EU Broke Air Pollution Limits in 2020 Despite COVID

Image: MPD01605 via Wikimedia Commons

By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

The European Environment Agency (EEA) found that a majority of EU countries broke at least one air pollution limit last year — despite COVID-19 lockdowns. In addition, 17 EU countries failed to stay below ozone pollution targets, which directly influence global warming; and eight EU countries failed to stay below limits for nitrogen dioxide pollution — an improvement from 18 countries in 2019.


Why this Matters: Air quality is Europe’s biggest environmental health risk, and 10 EU countries have been prosecuted for over-polluting the air. Nitrogen dioxide pollution from car exhaust can induce asthma and lung problems, while particulate matter from burning coal can cause lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. These health risks particularly affect low-income communities, who are exposed disproportionately to these pollutants. In 2018, 379,000 people died prematurely in the EU as a result of excessive particulate matter.


While COVID-19 lockdowns helped lessen both nitrogen dioxide and particulate pollution, too many EU countries have still blown past their legal air pollution limits. 


Cleaning Up Europe’s Air

In May, the EU pursued more stringent regulations on air pollution, waste, and use of chemicals to protect public health. The EU set a goal to reduce premature deaths associated with air pollution by at least 55%. They also aim to reduce air pollution by 25% in ecosystems where it threatens biodiversity and marine plastic litter by 50%.

“One of the big lessons we have learned from the COVID crisis is the close connection between human health and the health of the planet. At the moment, neither is doing well,” EU Environment Commissioner Virginius Sinkevicius told Reuters.

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