Air

Air pollution: PM levels continue to exceed EU limit in large parts of Europe

About 63 per cent of the total EU ecosystem area was at risk of eutrophication due to excessive atmospheric nitrogen

 
By DTE Staff
Last Updated: Thursday 24 November 2016
While reduced emissions have improved air quality in Europe, a large chunk of population and ecosystem is still exposed to air pollution. Credit: David Holt / Flicker
While reduced emissions have improved air quality in Europe, a large chunk of population and ecosystem is still exposed to air pollution. Credit: David Holt / Flicker While reduced emissions have improved air quality in Europe, a large chunk of population and ecosystem is still exposed to air pollution. Credit: David Holt / Flicker

Concentrations of particulate matter (PM) continued to exceed the EU limit in large parts of Europe in 2014. It is one of the observations made in the 'Air quality in Europe' report 2016 published by the European Environment Agency (EEA). It makes an assessment of Europe's air pollutant emissions, concentrations and their associated impacts on health and the environment.

This analysis of air quality in Europe from 2000 to 2014 is based on ambient air measurements and data on anthropogenic emissions and their trends. Up to 42 European countries, including European Union (EU) Member States (EU-28) and other EEA member countries (EEA-33), were covered in this report.

While reduced emissions have improved air quality in Europe, a large chunk of European population and ecosystem is still exposed to air pollution that exceeds European standards, especially World Health Organization (WHO) Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs).

Exposure to PM, SO2, NO2

  • Particulate matter (PM) concentrations continued to exceed the EU limit in large parts of Europe in 2014.
  • For PM10 (with a diameter of 10 μm or less), concentrations above the EU daily limit value were witnessed in 21 of the 28 EU member states.
  • About 16 per cent of urban population in the EU was exposed to PM10 levels above the daily limit value and approximately 50 per cent was exposed to PM10 concentrations higher than the WHO AQG value in 2014.
  • For PM2.5 (with a diameter of 2.5 μm or less), concentrations above the safety limit were registered in four EU member states.
  • Regarding PM2.5, eight per cent of the urban population in the EU was exposed to PM2.5 levels above the EU limit. Moreover, about 85 per cent was exposed to PM2.5 levels higher than the WHO AQG value in 2014.
  • The annual limit for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels exceeded across Europe in 2014 with seven per cent of the EU urban population exposed to NO2 levels higher than the annual EU limit in 2014.

PM2.5 concentration in the EU: sector-wise distribution in 2014. Credit: EEA

  • However, 38 per cent of the EU urban population was exposed to sulphur dioxide (SO2) levels exceeding the WHO AQG in 2014.
  • In 2014, 16 of the 28 EU Member States registered ozone (O3) concentrations above the EU limit.

Sources of air pollution

While suspended dust and volcanic ash are natural reasons for high PM concentration, anthropogenic reasons like fuel combustion in thermal power generation and vehicles, waste incineration and domestic heating are also attributed for high level of PM. The same combustion of fuel in power generation and for other commercial purposes is a major source of nitrogen oxide (NOX) emission. According to the report, the NOX emissions from road transport have not decreased enough to meet air-quality standards in many urban areas.

The major sources of GHG emissions are combustion processes in fossil-fuelled vehicles. Credit: EEA

The SO2 emissions are attributed to stationary power generation and commercial, institutional and household fuel combustion, with volcanoes considered the biggest natural source. Carbon monoxide (CO) and benzene (C6H6) are emitted as a result of the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. Ammonia (NH3) emissions from agriculture also remain high. In fact, agriculture sector remains the highest emitter of NH3 and of CH4 and was responsible for 94 per cent and 52 per cent of total NH3 and CH4 emissions in the EU in 2014.

Impact on health and ecosystem

  • High O3 concentrations accumulated over the growing season (May to July) impair plants' reproduction ability, leading to reduced crop yields, decreased forest cover and reduced biodiversity.
  • According to the EEA estimate, 63 per cent of the total EU ecosystem area was at risk of eutrophication in 2010 due to excessive atmospheric nitrogen in continental Europe, Ireland and southern areas of the UK and Sweden.
  • Soil and surface water acidification continue to remain an issue in the UK, Nordic countries and central Europe.
  • In the EU, premature deaths attributed to PM2.5, NO2 and O3 exposure are 436,000, 68,000 and 16 000, respectively in 2013
  • For PM2.5, the highest numbers of Years of life lost (YLL) are estimated for Germany, Italy, France and the UK.
  • The largest health impacts of NO2 exposure are seen in Italy, the UK, Germany and France. The highest rates of YLL per 100 000 inhabitants are found in Italy, Belgium, the UK and Serbia.

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