The Ambient Air Quality Directive: the path towards improved air quality in the EU

Guest article by the European Respiratory Society

For decades, scientific studies have made clear that air pollution is linked to many acute and chronic illnesses such as cardiorespiratory diseases, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Pre-natal and early-life exposure to air pollution can lead to severe consequences, including, but not limited to, development of asthma in children in urban areas (when exposed for long term to nitrogen oxide). Increasing evidence points to a likely association between air pollution and low birth weight, preterm births, cognitive decline, and poor mental health outcomes throughout a lifetime.

Diseases of the respiratory system alone pose a huge financial burden on the healthcare systems across the continent. Improving air quality would reduce this societal impact significantly. Sick days, doctor visits, the need for medication, hospital care and the significant loss in productivity would all be reduced if decision-makers embraced an update of legislation in line with the WHO guidelines on air quality from 2021. This is even outside of the other significant effects that air pollution has on nearly every system of the body, the environment, biodiversity, crop yields and agriculture and physical infrastructure. Any air pollution can also have an effect on the global climate.

Scientific evidence conducted after the period covered by the new WHO Guidelines 2021 is particularly concerning. Researchers recently assessed the air pollution exposure of millions of Europeans and found that health effects can be found even at very low levels of pollution. So while there have been improvements over the last years, a lot more needs to be done to tackle the societal cost that still persists from poor air quality in Europe.

The European Respiratory Society’s doctors, patients, researchers call on legislators to positively shape the future with improved air quality for all citizens. The time has come to implement a legal framework that ensures effective monitoring, enables timely public information, and supports the latest scientific research. We need to pave the way for a better and longer quality of life for all European citizens. Ultimately, such actions will also encourage similar positive changes around the world.

Disclaimer: the opinions – including possible policy recommendations – expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EPHA. The mere appearance of the articles on the EPHA website does not mean an endorsement by EPHA. 

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