Little progress made in tackling air pollution in Europe, research says

(The Guardian, 16 Oct 2019) European Environment Agency found levels of fine particulate matter stalled after decades of reductions.

Little progress has been made on tackling air quality in Europe, new research shows, despite public outcry in many countries and increasing awareness of the health impacts of pollution.

Levels of the dangerous fine particulate matter known as PM2.5, which can lodge deep in the lungs and pass into the bloodstream, appear to have reached a plateau across Europe, after more than a decade of gradual reductions. The results come from the European Environment Agency’s Air Quality in Europe 2019 report, published on Wednesday, which collates data taken from thousands of monitoring stations in 2017.

“We do not see any big improvement, or worsening, year on year,” said Alberto Gonzalez Ortiz, air quality expert at the EEA, Europe’s environmental watchdog. “It is PM2.5 that we should worry most about, and it is coming from domestic heating [such as wood-burning stoves], industry and transport.”

In 2016, the latest year for which an accurate count can be made, there were about 412,000 premature deaths in Europe from PM2.5 alone, according to the EEA. From 2014 to 2017, the levels of fine particulate matter remained broadly flat, after long-term reductions in levels of the pollutant stretching back to 2000.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels have fallen further, but remain a serious problem. Nitrogen dioxide is an irritant gas, emitted from diesel vehicles in particular. In 2017, according to the report, about 10% of monitoring stations in Europe showed levels above safety limits. In the UK, the monitoring station at Marylebone Road continued to record the highest level of nitrogen dioxide pollution in western Europe, despite falls in the overall concentrations of the gas.

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The Guardian, 16 Oct 2019: Little progress made in tackling air pollution in Europe, research says