Air pollution is one of Europe’s greatest health and environmental concerns. Whereas cancer or heart disease, for example, may affect a person individually, air pollution impacts everyone who breathes the air outside. Pollutants like nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, ammonia, and more can lead to lung damage and pulmonary infections.
Secondary conditions like severe reactions to COVID-19, asthma, heart disease, and increased risk for certain cancers are also the results of air pollution. Issues in brain development have been linked to prenatal exposure to certain air pollutants.
According to the EU Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law, every inhabitant of a European city experienced a loss of over €1250 as a result of health issues associated with poor air quality in 2018.
In addition to being the cause of major health issues, air pollution is extremely harmful to the environment. It reduces the ability of ecosystems to perform carbon sequestration and water purification, which makes it one of the leading causes of biodiversity loss. Climate change in Europe is one of the direct results of the destruction of the earth’s ecosystems.
The Problem of Compliance
European law sets limits for the concentration of air pollutants, while air quality is monitored closely. However, a high percentage of Europe’s urban population in certain areas are exposed to concentrations that are above EU limits. In fact, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) regularly convicts member states for non-compliance with pollutant concentration limits.
One example is the ECJ’s ruling against Hungary for continuously surpassing the daily limit values of particulate matter. However, the ruling came some 12 years after the issue was reported by the European Commission. The procedures for convictions are clearly too long. A faster process is necessary, along with strict penalties for non-compliance.
Solutions on the Horizon
In today’s day and age, it is impossible to plead ignorance to the harmfulness of air pollution. The EU is well aware of it and has therefore created the Zero Pollution Action Plan as part of the European Green Deal. The plan will launch in Q2 of 2021 with the goal of securing healthy ecosystems and living environments for Europeans.
The commission has also announced new pollution limits and laws as part of its Beating Cancer Plan, a recognition that many cancer cases are caused by environmental pollution.
Ultimately, investing money in long-term solutions will save money, not to mention human suffering and environmental harm. The Zero Pollution Action Plan is a good start, but it needs strict implementation and constant monitoring in order to ensure its goals are being met.