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Joint position paper: NGO priorities for the review of the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution

This joint position paper gathers the views of 60 environmental, health and citizens’ NGOs from across the EU which came together to submit their input to the European Commission’s consultation on the review of the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution. These NGOs, including HEAL outline their three priorities for which they would like to see legislative action in 2013.


Air pollution remains a major environmental and health problem across the EU. High concentrations of particulate matter (PM) and ozone are most harmful to human health. In urban areas, between 80 and 97% of the population is exposed to levels of pollution which are above the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidelines for health protection. This results in nearly half a million premature deaths in the EU each year, increased hospital admissions, extra expenditure on medication, and millions of lost working days.

Air pollution has a major impact on Member States’ finances. In the year 2000 alone, the health damage from air pollution amounted to between €277 and €790 billion. This ‘only’ covers health costs, not all other damages, for instance to ecosystems, crops and materials. Air pollution damages nature and biodiversity with the deposition of acidifying and eutrophying substances still exceeding the critical loads of sensitive ecosystems over large areas in Europe.

In January 2013, the WHO concluded that since 2005 considerable amounts of new scientific evidence has been published that more than confirms the WHO Air Quality Guidelines. Worse, new evidence shows that damaging effects can occur at levels lower than the 2005 Guidelines. The range of health impacts also appears to be much broader than previously thought, with new evidence of links with neurodevelopmental and cognitive function effects as well as with diabetes.

Despite the fact that evidence concerning the harmful impacts of air pollution has continued to pile up, the recent history of the EU’s air pollution policy has been characterized by several delays and missed opportunities, including the introduction of time extensions into the Air Quality Directive in 2008 and repeated postponements of the revision of the National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive.

During the 2013 “Year of Air”, the EU has a chance to make things right. A package of proposals is expected to be published by the European Commission around September. Below, we highlight three priority actions which, combined, could put the EU on the right track towards the achievement of “levels of air quality that do not give rise to significant negative impacts on and risks to human health and the environment”.

These are:

1. The adoption of ambitious emission reduction commitments in the revised NEC Directive, both for existing and ‘new’ pollutants;
2. The adoption of sector legislation to cut emissions from all major sources;
3. The enforcement and strengthening of ambient air quality limit values.

We call upon the three EU institutions to come up with an agreement on all three priority actions and to start working towards this objective as early as possible in 2013.

View the full position paper here

For more information, please contact Anne Stauffer, HEAL is one of the NGO representatives participating in the TSAP Review Stakeholder Expert Group, and within the HEAL’s network, many members work on this issue.

The following HEAL member organisations signed the joint letter:

European Respiratory Society (ERS), European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients Associations (EFA), The Cancer Prevention and Education Society, European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), International Network for Children’s Health, Environment and Safety (INCHES), Clean Air Action Group, Hungary, Comité pour le Développement Durable en Santé (C2DS), France, Eco Baby Foundation, Netherlands, Foundation Vivo Sano, Spain, Irish Doctors Environmental Association (IDEA), Ireland, and Réseau Environnement Santé (RES), France, Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF)

Last updated on 22 March 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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