The beginning of 2013 marks the start of the European Year of Air. At a high-level conference on the future of EU air policies in Europe ‘Blowing the Winds of Change into European Air Policy’, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) today called for tightening up EU air policies to protect human health and the environment.
A new Eurobarometer poll released today shows that air pollution is a key concern for EU citizens – 72% say that public authorities are not doing enough to promote good air quality and 87% think respiratory diseases are a serious problem. Poor air quality causes nearly half a million premature deaths in Europe each year  and is associated with high economic costs; hospital admissions, lost working days and damage to ecosystems.
Current EU standards  for ambient air quality are weaker than those recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) which are intended to minimize the health effects of air pollutants. For fine particles (PM2.5), which is one of the pollutants with the highest impact on people’s health, the maximum concentration allowed is 25 µg/m3, currently 2,5 times weaker than what the WHO recommends for this pollutant, and will only enter into force in 2015. In comparison, the US Environmental Protection Agency is this year proposing an annual limit of 12 µg/m3 for PM2.5 which is much more ambitious than the EU standards. Weak as they are, the EU standards, some of which were agreed more than 10 years ago, are still breached by most EU Member States.
Jeremy Wates, EEB Secretary General, said:
Air pollution emanates from sources all around us, be they cars, industrial plants, shipping, agriculture or waste. The EU must propose ambitious legislation to address all of these sources if it is to tackle the grave public health consequences of air pollution.