Zero pollution Action plan – reducing the number of death cases caused by air pollution
June 18, 2022

Air pollution is considered as Europe’s environmental highest risk, causing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases leading to loss of labor force due to illness and in most severe cases to premature death.

European Environmental Agency’s (EEA) study, presents the level of pollutant concentration in ambient air in 2020 and 2021 by pollutant and in relation to the air quality standards, compared to the EU’s Air quality standards and WHO’s guidelines, updated in 2021. The study shows that cases of breaching air quality standards is quite common in EU, reaching concentrations way above latest WHO’s recommendations. Still, imposed anti Covid-19 measures in 2020 had contributed in reducing air pollution from air and land transport thus influencing temporary improvement of air quality.

Key messages

In 2020 NO2 concentrations were temporary lower as a result to the reduced level of land transport during Covid-19. Major cities in France, Italy and Spain recorded reduced average annual level NO2 pollution by 25% during first lock-down in April 2020, while NO2 concentrations measured by the road stations were lower by 70%. 

Despite reduced pollution level and overall improvement of air quality, air pollution still remains Europeans’ main concern 

Central and East Europe and Italy reported on highest concentrations of benzo[a]pyrene (cancer-causing agent) particulate, mainly due to use of solid fuels on household level and their extended for industrial purposes.  

The Ozone concentration was lower with respect to the previous years, but still having high levels in Central Europe and some Mediterranean countries. 

In EU, 96% of the urban population was exposed to some level of particulate matter that are above the latest WHO recommendations.

The air quality status in Europe in 2022 is one of the series that EEA will publish as a part of the 2022 Europe Air quality report.

That study makes an estimate of air pollutant levels in European ambient air and makes a comparison with EU set standards, as are adopted in the Directives on ambient air quality and the global recommendations on air quality by the WHO of 2021. The use of the Directives for the purpose of the analysis in 2020 is for their content is considered as most accurate framework for evaluation of air pollution over human health. EU standards on air quality are less strict in respect to all pollutants as compared with the WHO’s recommendations on air quality. 

According to the EU’s Green Agreement on Zero pollution Action plan, EU had set 2030 as a target for reducing the number of premature deaths  caused by particulate matter (PM 2,5 – key air pollutant) by no less than 55% as compared to the 2005 levels. in that manner, EU had launched revision of the Directives and their approximation with WHO’s recommendations on air quality. Accordingly, more strict regulations are provisioned, aiming to influence air pollution at source i.e., agriculture, industry, buildings and energy supply. 

After Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, most European countries had introduced quarantine measures aiming to prevent or minimize disease spreading. Those measures lead to reduced activities in land and air transport and international travels, that had severe impact in reducing air pollutant emissions. And while some industrial sectors had to reduce their activities as well, the level of agricultural activity had remained more or less stable. The household emissions for heating purposes record slight increase for people remained at home. The overall effect on the concentrations vary in accordance to the type of pollutant, having most significant summarized below.

Despite the decrease in emissions, large number of EU’s urban population in 2020 has been exposed to levels of key air pollutants that have harmful effect to human health. Especially, 96% of the urban population was exposed to level of PM concentrations (PM 2,5) above of WHO’s recommendations of 5 µg/m3.

This analysis highlights the pollutants considered as most harmful to human health or those one that whose concentration was most frequently above recommended levels. The measurement values originate from official monitoring stations, registered with EEA by its member-states.

Presented data were extracted from EEA’s reporting system on 24.03.2022.

The 2020 analysis is based on officially recognized data, reported by EU member-states. The 2021 analysis is based ion UTD, due to which can be subject of change once EEA applies fully confirmed data, recognized by all its member-states. Recognized data for 2021 will be available later this year.

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