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As the Ambient Air Quality Directive revision negotiations are ramping up ahead of the final trilogue tomorrow (20 February) health experts from across the EU, including from Germany, Poland, Italy, France, Belgium and Spain, warn decision makers about the potential impacts of exemptions and delays. 

Ahead of the EU elections, the Belgian EU presidency and member states have a unique chance to ensure that the Ambient Air Quality Directive revision is science-based and ensures swift and lasting health protection for people everywhere in the EU. An ambitious Ambient Air Quality Directive is a crucial step to help lessen the vast health- and economic burden of air pollution.

Barbara Hoffmann, Professor of Environmental Epidemiology, University of Düsseldorf: 

It is crucial to lower air pollution concentrations in Germany as quickly as possible to save lives and money spent on health care, as our health care system in Germany is already bring overburdened. The European Commission shows that the benefits from improved health much outweigh the costs needed to clean up air. Delays in achieving air pollution concentrations as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) will lead to more unnecessary and avoidable asthma attacks in our children, and heart attacks, strokes, cases of new diabetes and even dementia. It is necessary to align European standards with scientific recommendations now.

Anja Behrens, Spokeswoman for the Clean Air Working Group, German Alliance for Climate Change and Health: 

With a broad alliance of the German Medical Association and many medical societies, the German Alliance on Climate Change and Health calls on the German government and Europe to take swift action for clean air. The current limit values for air pollutants are completely inadequate to protect our health and they hamper local measures for better air quality. We can no longer afford to postpone stricter limits – for health protection and to mitigate climate change.

Francesco Romizi, Public Affairs Manager, International Society of Doctors for Environment Italy:   

An ineffective alignment of air quality regulations with the WHO 2021 Guidelines would mean, once again, ignoring scientific evidence that would save premature deaths but also chronic diseases and disabilities which, according to available epidemiological data, are constantly increasing, notably in childhood. Not acting now would mean a constant and uncontrolled increase in already critical healthcare spending. Prolonging the pollution with exemptions will deprive decision makers of fundamental regulatory tools for disease prevention.

The delays proposed by member states are unacceptable for a country like Italy, as the country has been experiencing the painful lessons of the failure to prevent air pollution; condemning approximately 6 million Italians to live in conditions harmful to environment and health. Watering down clean air standards and not fully aligning with the 2021 WHO guidelines would place the entire Italian population at risk, which is especially concerning in light of the ageing population vulnerable to air pollution.

Prof. Michal Krzyzanowski, Visiting Professor, Environmental Research Group, King´s College London: 

Accumulated scientific evidence demonstrates that each reduction of exposure to air pollutants, especially to fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, is beneficial to health. Low ambition in setting air quality standards or delay in achieving the goals defined by WHO air quality guidelines indicate an acceptance of the measurable health costs.

Weronika Michalak, Director of HEAL Poland: 

Adding delays and exemptions to the Ambient Air Quality Directive would bring major, unacceptable consequences for people in Poland – one of the countries with the highest economic burden to health from air pollution in the EU. A ten-year delay in adapting to new standards would cause over 87 000 additional premature deaths in Poland between 2030-2040.  By establishing and executing a good law we could prevent each one of them. HEAL together with health organisations and experts calls on the Polish government to act urgently against air pollution, to avoid increasing existing health inequalities further. Ambitious air pollution limits will bring significant, both immediate and long-term health and economic benefits to the citizens of Poland!

Stan Malchev, Executive Board Member, Air4Health Association (Bulgaria):

We cannot afford compromises! Clean air and health are fundamental human rights, not privileges. Bulgaria leads the EU in mortality from cardiovascular and oncological diseases. Air pollution is a significant factor contributing to the scale of these diseases, therefore stricter air pollution standards are essential for the health of Bulgarian citizens. To be more specific: the cleanest possible air for the lowest possible mortality.

Tony Renucci, Director, Respire Association (France):

France must exemplify leadership for an ambitious directive on air quality, which will protect the health of thousands of individuals on our territory. We must concretise the ongoing efforts to finally achieve first victories in that area!

Irene Bernal, Advocacy and Research Manager, Salud por Derecho (Spain): 

In Spain, poor air quality in certain areas has caused nearly 25,000 deaths. Applying the WHO recommendations in the ambient air quality directive which is currently being negotiated would reduce the impact on mortality and improve the well-being of current and future generations. It is urgent to approve it before the next European elections and without any exceptions in its obligations for any member state. Dear European Commission, Parliament and Council, it is your hands to make a policy that benefits health.

The Ambient Air Quality Directive revision discussions tomorrow should heed the call of health groups across Europe to ensure an equal path for cleaner air in Europe.

Health groups have also sent letters to their national ministers, including from France, Belgium, Germany, Bulgaria, Italy, Poland and Spain.

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