Air Quality

Air pollution is Europe’s invisible killer. Each year in the EU over 400,000 people die prematurely as a result of breathing toxic air. The EEB works to ensure that European laws improve air quality everywhere, and protect people and ecosystems from the threats posed by air pollution.

Air pollution is responsible for a number of direct effects on human health. Exposure to polluted air directly leads to the development of serious medical conditions including asthma, respiratory infections, heart disease, strokes, bronchitis and cancer. Air pollution also has negative impacts on Europe’s nature and biodiversity, such as acidification and eutrophication, and it damages agricultural crops, natural vegetation, historical buildings and monuments.

Air pollution can be caused by road traffic, shipping, agriculture, domestic heating and power plants. These sources produce a number of different substances that have a negative effect on air quality, including sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds (including methane) and tiny particulate matter, dust. Cutting emissions at source is key to guarantee cleaner air, and all sectors have a role to play.

Air pollution knows no border: by their very nature air-borne pollutants are carried by the wind, sometimes over significant distances, making their effects felt beyond the immediate area where they are released. It is therefore important that air pollution is addressed by effective rules at the EU level.

To help develop policies that work, the EEB’s Clean Air Working Group gathers air pollution experts from across Europe to discuss the challenges of addressing poor air quality effectively. The group makes recommendations to national and European decision makers on a wide variety air quality issues.

Where rules already exist, the EEB and its members push for them to be properly implemented and, when necessary, for them to be improved.  Two crucial European directives are the Ambient Air Quality Directive, that sets limits for pollution in the air we breathe, and the National Emission Ceilings Directive, that requires Member States to reduce their total emissions from all sources.

The EEB is also part of Clean Air Farming, a project supported by the LIFE programme of the European Commission to promote the reduction of ammonia and methane emissions from agriculture.

up to €940 billion every year

Estimated annual health-related economic costs due to air pollution (€330-940 billion)

430000 premature deaths

caused each year by air pollution in the EU

Library for Air Quality