Clean air in Europe for all: ERS/ISEE call for more ambitious action

Clean air in Europe for all: ERS/ISEE call for more ambitious action - article image

14th March 2023

ERS and the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE) demand action on air quality to better protect EU citizens’ health.

ERS and ISEE have made demands for increased action on air pollution, and its adverse effects on health, in the recently published Environmental Epidemiology article, Clean air in Europe for all: A call for more ambitious action.

Since the 1990s, scientific studies have made clear that air pollution is linked to many debilitating illnesses including asthma, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, diabetes, lung cancer, dementia, and COPD. In 2019, the Global Burden of Disease study estimated that air pollution ranked as the fourth global risk factor for mortality. The European Environment Agency estimated 300,000 premature deaths due to air pollution in the EU-27 in 2020 – an unacceptably high air pollution burden.

Currently, the air quality legislation in Europe – the Ambient Air Quality Directive (AAQD) – has limits that are criticised for being woefully insufficient to protect the health of EU citizens.

ERS and ISEE’s criticisms and recommendations are as follows:

  • ERS and ISEE demand more ambition and a clear path in the AAQD towards complete alignment with the 2021 World Health Organisation (WHO) Air Quality Guidelines (AQG). The EU may miss the chance to be a global leader in clean air legislation. A lack of compliance will cause an unacceptably high air pollution disease burden in Europe.
  • Limit values are needed for ozone. Ozone has well-established health effects and increases the heatwave effect on mortality in Europe. The US, among other countries, do have legally binding air quality standards (NAAQS) for ozone. If the US can do it, the EU should be able to as well.
  • Adverse health effects of air pollution are underestimated. This underestimation is especially concerning, as the choice of policy options and proposed new limit values depend on the benefits from health gains versus costs for implementation of measures.
  • ERS and ISEE encourage governments and local authorities to continue to exert effort to improve air quality. The feasibility of EU governments to act on improving air quality is closely related to political will. Realistic abatement options are ignored. These include, low or zero emission zones, improving public transportation, promoting active transportation, and incentivising healthy dietary choices, for example.
  • ERS and ISEE call for more effort to decrease air pollution-health inequalities in order to protect marginalised communities. Certain groups are especially vulnerable and more likely to experience adverse health effects from air pollution, including pregnant women, children, elderly, chronic disease patients, and those with lower socio-economic status.
  • ERS and ISEE urge caution to be wary of the deduction of “natural” source contributions, which are expected to increase due to climate change. Scientific evidence demonstrates that air pollution from “natural” sources is also harmful to human health so the deduction of “natural” sources hinders air progress for the improvement of air quality.

There has been support for full alignment with the 2021 WHO AQG from more than 140 medical, public health, scientific societies and patient organisations, in the form of a joint statement.

Read the journal article in full.

Environmental and occupational health
EU Affairs