News
02 June 2021
EU
- Air Quality

On 12 May the European Commission published its much awaited Zero Pollution Action Plan for Air, Water and Soil (ZPAP). Living in uncompromised environments, without pollution, is a premise for a good quality of life for people living with allergy, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The plan, which has been in the making since October 2020, brings together the Commission’s future initiatives to address pollution in its several forms, as part of the EU’s commitment to strengthen disease prevention and achieve climate neutrality by 2050. 

The plan examines pollution and its impact on health, environment and the economy. With specific reference to health inequalities, the plan acknowledges the urgent need to act for the protection of vulnerable groups such as children and people with existing conditions.

Ambition without tools?

EFA views positively the renewed commitment to the zero pollution hierarchy (a set of principles that prioritises pollution prevention and when that is not possible, foresees to minimise it) based on the precautionary and the “polluter-pays” principles. With these principles in place, minimisation and even compensation of damages caused by pollution, where they happen, will be prioritised.

However, the plan does not offer certainty that the proposed actions are sufficient enough to prevent environmental pollution and its associated health risks. This is despite acknowledging that most Europeans support action against pollution and call on the EU and national governments to take prompt action, and 85% of asthma and COPD patients surveyed in EFA’s ACCESS report believe that t outdoor air pollution has a high impact for asthma and COPD.

Air quality as key determinant for the EFA patient community

EFA has been vocal in promoting good air quality in the EU and globally. Our arguments have been outlined on several occasions, including the ongoing consultation on the revision of the EU Air Quality Directives as well as related initiatives such as the Renovations Wave and the Beating Cancer Plan.

In particular, EFA calls for utmost ambition in the EU air quality standards to align with the WHO Ambient Air Quality Guidelines, which reflect the latest available science on the effects air pollution has on health. We also point to a better implementation and monitoring of air quality measures by Member State, and advocate for Indoor Air Quality aspects to be included in discussions on air quality, because the air does not have boundaries.

Our patient community bears an extremely heavy burden from environmental risk factors: as the plan notes at the introductory part, COPD and asthma are among the top 10 chronic diseases leading to death due to air pollution.

Gaps in the proposed Action Plan

Unfortunately, the proposed Action Plan falls short of delivering a convincing vision on the three main asks of patients. This is based on the following considerations:

  • It fails to commit to a full alignment with the WHO Ambient Air Quality Guidelines (which will be updated this year), but instead insists on the EU’s approach of closer alignment;
  • It contains vague language around the implementation and monitoring of the EU rules, offering no specific measures or targets;
  • While the plan acknowledges the challenges of Indoor Air Quality, there is a lack of clarity on how it plans to address this, and offers no prospect of a holistic EU air quality framework strategy, which would consider indoor and outdoor air quality jointly;
  • It does not address the health effects of aeroallergens such as pollen, especially with regards to establishing a real-time pollen monitoring system with useful information for people living with seasonal allergies.

This plan should not be a lost opportunity for better allergy and respiratory health.

EFA remains ready to engage with the European Commission and other relevant stakeholders to ensure that these considerations are adequately reflected in the upcoming EU-level discussions on the revised EU air quality standards, as well as other policies related to air pollution.

You can access EFA’s full response to the consultation on the EU Zero Action Plan here.

Dear Visitor,

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Stay safe!
The EFA Team