measured. Initially, stations in the EEA air-quality database are spatially joined with Urban Audit greater cities in a geographical information system, in order to select those monitoring stations that fall within the boundaries of the cities included in the Urban Audit collection. The analysis is based on annual statistics of the 2017 measurement data reported by EEA Member countries in 2019 and stored in the EEA Air Quality e-reporting database.

The above Figure 1 shows the level of air pollution in terms of the concentrations of PM2.5 in the most polluted, least polluted and most populated cities. Data are given for each country, as well as the average concentration for all cities in each country. For each city, all the urban and suburban background stations for which more than 75 % of data are valid for the relevant pollutant have been considered. Countries are ranked by the average increasing value of the cities. The figure in brackets after the country indicates the number of cities considered.


Geographic coverage

Temporal coverage


Filed under:
Filed under:
Document Actions