Air quality must improve quickly to protect citizens

On Wednesday, September 20, 2023, the British newspaper The Guardian published a study on air quality in Europe. Using visualizations based on models from the research team of Professor Roel Vermeulen, the newspaper shows that virtually everyone in Europe is breathing unhealthy air.

Significant impact on health

"We've known for a while that the air quality is not sufficient," says Vermeulen. "It's a harsh reality that, according to the guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO), the air in Europe doesn't meet the standards anywhere." The European Environment Agency (EEA) has calculated that nearly 240,000 people died prematurely due to poor air quality in 2020.

Eastern Europe and Northern Italy are the worst affected. "This is mainly due to outdated industry, such as the burning of coal in old power plants," explains Vermeulen. He sees that significant investments are needed to make the industry cleaner and to reduce emissions from road traffic, agriculture, and livestock farming.

New guidelines

The European Union aims to amend regulations regarding air quality. By 2035, all countries must comply with WHO guidelines. The European Parliament has already approved this. "Good news," says Vermeulen. "But it's also very bitter that it has taken so long. Meanwhile, the health damage continues." The EU Council still needs to approve the proposal. Vermeulen hopes that nothing will change, and it will be implemented quickly.

The Netherlands has an average of about 10 micrograms per cubic meter of fine particulate matter in the air. This is twice as high as the new WHO guideline prescribes. Vermeulen points out that a faster transition is needed, especially in road traffic. "This means using different cars and carefully considering the number of kilometers vehicles with combustion engines drive. Perhaps people should work from home more, make greater use of public transportation, or make city centers car-free."

Are you curious about the air quality in your area? The research team has also created an interactive map in collaboration with The Guardian.

Interactive map