More than half of European cities are still plagued by dirty air, show new data, despite a reduction in traffic emissions and other pollutants during last year’s blockades.
Eastern European cities, where coal remains a major source of energy, performed the worst, with Nowy Sącz in Poland having the most polluted air, followed by Cremona in Italy, where industry and geography tend to concentrate air pollution, and Slavonski Brod in Croatia.
The three cleanest cities were Umeå in Sweden, Tampere in Finland and Funchal in Portugal.
The European Environment Agency (EEA) took data from 323 cities in 2019 and 2020 and found that in only 127 of them, or around 40%, the levels of fine particles known as PM 2.5 were below the limits recommended by World Health Organization. Fine particulate matter has the greatest health impact of the main sources of air pollution and causes more than 400,000 premature deaths a year across Europe.
The data showed the average over the two years and was only available for cities where consistent reports were available, so not all European cities were covered. The UK was excluded as the government has chosen not to be a member of the environmental watchdog, although other non-EU states such as Turkey, Switzerland and Norway are members.
The EEA said the lockdown measures had led to large reductions in levels of nitrogen dioxide, an irritant gas associated with emissions from diesel engines, but that levels of particulate matter had remained high. Nitrogen dioxide levels fell by more than 60% in some cities during the April 2020 closures, but decreases in particulate matter levels were less dramatic, with drops of around 20% to 30% recorded in levels. large particles (PM 10) last. April.
Agency experts said this was because there were many more sources of particulate matter in addition to road traffic, including the combustion of heating oil, for example in wood-fired boilers, and in industry, as well as agriculture, as ammonia emissions. Fertilizers and animal manure combine with other pollutants in the atmosphere to form particles.
Catherine Ganzleben, the EEA’s group head on air pollution, environment and health, said changes in behavior brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic could have an impact in the future. “If people go back to the daily commute, or if they choose to telecommute, that will alter these pollution patterns,” he said.
New data on air pollution will be available through a web viewer that will allow people to compare their cities with others in Europe.
Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director, said: “While air quality has improved markedly in recent years, air pollution remains stubbornly high in many cities in Europe. This city air quality viewer allows citizens to see for themselves in a user-friendly way how their city is doing compared to others in terms of air pollution. It provides local, concrete information that can empower citizens towards their local authorities to address issues. “