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The European Union has reduced the limits for toxic air pollutants, although they still do not meet the guidelines set by the World Health Organization.
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The European Union has reduced the limits for toxic air pollutants, although they still do not meet the guidelines set by the World Health Organization.

The European Union has reached a consensus to enforce more stringent restrictions on the harmful particles and noxious fumes that pollute its air, however, they will not target the levels recommended by medical professionals and economists.

The updated regulations reduce the annual maximum amounts for PM2.5, a type of fine particles that can cause widespread damage to the body by entering the bloodstream due to their small size, from 25 µg/m³ to 10 µg/m³. The limits for nitrogen dioxide, a harmful gas that can harm the lungs, have also been decreased from 40 µg/m³ to 20 µg/m³.

However, the goals for 2030 still permit twice the amount of pollution compared to the recommended levels established by the World Health Organization.

The commissioner for the environment in the EU, Virginijus Sinkevičius, stated that the advancement has put Europe on a path to eliminating air pollution as an issue. He also mentioned that although air pollution remains the top environmental health concern in the EU, there is good news as clean air policies have proven effective and air quality is improving.

The legislation must be officially approved before it can take effect. However, it has been weakened to allow member states to delay meeting the set goals for up to ten years due to loopholes. The commission states that governments can push back the 2030 deadline by five to seven years if data shows that the set limits cannot be achieved on time. In areas with challenging terrain or where meeting the targets would greatly affect domestic heating systems, the deadline can be extended by 10 years.

However, the legislation also grants individuals the entitlement to receive recompense in cases where governments do not adhere to the regulations and cause harm to their well-being. It additionally requires nations that surpass limits to create strategies for improving air quality and mandates all member states to develop plans outlining their methods for meeting the 2030 goals.

According to Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, an environmental epidemiologist at ISGlobal in Barcelona, the WHO guidelines should have been implemented promptly. However, he believes that the agreement will still prevent premature deaths for many individuals.

In my opinion, this is a significant advancement towards better health for individuals. It presents a unique opportunity to enhance air quality that only comes around once in a generation.

Poor air quality is a major cause of death in Europe. In addition to the loss of life and impact on those living with disabilities, air pollution also has negative effects on economies. It leads to an increase in sick leave for workers and requires governments to allocate more funds towards hospital care.

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A study conducted by the European Commission evaluated three potential scenarios and determined that adhering to the WHO guidelines by 2030 would result in the largest economic gain, with the EU saving €38bn (£32bn) annually. Despite this, member states opposed full compliance with the WHO and implemented exemptions that would postpone the implementation of even less stringent restrictions.

Public health professionals urged the European Union to promptly enact the agreement and for governments and cities to establish policies in order to meet the newly established limits.

According to Christiaan Keijzer, the president of the Standing Committee of European Doctors, it is crucial to promptly revise the current air quality standards set by the EU. He further emphasized the consensus among doctors across Europe for improved air quality and called for prompt action from public authorities and national governments to reduce the impact of air pollution on public health.

Vulnerable populations, including children, older individuals, and those with preexisting health conditions, are disproportionately affected by air pollution. Additionally, lower-income individuals often reside in closer proximity to industrial areas and highways, have less access to green spaces and transportation, and live in lower-quality homes that are heated with more polluting fuels.

In September, a study by The Guardian revealed that nearly all of Europe’s population (98%) were breathing air that exceeded the limits set by the World Health Organization. The highest levels of pollution were found in parts of central and eastern Europe, as well as Italy.

According to Milka Sokolović, the head of the European Public Health Alliance, a strong air quality directive is essential in addressing health disparities in Europe. This legislation would ensure that all individuals in Europe, particularly those in vulnerable and marginalized communities, have access to clean air.

Source: theguardian.com