Every breath we take – air quality in Europe

Photo: Toni Blay/flickr.com/CC BY-NC-ND

In the 2013 edition of their Signals report, the European Environment Agency (EEA) takes a closer look at air quality. “Signals 2013 – Every breath we take” consists of short and accessible articles covering a wide range of aspects related to air quality. They include, among others, the state of Europe’s air today, main information sources, links between climate change and air, the way different pollutants can form in the atmosphere, and a short overview of the European legislation affecting air quality. The 2013 edition is prepared in the context of the European Year of Air, when EU policy makers are planning to revisit air quality laws.

It was launched in Ireland at the Air Science Policy Forum, an event organised on 15 April by the Irish Environmental Protection Agency and Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, as part of the Irish Presidency of the European Union.

While air quality in Europe has improved greatly in recent decades, air pollution is still a problem with severe impacts. Air pollution can trigger and aggravate respiratory diseases; it can damage forests, acidify soils and waters, reduce crop yields and corrode buildings. 

In particular, pollution from particulate matter (PM) and pollution from ozone pose serious health risks to European citizens. Almost one-third of Europe’s city dwellers are still exposed to concentrations of airborne PM that exceed the EU limit values. Even worse, more than 90 per cent of the urban population is exposed to levels of PM and ozone in excess of the World Health Organization’s recommended guidelines. Air pollution is also found to reduce the life expectancy of the average city dweller by eight months in Europe, or up to two years in some areas.

Emissions from car exhausts in urban areas; forest fires; ammonia emitted by agriculture; coal-fired power plants across the planet; and even volcano eruptions affect the quality of the air we breathe. In some cases, the pollutant sources are located thousands of kilometres away from where the damage occurs. Moreover, many air pollutants contribute to climate change and climate change itself is going to affect air quality in the future.

The Signals report will be made available in 26 European languages as an e-book and PDF. It will also be available in print in some languages.

For more information and to download the report, go to: http://www.eea.europa.eu/


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