Air quality may not be getting the attention it needs

A recent report from the European Environment Agency draws attention to the fact that many urban Europeans are exposed to air pollution levels deemed to exceed ‘safe’ levels.

Among the findings:

  • Pollution from particulate matter is leading to premature mortality. The report estimates that in 2010, 21 % of the urban population was exposed to PM10 ( particles with diameter smaller than 10 micrometres) concentration levels higher than the limit value designed to safeguard health. Up to 30 % of the urban population was exposed to finer PM2.5 concentration levels above the (less stringent) yearly EU limit values. According to the WHO reference levels, which are even tighter than those imposed by EU law, respectively up to 81 % and 95 % of urban dwellers were exposed to PM concentrations that exceed the reference values set for the protection of human health.
  • 97 % of EU urban inhabitants were exposed to ozone concentrations above the WHO reference level in 2010. 17 % were exposed to concentrations above the EU target value for O3. In 2009, 22 % of arable land in Europe was exposed to damaging concentrations of O3, leading to agricultural losses.
  • 7 % of Europeans living in cities were exposed to nitrogen dioxide levels above the EU limit values. National emissions of nitrogen oxides in many European countries still exceed emission ceilings set by EU legislation and under United Nations agreements.
  • Between 2008 and 2010, 20-29 % of the European population  was exposed to concentrations of benzo(a)pyrene exceeding the EU target value.  Benzo(a)pyrene is a carcinogen.

Comparable national data is not available for Canada, though it is published for some cities. Europe’s focus on air pollutants is likely to lead to increased attention on air pollution in Canadian cities. We’ll be looking at some of the data that is available for Canadian cities in a future issue of Gallon Environment Letter.

The European Report Air Quality in Europe – 2012 Report is available at

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