Context - Air quality remains an important issue for public health, the economy and the environment. Exposure to air pollution is largely a multi-pollutant process and poor air quality has a significant impact on health, as it contributes to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. European policies of air quality have had considerable success in the past in reducing air pollution.
Latest update: 15 May 2014
This report presents an overview and analysis of air quality in Europe, from
around 2002 to 2011. Air quality remains an important issue for public
health, the economy and the
environment. Exposure to air pollution is largely a multi-pollutant process and
poor air quality has a significant impact on health, as it contributes to
cardiovascular diseases. It has an
impact on the economy through medical costs and lost productivity, and it has an
impact on the environment as well, affecting directly the health of the
ecosystems, or through impact on
the quality of water and soil. European policies of air quality have had
considerable success in the past in reducing air pollution.
What are the main effects of air pollution?
The strongest effects of poor air quality have been felt first in urban areas,
where they cause health problems, and
second in ecosystems, where air pollution
impairs vegetation growth and where
eutrophication due to air pollution has led
to biodiversity loss.
What are the sources of air pollution?
Almost economic and societal activities produce air pollutants in one form or
another. Policies implemented at the European, national and sectorial level have
over time resulted in decreased emissions of many air pollutants and have led to
acceptable air quality levels across Europe for some pollutants, e.g.
carbon monoxide (CO) and lead (Pb).
Nevertheless, road transport, industry, power plants, households and
agricultural activities continue to emit significant amounts of air pollution.
Biomass (from agriculture and
forestry or coal) combustion has become a more important source of air
pollution. This is because wood burning is often relatively cheap, and is
thought to be an environmentally friendly source of energy since it is renewable
How is air pollution regulated in Europe?
There are emission regulations on several pollutants by sector. There are
emission standards for the transport sector, for instance, and directives for
industrial emissions. There are also regulatory limits to the concentration in
the air of harmful pollutants. These are legally binding, and have helped reduce
the concentration of key pollutants in the air.
Emissions of the main air pollutants in Europe have declined in the period
2002–2011. This resulted in improved air quality across the region — at least
with respect to certain pollutants. However, a significant proportion of
Europe's population lives in cities, where air quality standards are still
exceeded regularly. Particulate matter (PM)
and ozone (O3) pollution are
associated with serious health risks, and
exposure to high levels of organic
pollutants, in particular polycyclic aromatic
hydrocarbons (PAHs) is a growing health concern in Europe.
The long-term EU objective: 'to achieve levels of air quality that do not
result in unacceptable impacts on, and risks to,
human health and the environment' is
still far from being achieved. European citizens often breathe air that does not
meet the European regulatory standards. The current pollution levels clearly
impact on large parts of the urban population.
See also our digests on Ozone, Particulate Matter, Nitrogen Dioxide
This is a summary of the EEA report "Air quality in Europe - 2013 report "