Air quality affects people’s health. Parliament is fighting for stricter rules to regulate pollution. Poor air quality can cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer. But its devastating effects also extend to biodiversity, as it poisons crops and forests, causing significant economic losses. As part of the zero pollution ambition set out in the EU’s European Green Deal, the European Parliament has proposed setting stricter air quality standards by 2030 with targets for particulate pollutants.   

Air has been polluted for decades by nitrogen dioxide, ozone and particulate matter, with higher concentrations in populated urban areas. Particulate matter refers to tiny particles or droplets.  Being smaller than a hair, they can pass into the bloodstream through respiration. They can include organic chemicals, dust, soot and metals.

Chronic exposure can lead to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases that may be lethal to vulnerable people and can also lead to cancer. In 2020, exposure to particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns caused the premature death of at least 238,000 people in the EU, according to the European Environment Agency.

Nitrous dioxide is a chemical compound generated in engines, especially diesel engines. Exposure to it reduces resistance to infection and is associated with an increase in chronic respiratory diseases and premature ageing of the lungs. Nitrogen dioxide pollution caused 49,000 premature deaths in the EU in 2020.

In the short term, breathing ozone irritates the eyes, respiratory tract and mucous membranes. It is particularly dangerous for people suffering from asthma and can be fatal in the case of chronic respiratory and cardiovascular conditions. In 2020, 24,000 people lost their lives prematurely in the EU due to exposure. Although air pollution remains a problem, abatement policies have improved air quality in Europe over the last three decades. From 2005 to 2020, the number of premature deaths from exposure to particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns fell by 45% in the EU.   

According to an analysis by the European Environment agency, 59% of forests and 6% of agricultural land were exposed to harmful levels of ozone in Europe in 2020. Economic losses due to the impact on wheat yields amounted to about €1.4 billion in 35 European countries in 2019. The largest losses were recorded in France, Germany, Poland and Turkey.

Read more about the reduction of air pollution here.

Next steps

MEPs are expected to vote on the proposal in September 2023. Once the Council has adopted its position, Parliament will start negotiations with them on the final text of the law. MEPs propose that in addition to air quality plans, which are required when EU countries exceed the limits, all EU countries should create air quality roadmaps setting out short and long-term measures to meet the new limits.

Source: European Parliament