Air pollution is the single largest environmental health risk in Europe and has significant impacts on the health of the European population, particularly in urban areas. While emissions of key air pollutants and their concentrations in ambient air have fallen significantly over the past two decades in Europe, air quality remains poor in many areas.

Air pollution continues to have significant impacts on the health of the European population, particularly in urban areas. Exposure to air pollution can lead to a wide range of diseases, including stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, trachea, bronchus and lung cancers, aggravated asthma and lower respiratory infections. Air pollution also has considerable economic impacts, reducing life expectancy, increasing medical costs and reducing productivity through working days lost across different economic sectors.

The majority of European citizens consider the health impacts of air pollution to be a very serious problem (European Commission, 2019). This concern is reflected in increasing public engagement around air pollution challenges, including ongoing citizen science initiatives engaged in supporting air quality monitoring along with initiatives targeting public awareness and behavioural changes (EEA, 2020).

In 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) published new air quality guidelines following a systematic review of the latest scientific evidence of how air pollution damages human health. The European Union (EU) has also set standards for key air pollutants in the ambient air quality directives

This report gives the status of concentrations of pollutants in ambient air in 2019 and 2020 presented by pollutant, as it relates to both EU air quality standards and the new WHO guideline levels. It presents the health impacts of exposure to key air pollutants in 2019. In addition, it estimates the potential health benefits of attaining the relevant EU air quality standards and WHO guideline values for fine particulate matter, while assessing progress towards the health-related objective of the EU’s Zero Pollution Action Plan. Finally, it reviews the status of emissions of key air pollutants regulated in the EU and assesses emissions trends over the period 2005 to 2019. 

This report is based on a range of background material produced by the European Topic Centre on Air Pollution, Transport, Noise and Industrial Pollution (ETC/ATNI). References and links to online reports are provided in each chapter.

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Last modified: December 13, 2021