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EU Year of Air: strengthening EU legislation to reduce health impacts from air pollution

The 2013 EU Year of Air provides great opportunities to improve public health as the Commission gears up to review EU air legislation and put forward new proposals later this year. HEAL and other stakeholders discussed what needs to be done at an international conference organised by the European Commission (EC), World Health Organisation (WHO) and the US Health Effects Institute.

The aim of the 2013 EU Year of Air is to highlight the importance of clean air for all and to focus on actions to improve air quality across the European Union (EU). The Conference organised by the EC, WHO and US Health Effects Institute in Brussels, provided the opportunity for policy makers and experts to review the evidence base on health effects and discuss how to strengthen EU air policies.

As EU Commissioner for Environment Janez Potočnik has recognised the need for EU air policy to be based on the latest science, he commissioned the WHO to carry out a review of evidence on health aspects of air pollution. The so-called REVIHAAP project has developed evidence-based responses to questions on general aspects of the importance for air quality management, as well as specific topics of interest related to individual air pollutants. A Scientific Advisory Committee has guided the review conducted by a group of academic experts across the world.

The WHO review found new evidence of the effects of long-term exposures to ozone (O3) on respiratory mortality and on deaths among persons with predisposing chronic conditions. This adds to previous findings on short-term effects.

Over 80% of Europeans are exposed to particulate matter (PM) levels above the 2005 WHO Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs). On average, this deprives each citizen of 8.6 months of life. The report recommends further modifications to EU law, as the current limit value for PM2.5 in the EU’s ambient air quality directive is twice as high as the AQG recommendation.

These newly found health effects of air pollution call for stronger European Union air policies.

HEAL supports this call to action, as current EU air standards do not protect our health, and many member states have been unacceptably slow in implementing them. During the conference, HEAL also highlighted the need for greater integration of the air pollution issues into other EU policies, especially health, research and transport.

The conference also provided important opportunities to compare regulatory approaches in the US and the EU. The US Environmental Protection Agency has just tightened the PM2.5 standard to almost the level the WHO recommends, based on a review of the latest evidence.

More information on the Health Effects Institute here

WHO/Europe Press release 31/01/2013 - Newly found health effects of air pollution call for stronger European Union air policies

Last updated on 3 April 2013

About HEAL

The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is a leading European not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects health in the European Union (EU). We demonstrate how policy changes can help protect health and enhance people’s quality of life. Read more »


HEAL has over 70 member organisations, representing health professionals, not-for-profit health insurers, doctors, nurses, cancer and asthma groups, citizens, women’s groups, youth groups, environmental NGOs, scientists and public health institutes. Members include international and Europe-wide organisations, as well as national and local groups. Read more »

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