EU Agrees on Drastic New Air Quality Rules to Target “Invisible Killer”

Photo: lexandra Lande / Shutterstock
Photo: lexandra Lande / Shutterstock

The European Union has agreed on new rules to impose much stricter limits on a key group of air pollutants.

Last week the European Parliament and EU member states signed the EU’s new National Emissions Ceilings directive into law.

“The new European air quality rules are a significant landmark in the fight against this invisible killer that is air pollution,” says EU environment commissioner Karmenu Vella, “Air pollution kills over 450.000 people in Europe each year. This is more than ten times as many as road traffic accidents.”

MEP Julie Girling, who was in charge of ushering the directive through the EU parliament, hinted that the limits may still not be strict enough. But she said the new rules will at least “go a long way to make important health improvements for our citizens.”

Girling says the “political backdrop” has changed dramatically over the last three years, “with the issue of air quality coming up the public agenda to an unprecedented level,” while also pointing to the Volkswagen emissions scandal as a wake-up moment. Start-ups like

Start-ups like Plume Labs have helped to make air quality more transparent for voters. You can now receive notifications about the air quality in your own neighbourhood with the company’s free smartphone app, and share the results on social media with pretty photo overlays. Plume Labs is supported by Climate-KIC, the EU’s climate innovation initiative.

Huge Cost Reductions

The economic cost of the health impacts of air pollution alone is huge and estimated at a massive €330 to 940 billion per year by the European Commission.

When fully implemented, the pollution cuts should reduce the health impacts of air pollution by around 50 per cent by 2030 the Commission says.

Children, the elderly and people suffering from asthma and respiratory conditions are expected to benefit the most. But with measures to reduce air pollution set to boost innovation and improve Europe’s competitiveness globally, the business sector could also be looking at a major opportunity.

The new rules, which also target particles that cause climate change, should have substantial benefits for the quality of fresh water, soil and ecosystems as well.

2018 Deadline

The European Union’s member states now need to turn the directive into national legislation by the end of June 2018 and produce national action plans a year later.

Countries will be coordinating plans in fields such as transport, agriculture, energy and climate change. This will require investment, the Commission points out, but the costs should be many times outweighed by the benefits in cost savings – particularly on health care and sickness at work.

City administrators, meanwhile, are keen on swift action against air pollution. Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo recently tweeted a photo of the air pollution in her city and added that the role of cars in the centre of Paris should be “reduced.”

Paris, along with Madrid, Athens and Mexico City has already vowed to ban diesel cars from their city centres by 2025 to improve air quality.

Air Pollutants Top 5

If you’re keen on helping to solve air pollution, keep in mind that the European Commission has also announced a €3 million cash reward for an innovative solution that reduces air pollution.

The EU’s new rules target Europe’s five main air pollutants: fine particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, non-methane volatile organic compounds, and ammonia.

  1. Particulate matter is fine dust, emitted by road vehicles, shipping, power generation and households from burning fossil fuels or biomass. It also comes from natural sources such as sea salt, wind-blown soil and sand. It can cause respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, and lung cancer. Black carbon is the sooty part of the particulates emitted from combustion.
  2. Sulphur dioxide is emitted by power generation, industry, shipping and households. It harms human health through the formation of secondary particulate matter and contributes to acidification of soils and inland waters.
  3. Nitrogen oxides are emitted by road vehicles, shipping, power generation, industry and households. Like sulphur dioxide, they harm human health by forming secondary particulate matter and contribute to acid rain, but it also causes eutrophication. It is a key component in increased levels of ground-level ozone.
  4. Ammonia is emitted by activities linked to manure and fertilisers management in agriculture and the use of fertilisers in agriculture. It harms human health as a building block for secondary particulate matter, and contributes to acidification and eutrophication.
  5. Volatile organic compounds are emitted from solvents in products and industry, road vehicles, household heating and power generation. volatile organic compounds are a key component in the formation of ground-level ozone.

Does your product or service help reduce air pollution? Find out how Climate-KIC could help your start-up.

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