Where in Europe is the dirtiest air: a new study
Almost 100% of people living in Europe breathe air that is significantly more polluted than the WHO maximum permissible level. This leads to exacerbation of diseases and even death. Find out more about which European cities have the most polluted air and how the authorities are addressing this problem
98% of Europeans are forced to breathe polluted air with an average annual concentration of fine particles and dust above the maximum permissible level of the World Health Organization (WHO). This puts the health of almost every person on the European continent at risk.
Polluted air increases the risk of heart and respiratory diseases and shortens life expectancy.
"With the current level of air pollution, many people will get sick. It is clear that less air pollution can reduce this number," said Mark Nivenhashen, director of the Institute for Global Health in Barcelona (ISGlobal).
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Polluted air in Europe: what is known
An analysis of data conducted by DW together with the European Data Journalism Network based on information from the Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service (CAMS) satellite showed that in 2022, almost all Europeans, namely 98% of the population, lived in regions where the concentration of dust in the air significantly exceeds the norm.
The exceptions are Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden.
According to the WHO, the annual average concentration of fine particles and dust in the air should not exceed 5 micrograms per cubic meter. However, on average, in the most polluted regions of Europe, this concentration reaches about 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air annually.
Although the problem of air pollution in individual European cities has long been known, the new data analysis provides an overview of the situation in Europe, allowing us to compare the degree of pollution in different regions and consider policy measures to improve air quality.
Although air quality in Europe is generally better than in other regions of the world, where PM2.5 concentrations can exceed 100 micrograms per cubic meter in cities in northern India such as New Delhi, Varanasi and Agra, this does not mean that the problems in Europe do not need to be addressed immediately. Even at 25 micrograms per cubic meter in Europe, air pollution has a serious impact on human health.
As you know, PM2.5 is an abbreviation for the smallest particles, consisting of various particles that cannot be seen with the naked eye. The diameter of these particles is less than 2.5 micrometers, which is about 30 times thinner than a single human hair.
What level of air pollution is acceptable?
The new EU air quality rules set the maximum permissible annual average concentration of harmful substances at just over 10 micrograms per cubic meter, and the European Parliament's Environment Committee suggests following WHO recommendations limiting the concentration of the smallest particles and dust in the air.
Which European cities have the most polluted air?
The most polluted air in Europe is currently found in the Po Valley in Italy and in major European cities such as Athens, Barcelona and Paris. Environmentalists and scientists who study the impact on public health believe that the new EU rules should adopt the WHO standard, but this can be quite difficult.
In particular, studies conducted by the scientific journal The Lancet based on 2015 data show that about 10% of deaths in cities such as Milan could be avoided if the average concentration of harmful particles in the air were reduced to about 10 micrograms per cubic meter.
According to these studies, a total of 100,000 deaths could be prevented in major European cities every year if the figure were reduced by 5 micrograms per cubic meter.
Is Poland really the country with the worst air quality?
Some regions of Poland have become known for their high concentration of air pollution, and this problem is quite serious for the country. However, efforts to reduce air pollution have already begun to show results.
An example of positive changes is the city of Krakow. In 2018, the concentration of air pollution here was almost 25 micrograms per cubic meter, but by the end of 2022, this figure had decreased by almost 20%. Similar improvements are also visible in neighboring cities such as Katowice, Gliwice, Tuczna, Poznan, and Warsaw.
The Polish authorities have taken a number of measures to combat this problem, including the modernization of heating systems in many residential buildings, which are called "smokers" in Poland. These systems produce a significant amount of smoke and are a source of air pollution. Almost 800,000 of these systems will be replaced, but there are still three million to go, and the process is rather slow.
For example, in Warsaw, starting from October 1, 2023, it will be forbidden to heat houses with wood and coal. These measures are important steps in reducing air pollution and maintaining public health.
Safety while traveling
Remember that safety and confidence while traveling abroad is the key to a pleasant experience and unforgettable moments. Do not risk your finances and health and take care of the necessary insurance for the period of your trip.
To avoid troubles, plan your trip in advance and choose reliable companies to make your travel experience pleasant and positive. Book plane, bus, or train tickets within Ukraine and between cities in Europe and the world with reliable carriers here.
We remind you! This September, Europe is preparing for a wave of airline strikes that could cause serious inconvenience to passengers. Flight cancellations and public transportation disruptions may become the norm in several European countries. Find out where strikes are planned.
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