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HEAL Policy Workshop on Air Quality

Next year will be the EU Year of Air during which the European Commission will review EU air policy. To inform civil society on the outlook and about new knowledge on the current status of air quality and related health impacts, HEAL held an air quality policy workshop during its Annual General Assembly in Brussels. The event brought together representatives of civil society organizations, scientists from several EU Member States as well as officials from the European Commission and European Environment Agency.

Currently, many EU Member States are not meeting EU air quality standards, which means that many citizens especially in the larger cities are exposed to dangerously high levels of pollution. Nor is the EU on track for meeting the 2020 air quality targets laid out in the 6th EU Environmental Action Programme, which aimed at achieving levels of air quality that do not give rise to significant negative impacts on human health and the environment.

As shown in the 10 Principles for clean air presented by the European Respiratory Society (ERS), even current EU standards do not confer protect public health. This makes closing the gap between current values of pollution and EU targets even more urgent.

Recent findings on air pollution in cities from the multi-country research project APHEKOM stress the importance of improving compliance. Air pollution from fine particulates currently costs up to 22 months of life expectancy for urban dwellers. In contrast, if WHO air quality guideline values for this pollutant were achieved in 25 cities, up to EUR 31.5 billion could be saved annually in health costs. The APHEKOM project also found a close relationship between living close to busy roads and both the development of asthma in children and respiratory and cardiovascular disease in older people. About 1,000 schools in London are built close to busy roads, according to the campaign Clean Air in London.

A real time monitoring of air quality in different streets in the EU quarter of Brussels by a team from the University of Utrecht (IRAS) made clear to workshop participants that busy streets can experience much higher levels of air pollution than other, quieter neighbouring roads. Examples of how well some cities have tackled air pollution from diesel vehicles were presented by the city ranking project Soot Free Cities, comparing measures implemented by 17 European cities. The top runners in the ranking were Berlin, Copenhagen and Stockholm.

These kinds of projects can be used by local authorities to adopt better measures to reduce air pollution and to help with compliance to EU air quality limit values for pollutants (EU Directive 2008/50/EC). Many cities could reduce large amounts of emissions of pollutants that pose a threat to health by addressing traffic. Traffic is the most important source of emissions of nitrogen dioxides (NO2), particulate matter (PM10) and carbon dioxides (CO2.), and the largest contributor to climate change.

Participants of the workshop also agreed that the 2013 EU Year of Air should be used to discuss as well how to improve indoor air quality, which is closely linked to outdoor air pollution.

Click here for more photographs of the air measuring event or the workshop.

Originally posted on 9 October 2012

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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