Since the World Health Organisation’s Air Quality Guidelines’ publication in September 2021, the environmental and health communities have been active to explain why these guidelines are so important. They not only identify the levels of air quality necessary to protect public health worldwide, but also focus on the classical pollutants: particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide. Any action taken to reduce these pollutants has a direct impact on other pollutants and therefore leads to additional benefits for health.
With the current EU air quality standards allowing for levels of pollution that are known to be unsafe for human health, EPHA welcomes the upcoming revision of the Ambient Air Quality Directives. The European Commission legislative proposal is due to be published on 26 October 2022, and EPHA and its members urge the full alignment of EU’s air quality standards with the 2021 WHO Global Air Quality Guidelines by 2030.
To highlight a further nuance in the air quality conversation, not all gases produced as a result of human activity have a direct impact on health, but instead they accelerate climate change, which is a great threat to human health globally. Fluorinated gases (F-gases) represent such an example, with an upcoming EU legislation discussion on this topic, and particular relevance for health, as F-gases are also used for asthma inhalers.
Slowly but surely, the European institutions have identified air pollution as a key topic for our environment, our climate, and our health. EPHA is glad that after years of advocacy, the European Parliament voted on 8 June 2022 to stop the sale of new diesel and petrol road vehicles by 2035 and, on 28 June, EU governments confirmed the 2035 end date. Similarly, thanks to the work of a coalition of NGOs, including EPHA and the European Respiratory Society, the release of the European Commission’s proposal on the upcoming Euro 7/VII vehicle pollution emission standards is anticipated for 12 October. The publication of the proposal has been expected since 2021, and the Commission was considering further delaying it to 30 November. This legislation will be crucial for improving air quality in our cities and every delayed month amounts to an extra million more polluting cars on our roads.
A new study commissioned by EPHA demonstrates that we indeed need to move faster and accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, hand in hand with promoting active mobility, such as walking and cycling and public transport. At the same time, the implementation at national and local levels of existing legislation remains crucial, as proven by recent developments in Bulgaria.
Heated debates are to be expected on all these legislative proposals, especially with some Members States that are more reluctant to act on air pollution. Thanks to our members’ support, EPHA will play a major role in these debates. Our new Healthy Environment Cluster is the place where all the members of EPHA that want to be active in clean air can participate in the discussion and help improve air quality in Europe.