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Air quality - taking care of the air we breathe

Air pollution – including fine particle emissions – represents a major risk to public health. With the European Commission conducting a major policy review in this area in 2013, reducing air pollution and improving the overall quality of ambient air is a key challenge to which the EU and Europeans are actively responding.  In addition, the European Commission is conducting a survey to determine citizens’ views on the direction the air quality review should take (open until 4 March 2013).


According to the latest research, a majority (56 %) of Europeans believe that air quality has deteriorated in Europe in the past 10 years. In Italy, as many as 81 % hold this view, and in Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary, Romania and Spain, 70-75 % of survey participants believe that this is the case. Almost four out of five participants (79 %) now believe that the EU should propose additional measures to address air pollution.


From respiratory infections to allergies, disease and even lung cancer, the potential health issues are far from trivial. Air pollution is responsible for around 420 000 premature deaths per year and can reduce life expectancy by around eight months. Moreover, according to the head of the European Environment Agency (EEA), the economic cost of poor air quality amounts to a staggering EUR 630 billion in healthcare and EUR 169 billion in lost productivity.


The Netherlands and Italy are two examples of EU Member States working intensively to tackle this pressing issue. In an 11 minute Video News Release (VNR), cutting-edge projects offering promising solutions to some of the main causes of air pollution are presented.


The Italian section centres on transport-related pollution in Milan – a city where car ownership rates are among the world’s highest – and innovative solutions such as the city’s road user charging system (which has reduced the number of vehicles used in the city by 50 000) and the 130+ petrol stations now supplying alternative fuels to consumers.


The Dutch focus of the VNR is on the country’s huge agricultural sector and provides insight into inventive ways of reducing the agricultural sector’s emissions such as air washers (which decrease the level of ammonia emissions by around 85 %) and manure pans (which collect and separate manure).


A B-Roll will also accompany the release of the VNR.



Note for editors

EU legislation aims to 'achieve levels of air quality that do not result in unacceptable impacts on, and risks to, human health and the environment.’


The European Commission’s Directorate-General for the Environment is currently conducting a policy review that will be finalised before the end of 2013 with a package including a new thematic strategy on air pollution and a policy proposal. At the same time, European Commissioner for the Environment, Janez Potočnik, has designated 2013 the ‘Year of Air’. 


Air quality is one of the policy areas in which the European Union has been most active. Since the 1970’s the EU has been working intensively to improve air quality by controlling emissions of harmful substances such as sulphur dioxide, lead, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, ammonia, and benzene into the atmosphere. The European Environment Agency’s Air Quality Report (2011) points clearly to the successes of the EU approach over the last 20 years, however the issue remains a major concern for most European citizens as many EU Member States still do not fully comply with one or more pollutant-specific ceilings.


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