Air pollution still above agreed limits in many EU countries

Air pollution levels in EU

12 EU Member States have exceeded their air pollution limits. Air pollution is linked with respiratory illness and heart disease.

Air pollution from traffic, industry and households is still above internationally agreed limits in many European countries. According to recently released data, 12 EU states had pollution levels above the limits in 2010.

Under a National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) directive countries agreed to meet limits for four important pollutants. These were nitrogen oxides (NOX), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and ammonia (NH3). The compounds are known to cause health problems and damage to the environment. They are linked to respiratory problems in humans, acidifying water and soil and damaging vegetation.

Official data from 2010 was published in June this year. The key findings showed:

  • Nitrogen oxide limits were exceeded most often, with 12 EU member states breaching the agreed ceilings. These were Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden.
  • Emissions from road vehicles were a significant contributor (40 percent) to NOX levels in the EU. Over the past two decades levels have not been lowered as much as predicted. This is partly due transportation growing more than expected.
  • A lot of progress has been made tackling sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions. SO2 emissions were 40 percent below the recommended ceiling. No member states exceeded the ceiling for SO2.
  • Spain was the only member state which failed three out of four emission ceilings (NOX, SO2, NMVOC). Both Germany (NOX, NMVOC) and Finland (NOX, NH3) failed two.

“All these pollutants contribute to poor air quality, which damages people’s health and the environment,” EEA Executive Director Jacqueline McGlade said.

“We should also note that 2010 was a recession year in much of Europe. As emissions can rebound during periods of economic recovery, countries need to make positive efforts to limit any increase of emissions in the future.”