More than half of European cities still suffer from polluted air, report finds | Air pollution

More than half of European cities are still plagued by polluted air, new data showdespite a reduction in traffic emissions and other pollutants during last year lockdowns.

Cities in Eastern Europe, where coal is still a major source of energy, were the worst off, with Nowy Sącz in Poland having the most polluted air, followed by Cremona in Italy where industry and geography tend to concentrate air pollution, and Slavonski Brod in Croatia.

The three cleanest cities were Umeå in Sweden, Tampere in Finland and Funchal in Portugal.

The European Environment Agency (EEA) collected data from 323 cities in 2019 and 2020 and found that in only 127 of them, or around 40%, levels of fine particles known as PM 2.5 were below the limits recommended by the World Health Organization. Fine particles have the greatest impact on the health of the main sources of air pollution and causes more than 400,000 premature deaths a year across Europe.

The data showed the average over the two years and was only available for cities where consistent reporting was available, so not all European cities were covered. The UK was excluded as the government chose not to be a member of the environmental watchdog, although other non-EU states such as Turkey, Switzerland and Norway are members.

The EEA said the lockdown measures had led to big reductions in levels of nitrogen dioxide, an irritant gas associated with diesel engine emissions, but particulate levels remained high. Nitrogen dioxide levels have fallen by more than 60% in some cities across the April 2020 lockdownsbut decreases in particulate levels have been less dramatic, with drops of around 20% to 30% recorded in levels of large particulate matter (PM10) last April.

Agency experts said this was because there were many more sources of particulate matter than just road traffic, including the burning of fuel for heating, for example in wood-fired boilers, and in industry, as well as in agriculture, because emissions of ammonia from fertilizers and animal manure combine with other pollutants in the atmosphere to form particles.

Catherine Ganzleben, head of the EEA’s group on air pollution, environment and health, said behavioral changes spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic could have an impact in the future. “If people go back to their daily commutes, or if they choose to work from home instead, it will disrupt those pollution patterns,” she said.

The new air pollution data will be available via a web viewer which will allow people to compare their cities with others across Europe.

Hans Bruyninckx, Executive Director of the EEA, said: “While air quality has improved markedly in recent years, air pollution remains stubbornly high in many cities across Europe. This city air quality viewer allows citizens to see for themselves in an easy-to-use way how their city is doing compared to others when it comes to air pollution. It provides concrete, local information that can hold citizens accountable to their local authorities to solve problems. »

The map in this article was modified on June 17, 2021 to correctly identify the locations of Brescia and Vicenza.

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