Air pollution is the number one environmental threat to health in the European region and globally, leading to 400,000 premature deaths and hundreds of billions of euros in health costs in the EU each year. There is a large body of evidence on how air pollution harms health. Poor air quality is a leading risk factor for chronic disease including heart and lung diseases or cancer. In the past years, studies have especially pointed to children being particularly at risk of harm by polluted air, given that their heart, brain and nervous systems are still developing. Their health can already be affected before birth, with lifelong consequences.
The EU Ambient Air Quality Directive is the cornerstone of the EU’s clean air policies, setting standards for air quality to protect people’s health. The Commission Staff Working Document on the Fitness Check of the Ambient Air Quality Directives, published today, makes it abundantly clear that it is necessary and beneficial to have European air quality standards. At the same time, the assessment points out that standards need to be implemented and applied rigorously, and that the current standards are not fully based on the latest science and World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations.
“Health groups welcome the EU Commission’s conclusions which demonstrate that the legally enforceable air quality standards are a key instrument to protect the health of Europeans,’‘ states Anne Stauffer, Director for Strategy and Campaigns. “The new EU Commission should not waste any time in tackling the unacceptably high health burden from air pollution in Europe through legislative proposals. This includes putting forward a strong and ambitious Zero Pollution Strategy as part of the Green Deal, as well as presenting a timeline for the updating of the current standards to WHO’s health-based recommendations. Every day of delay means people continue to suffer.”