European Air Quality Warnings

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Thankfully air pollution in Europe has decreased substantially over the past decades, resulting in improved air quality across the region. However, air pollutant concentrations are still too high, and air quality problems persist. Major cities like London suffer with high levels of toxins that can harm vulnerable people.

What is Air Pollution?

Most air pollution comes from the energy sector, domestic heating systems, heavy industries such as steelworks and oil refineries, transport, agriculture and waste treatment.

EU legislation sets strict standards for:

  • Particulate matter – tiny particles a fraction of a millimetre across. Sources include transport, most forms of combustion and certain industrial processes

  • Ground level ozone – formed when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds react in the presence of sunlight, making it a particular problem in summer

  • Volatile organic compounds emitted from solvents, paints and varnishes, and from car exhausts and petrol stations

  • Oxides of nitrogen including nitrogen dioxide generated during combustion, for example by vehicle engines and thermal power stations

  • Sulphur dioxide formed when fossil fuels are burnt

  • Ammonia (NH3) released from animal waste and fertiliser

  • Heavy metals released from industrial processes such as purification of metals and electroplating, waste incineration and coal burning in power stations (mercury).

  • Benzene a widely used industrial solvent emitted from many different sources including industrial activities, vehicle exhausts, filling stations, wood smoke and cigarettes.

More than 90 percent of Europe’s urban citizens are exposed to levels of air pollution that are well above the World Health Organization’s advised guidelines,” Hans Bruyninckx, EEA’s executive director said, explaining the data. “And this has serious effects on citizens’ quality of life.”

European cities pollution monitoring

There are a number of websites where you can monitor European air quality

The worst Air in Europe

Pernik, a town of about 80,000 people in west-central Bulgaria, fared the worst of any place. The EEA report considered the average number of days in a year each city exceeded a certain threshold. In the case of PM10, it’s 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, and a city should only exceed that 35 days per year, according to the European Commission’s Air Quality Standards. Pernik had 180 days beyond that target level.

London  has the highest levels of NO2 of any capital city in Europe and the UK has the highest proportion of zones breaching legal limits.  Information obtained from Mayor Johnson shows that exhaust emissions from passenger cars (including private hire vehicles) of NO2 and dangerous airborne particles (PM2.5) are expected to rise from 39% and 49% of transport exhaust emissions respectively in 2010 to a staggering 47% and 54% respectively in 2015 - See more at:

European Commission (Commission) has sent the UK a ‘Letter of formal notice’ for breaching nitrogen dioxide (NO2) limit values in 16 of 43 zones.  The UK is the first of the EU’s 28 Member States to receive enforcement action on NO2.  Commission has also responded to a request from Clean Air in London for clarification on certain provisions of Directive 2008/50/EC on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe

Author:Nick Marr