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Air quality in Europe continues to improve, but many areas remain unsafe due to pollution

15 days ago

2 minutes

Source: European Environmental Agency

Air quality in Europe has shown significant improvement over the recent decades; however, it remains a prominent environmental health concern both in Europe and globally. The latest analysis by the European Environment Agency (EEA) on air quality data from 2022 and 2023 reveals ongoing improvements in Europe’s air quality, yet many regions, particularly urban areas, still exceed recommended safety levels for pollution.

The EEA’s briefing ‘Europe’s Air Quality Status 2024‘ delves into the concentrations of key air pollutants across Europe in 2022 and 2023, comparing them against both EU air quality standards and World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. While 2022 data are finalized and validated, the 2023 analysis is based on provisional data.

Although Europe’s air quality is improving, the EEA’s analysis indicates that EU standards are still unmet in various parts of Europe. In 2022, only 2% of monitoring stations across Europe recorded fine particulate concentrations exceeding the EU annual limit value. However, nearly all Europeans (96%) who live in cities are exposed to levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) that are above WHO guideline levels.

Fine particulate matter is the primary air pollutant causing adverse health effects throughout Europe, originating predominantly from solid fuel use in domestic heating, industrial processes, and road transportation.

The EEA briefing underscores significant disparities between countries and regions, with central and eastern Europe exhibiting higher pollution levels. In 2022, only Iceland maintained fine particulate concentrations below WHO guideline levels, while three EU Member States—Croatia, Italy, and Poland—recorded concentrations surpassing EU limits.

Aligned with the European Green Deal, the zero pollution action plan aims to reduce premature deaths caused fine particulate matter by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 2005 levels, with a broader objective of eliminating significant health impacts by 2050. Recent EU institutional agreements seek to update ambient air quality directives, aiming to align EU standards more closely with WHO guidelines and advance the objectives of the zero pollution action plan.

The EEA’s briefing marks the initial analysis in the ‘Air Quality in Europe 2024’ series, with subsequent briefings planned on air pollutant emissions and the impacts of air pollution on ecosystems and human health, including estimates of associated deaths and illnesses.

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