Last September 13, and on the margins of the Health & Environment Alliance’s (HEAL) Annual General Assembly (AGA), a workshop was dedicated to the air quality situation in Europe. Indoor and outdoor air quality, air pollution, and children’s health and air quality measured on the spot were on the agenda.

Why did the Health & Environment Alliance’s (HEAL) decide to put Air quality at the top of its priorities?

While there have been some improvements in air quality in Europe, air pollution continues to be a massive public health problem responsible for nearly half a million deaths each year in the EU alone. It not only concerns political decision-makers and environmental groups, but also researchers and the health community as a whole.

Janez Potočnik, EU Commissioner for Environment, has designated 2013 as the Year of Air “to bring health & environment impacts from air pollution back into the spotlight”.

The EU is carrying out a major review of its air policy with cities, regions, Member States, the World Health Organisation (WHO), health experts, NGOs and industry set to see where further EU action to curb air pollution is necessary, and to address the problems that many EU Member States are having in complying with EU air quality standards.

HEAL adopted its Work Programme for 2013 with air quality as one of its top priorities. Under the chairmanship of Mr. Scott Brockett, European Commission, DG Environment, this policy workshop aimed at building capacity through:

  • Highlighting further health evidence of the damaging effects of poor air quality and why cities, Member States and the EU need to do more to protect our health.
  • Informing participants on current policy measures, especially regarding the Directive on Ambient Air Quality (2008/50/EC).
  • Providing HEAL’s members and guests with an overview of activities in the EU Year of Air and where they can become involved.
  • Facilitating exchange with health partners, campaigners, environmental groups and researchers on policy demands.

During the workshop, the air pollution levels outside the HEAL office were measured with the support of Bert Brunekreef and the Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences (IRAS), University of Utrecht.

The workshop was organised in close collaboration with the European Respiratory Society (ERS) and the European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients Associations (EFA).

Main conclusions of the workshop:

  • Clean air is a fundamental human right: Everybody has the right to breath clean air.
  • There is a clear link between the quality of air and people’s health.
  • Outdoor air pollution is one of the biggest environmental health threats in Europe today. It is leading to significant reductions of life expectancy and productivity.
  • Air quality-wise, there is a sharp contrast between suburban and urban areas.
  • The world’s emissions of nitrogen dioxide from modern diesel engines are much higher than predicted.
  • The link between indoor and outdoor air quality does exist. Although there is EU legislation on outdoor air quality, similar legislation is missing as regards to indoor air quality. One of the reasons is that it is more difficult to formulate appropriate rules for indoor air quality.
  • People ought to be able to choose to live and work in areas with good air quality, but this is not always the case. Poor people are more likely to be exposed to air pollution since their meagre income limits their mobility options.

EPHA, as a member organisation of HEAL, actively participated in the workshop supporting HEAL’s efforts to achieve better air quality across the EU.

Further information is available on the air quality section of the Health & Environment Alliance’s (HEAL) website.

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