Over 90% of European citizens breathe air that does not meet European standards — EEA

by European Environment Agency (EEA)

European Environment Agency (EEA) report
The Air quality in Europe – 2013 report, is the European Environment Agency (EEA) contribution to the European Commission’s review of air quality policy and the EU ‘Year of Air’. Image © iStockphoto

Around 90% of city dwellers in the European Union (EU) are exposed to one of the most damaging air pollutants at levels deemed harmful to health by the World Health Organisation (WHO). This result comes from the latest assessment of air quality in Europe, published by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

“Large parts of the population do not live in a healthy environment, according to current standards. To get on to a sustainable path, Europe will have to be ambitious and go beyond current legislation.” — Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director

The report, Air quality in Europe – 2013 report, is an EEA contribution to the European Commission’s review of air quality policy and the EU ‘Year of Air‘.

Vehicles, industry, agriculture and homes are contributing to air pollution in Europe. Despite falling emission levels and reductions of some air pollutant concentrations in recent decades, the report demonstrates that Europe’s air pollution problem is far from solved. Two specific pollutants, particulate matter and ground-level ozone, continue to be a source breathing problems, cardiovascular disease and shortened lives. New scientific findings show that human health can be harmed by lower concentrations of air pollution than previously thought.

Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director, said: “Air pollution is causing damage to human health and ecosystems. Large parts of the population do not live in a healthy environment, according to current standards. To get on to a sustainable path, Europe will have to be ambitious and go beyond current legislation.”

Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik added: “Air quality is a central concern for many people. Surveys show that a large majority of citizens understand well the impact of air quality on health and are asking public authorities to take action at EU, national and local levels, even in times of austerity and hardship. I am ready to respond to these concerns through the Commission’s upcoming Air Policy Review.”

Between 2009 and 2011, up to 96% of city dwellers were exposed to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations above WHO guidelines and up to 98% were exposed to ozone (O3) levels above WHO guidelines. Lower proportions of EU citizens were exposed to levels of these pollutants exceeding the limits or targets set out in EU legislation. These EU limits or targets are in certain cases less strict than WHO guidelines. See EEA data on EU exposure in 2011.

It is not just cities – some rural areas also have significant levels of air pollution, the report notes. National differences across Europe are presented in a series of country fact-sheets accompanying the main findings.

There have been several success stories in cutting emissions of air pollutants – for example sulphur dioxide emissions from power plants, industry and transport have been reduced over the last decade, reducing exposure. Phasing out leaded petrol has also reduced concentrations of lead, found to affect neurological development.


Alongside health concerns, the report also highlights environmental problems such as eutrophication, which is when excessive nutrient nitrogen damages ecosystems, threatening biodiversity. Eutrophication is still a widespread problem that affects most European ecosystems.

Emissions of some nitrogen-containing pollutants have decreased, for example emissions of nitrogen oxides and ammonia have fallen by 27% and 7% respectively since 2002. However, emissions were not reduced as much as anticipated, with eight EU Member States breaching legal ceilings a year after the deadline for compliance. To address eutrophication, further measures are needed to reduce emissions of nitrogen.

Related Articles:


Over 90% of people in Europe’s cities breathe dangerous air – study

Bicycle-Sharing Systems: Pedal your way to Better Health

by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Honk your horn, if you want better health!

BIXI bike sharing systems are found in many cities. Image courtesy of: BIXI

We all want to feel healthier, and many people these days want to do their part to lower their personal carbon footprint.

One way to accomplish both at the same time is to ride a bike anytime you can. It is so obviously, a good thing to do. But when you’re traveling, it can be difficult to lug your bike around so that you can take your daily ride around Naples, Barcelona, Miami Beach, or other warm and sunny place.

It may surprise you to know how many bikes are available to rent at low cost from so-called Bicycle Sharing Systems (BSS) in many of the world’s cities.

The total number of bikes available from the various BSS’s  around the world at the end of 2011, was 236,000 bicycles. That’s right, from 5 European-only operations with less than 100 bicycles ten years ago — to over 375 BSS’s worldwide, with 236,000 bikes in almost every country as of Dec 31st, 2011, BSS is a textbook definition of high growth!

Launched in 2008, the Hangzhou Public Bicycle programme in China is the largest bicycle sharing system in the world, with around 61,000 bicycles and over 2,400 stations; the Vélib’ in Paris, which encompasses 20,000 bicycles and 1,450 bicycle stations is the largest outside of China. Other countries with systems are Spain (100+), Italy (80), and Germany (50). – Wikipedia

According to the Bike-sharing World Map info — just the cities and towns beginning with the letter “A” boast some 5000 bikes which are available only by coin deposit and high-tech (pre-paid passcard or credit card) but the numbers may be even higher, as accurate record-keeping is difficult to maintain with high rates of growth.

Vélib bike sharing system
One of the first bike share systems, Vélib is also the most successful. It also maintains an excellent bike sharing blog. Image courtesy of Vélib

There are many compelling reasons to have a bike-sharing operation in your city or town. If you drive part-way to work in the city, many cities have convenient and low cost parking areas for your car which is where you pick up a bike. Done with your bike? Just pull out your smartphone, it will display a drop-off point close to you.

Does your city have a bike-sharing program or low cost bike-rentals? If it doesn’t, ask why not.

Solar powered bike-docking stations are popping up across New York City in preparation for the launch of the United States’ largest bike-sharing program, CitiBike.

The initial roll-out of the program will include 300 stations and 5,500 bikes.

A few years ago, the city’s department of transportation (otherwise known as NYC Dot) started replacing single-space parking meters with bike parking. Now, many more parking spaces will be converted into CitiBike hubs. – Meribeth Deen

Cities like Washington, D.C., can’t install bike stations fast enough to keep up with the demand — even with their time-weighted pricing schedule. The D.C. program has been called a victim of it’s own success.

  • From a government perspective, having healthier citizens will help to lower total health infrastructure expenditures and overall health care costs, while cleaner air and less traffic congestion in downtown or tourist areas can improve access, lower infrastructure costs and improve the visitor experience — meaning visitors might stay longer and spend more money.
  • For daily commuters or for tourists from outside the immediate area, adding the option of affordable bikes, means lower gasoline and parking costs. It adds convenience, health and enjoyment to their visit.

So, the next time you are planning to run errands downtown in the car (and trying to find parking spots) or if you are enjoying a weekend at the beach, ask yourself this;

Would my life be more enjoyable and would I spend less money on parking fees and gasoline, if I simply rented a bike?

Of course it would. Enjoy getting that extra sunshine. It will do you a world of good!