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Air Pollution Exceeds International Health Standards for European Urbanites

There are many ways to harm your respiratory system such as smoking or breathing in asbestos. For urbanites living in cities across Europe, merely living and breathing in the city can be bad. A new study released by the European Environment Agency (EEA) found that most residents of European cities breathe toxic pollutants exceeding international health standards. The most deadly air within the EU is found in the eastern countries of Bulgaria and Romania, but there are few urban areas that escape unhealthy pollutants like ozone, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter. The published study is already being seized upon by environmental groups who demand much tougher EU standards.

The primary sources of urban air pollution in Europe is transport, energy, and agriculture. The executive director of the EEA, Jacqueline McGlade, blamed economic inefficiencies as well as the failure of many EU countries to meet their binding commitment of pollution reduction.

The report shows that almost one third of city dwellers were exposed to excessive levels of airborne particulate matter. Approximately 17 percent were also exposed to high levels of ozone, the pollutant responsible for producing smog. The report also shows seven percent of urbanites exposed to nitrogen dioxide above the EU recommended level.

The poor air quality in European cities can cause widespread effects on human and ecological health. There are some studies which claim that nearly 500,000 premature deaths are caused by breathing unhealthy air. The air pollution also damages plants and contributes to corrosion of buildings.

The EEA estimates the price tag for poor air quality at €630 ($815) billion for health care costs and an additional €169 ($218) billion in lost productivity.

The report shows that there is still work to do with some pollutants. However, it highlights the success of air quality regulations with certain pollutants such as sulfur oxides (SO2) and carbon monoxide (CO).

Levels of SO2, one of the more pernicious pollutants for human and environmental health, has been cut by 82 percent since 1990 thanks to the adoption of more efficient control technologies such as scrubbers.

Levels of CO fell by 62 percent, non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) fell by 56 percent, nitrogen oxides down by 47 percent, and ammonia by 28 percent.

While all pollutants have been cut in some way, poor ambient air quality still remains in the EU urban centers. This has led for environmental and health advocacy groups to call for stricter guidelines for air pollution to make the EU standards sync with World Health Organization standards.

Link to EEA Air Quality in Europe — 2012 Report

Article by David A. Gabel, appearing courtesy Environmental News Network.