On December 18, the European Commission adopted the much expected EU air package. The review of the EU air strategy began in early 2011 and was expected to be published earlier this year, which was identified by the European Commissioner for Environment, Janez Potočnik, as the EU Year of Air. The constant delays in proposing the measures pushed several Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from across the political spectrum to urge the Commission to act helding up a giant inflatable pair of lungs outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg on December 10. Read more about the MEPs’ action here.
This autumn, the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified air pollution and particulate matter as carcinogenic to humans, following an earlier announcement classifying diesel exhausts also as carcinogenic. In October, the European Environment Agency (EEA) launched its yearly report on the status of the air quality in Europe, pointing out that as many as 3 out of 10 EU citizens living in cities are exposed to levels of air pollution that are above EU air quality standards; and that rises to 9 out of 10 citizens exposed to concentrations of levels above the WHO air quality guidelines (read here for more information). More recently, EEA published a report on black carbon in the air, which is particularly harmful as it represents a mixture of very fine, partly carcinogenic particles, small enough to enter the bloodstream and reach other organs.
In addition to the proliferation of studies showing clear links between air pollution and harmful health effects, during this EU Year of Air a lot of activities were dedicated to raise awareness on the need to have cleaner air in Europe (you may remember our report on last June’s Green Week, Europe’s largest environmental conference, that was devoted to this topic; last September’s edition of the European Mobility Week was focused on clean air too). On December 9, the closing conference “Cleaner air for all – All for cleaner air” was organised by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg with the help of ASPA, the regional accredited organism in Alsace. Read more information on the event here.
Air pollution is responsible for half a million deaths each year in the European Union and it reduces the average life expectancy by more than eight months per person. Every year, 3.6 million life years are lost due to the bad quality of the air people breathe. Living near polluted roads could be responsible for about 15-30% of all new cases of asthma in children; and of COPD in adults 65 years of age and older. Compliance with stricter air quality standards (for example the WHO annual quality guidelines on fine particles) would increase Europeans’ life expectancy and produce 31.5 billion EUR in monetary health benefits every year (read here for more information).
Although some pollution problems have been resolved in previous decades, the EU is far from reaching its long-term objective as outlined in the Seventh Environment Action Programme, which is to achieve levels of air quality that do not have significant negative impacts on human health and the environment. To face this big problem, the Commission has proposed a set of different measures:
1) A new Clean Air Programme for Europe with measures to ensure that existing targets are met in the short term and new air quality objectives for the period up to 2030;
2) A revised National Emission Ceilings Directive with stricter national emission ceilings for the six main pollutants;
3) A proposal for a new Directive to reduce pollution from medium-sized combustion installations, such as energy plants for street blocks or large buildings, and small industry installations;
4) The proposal for the EU to ratify the Goteborg Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone.
Although it is good that the package is finally out, the level of ambition of some proposals is disappointing as too little is foreseen and, especially too late. EFA, together with other organisations working in the field of environment and public health, has clear priorities (read more here) and the views of patients with respiratory diseases on this topic were presented last September to the Environment Commissioner (read more here). See here the press conference of Commissioner Potočnik and read here the proposals.