EU Air Quality cover photo courtesy of: Francois De Ribaucourt www.deribaucourt.com
EFA contributes to newly published HEAL report on how coal is affecting health
The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), of which EFA is a member, launched a report in March entitled ‘The Unpaid Health Bill: how coal power plants make up sick’, showing the negative impact air pollution, and in particular emissions from coal power plants, have on health. For the first time ever the report presents an economic assessment of the health costs associated with air pollution from coal power plants in Europe, and reveals that this amounts to a financial burden of up to €42.8 billion per year. Included in the report are recommendations for policy makers on how to combat these trends. EFA is pleased to announce that the report pays special attention to chronic disease from long-term exposure to air pollution and to respiratory diseases.
EFA attended the “Spotlight on Health and Clean Air” event in the EP
All we need is a clean air to breathe. This was the main message of the Health and Clean Air event held in the European Parliament on March 19. The meeting, organised by European Respiratory Society (ERS) and Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), was attended by EFA Policy officer Roberta Savli as well as EFA Policy and Programme Assistant Tereza Reznakova.
According to a recent Eurobarometer, 87% of Europeans feel that air-quality related respiratory diseases are a serious problem in their country and increasing numbers of them are calling for action. “This Eurobarometer gives us a great backing, because it shows that the number of people who are concerned about the quality of air, is rising,” said MEP Satu Hassi (Greens/European Free Alliance). Together with MEP Claudiu Ciprian Tanasescu (S&D), she called for stricter emission limits and lowering of the pollution. At the same time, both MEPs Hassi and Tanasescu pointed out the strong position of industrial lobby that is against tightening the air quality standards.
As Dr. Bert Brunekreef from the University of Utrecht stated, all citizens are entitled to clean air. However, as the results of research summarised in “Ten principles for clean air” show, there has not been much positive development in the last decades. For instance, the limits for PM 2.5 (the so-called small particles or particulate matter in the air that can penetrate your lung easily) emission in the EU are still much higher than in the US or in the WHO guidelines. There are also many areas which remain unregulated, such as non-tailpipe emission (emissions from brake wear, tire wear etc. which contribute to especially coarse particle mass near roadways) or combustion of biomass. According to Brunekreef, it is very important to clearly show the policy-makers that if we decrease air pollution, the health of the population improves.
One of the highlights of the event was the testimony of Caroline Gillissens, a member of Alpha-1 Belgium patient Group, who suffers from this rare genetic disease, also known as Viking disease which causes COPD. She proposed several solutions to lower the air pollution, including local level initiatives, reduction of speed limits, usage of alternative fuel sources and public information campaigns.
Scott Brockett from the DG Environment then updated the participants on the latest policy developments in this area. He especially stressed the problem of compliance with the EU legislation in some Member states as well as the need to adapt the EU legislation to UNECE Gothenburg Protocol. The Commission’s ambitions now include the update of EU Air Quality Strategy, together with a number of legislative (NECD, Euro-6) and no-legislative actions (uCLAP, iCLAP, CLIP and CLARA) to be taken.
The closing remarks were made by Roberto Bertollini from the WHO. “Knowledge is substantial enough for actions to be taken, but the results are not coming,” Bertollini stated. He stressed the problem of strong lobby and inability to implement even the existing legislation. “We need to change the message. We need one strong idea, political will and public pressure,” the WHO expert said.
EFA will be working on the revision of the thematic strategy on air pollution together with HEAL and other main stakeholders to guarantee that the rights and quality of life of people with asthma, allergy and COPD, vulnerable groups that are more affected than others by the air they breathe, are taken into account and ensured as much as possible.
Eurobarometer “Attitudes of Europeans towards air quality”
In the framework of the European Year of Air 2013 and the on-going revision of the EU Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution, a Eurobarometer survey was conducted searching the views of Europeans on matters of air quality and air pollution. The general results show that the citizens of the 27 Member States of the EU are highly concerned about air pollution in Europe and they feel being under-informed regarding the air quality situation and policies.
The figures reveal that 87% Europeans consider asthma and allergy as a serious problem caused by poor air quality. 72% of the respondents said that public authorities are not doing enough to promote air quality. 49% believe that air pollution can best be addressed at the European level, while the percentage who relies on national level is 23% and on local level 24%. More in general, 79% think that the European Union should propose additional measures to address air quality-related problems in Europe.
According to the survey, six out of ten Europeans do not feel informed about air quality issues while 74% responded that they have not heard about relevant EU initiatives (EU air quality standards or National Emission Ceilings). Not surprisingly then, only one in ten said that they are aware of the on-going process of reviewing and revising the EU Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution.
The data clearly show a strong public interest and concern in the topic of air quality and its effects on the health of European citizens. EFA is pleased to verify the high percentage of Europeans that are concerned by the incidence of asthma and allergies in Europe and calls on policy-makers for actions in this field. The full report is available online here.