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EFA participated in the 2nd Stakeholder Workshop organised by the European Commission on January 15 in the context of the ongoing Fitness Check of the Ambient Air Quality Directives. The final evaluation report on whether or not to upgrade these directives, which are so crucial to our health, is expected to be published by October 2019.

As representatives of allergy and airways disease patients, we are delighted to witness the reactivity of the European Commission to shift from an industry regulatory framework in the first stakeholder workshop held in June (with Commission representatives including Energy, Business and Environment) to a discussion on the health impacts these directives have for Europeans.

The panels of the 2nd Stakeholder Workshop on the Air Quality Directives (AAQs) included the Head of Cabinet of Commissioner for Environment Karmenu Vella, high-level officials from European Commission Directorate Generals for Health and Food Safety, Environment and Regional and Urban Policy, as well as a member of the European Court of Auditors. The purpose of the workshop was to present and enrich the main findings of the European Commission consultation to evaluate if the current Air Quality Directives are fit for purpose.

In the morning session, we noted with enthusiasm that some of our long-standing asks, such as real-time and adapted information for vulnerable people such as respiratory patients were mentioned by other stakeholders not directly working on public health issues. We also welcomed the points raised by the European Respiratory Society on the need to build scientific knowledge about the effect ultrafine particles are causing to our respiratory health, as well as the invitation to follow closely the revision of the WHO Air quality guidelines to fine-tune EU policies according to those future measures. 

From our side, following the very few voices that suggested not to measure air pollution levels in highly polluted crossroads, EFA Director of Policy and Communications Isabel Proaño highlighted the need for patients to continue informing real-time about the air pollution in central and commercial areas, to allow patients decide on their daily activities. Isabel also mentioned that the focus on long-term effects has limited the prevention potential of the directive, and she suggested following EFA response to the AAQs consultation, the inclusion of information prevention tools such as the Canadian Air Quality Health Index as something that could really boost the efficiency of the EU AAQs. 

On of the key moments of the workshop, was the high level intervention of Martin Seychell, Deputy Director-General for Health and Food Safety, who made a clear policy link between air pollution and health, addressing the need for sound monitoring systems, better information on air quality data, and further funds of health policy at EU level. In that afternoon session, EFA Isabel Proaño thanked the Commmision for their needed role to include health in all EU policies, and asked about the intentions of the Commission to reinforce the prevention of harmful health effects from air quality by the inclusion of biological particles such as air quality into future policies.  

Supporting, the lack of sufficient funding was also raised by Janusz Wojciechowski (European Court of Auditors) who added that the EU’s air pollution limits are considerably lower than those recommended by the World Health Organisation’s guidelines.

Finally, Daniel Calleja, Director-General of DG ENVI, alluded to the Commission’s intention to focus on the review of the overall air pollution levels, the reassessment of the monitoring system, and the transparency of the available information. The final report, whereby the Commission will determine the further procedure should be expected by October 2019.

EFA is an active civil society contributor to the EU Fitness check on the air quality directives.