19 January 2022
Asthma , COPD
- Air Quality

Breathing clean air is an essential right for a healthy life and the European Union has been developing for decades legislation to ensure good air quality in Europe. EFA, representing allergy, asthma and COPD patients, participated in the 2nd part of the European Commission consultation for the revision of the EU Ambient Air Quality Directives.  Our demands focused on the need for a significant increase in action to tackle air pollution at all levels, including the international, European and national levels.

Full alignment with WHO recommendations: a must for a healthy population

The new WHO Air Quality Guidelines, published September 2021, shows world scientific consensus on the damaging effects of air pollution on health. Upon analysis of alarming new evidence of the health effects of air pollution, WHO recommended a significant reduction of pollutant levels, compared to previous recommendations.

EFA’s response to the EU consultation places renewed focus on the need for a more ambitious EU air quality framework that is in full alignment with the latest WHO recommendations. This target needs to be achieved as soon as possible, and certainly by no later than 2030, considering the legislative realities at the EU and national level.

Our lung and respiratory systems are among the prime targets of polluted air. And yet, air pollution remains unaddressed in most European countries, even though it causes more than 400.000 premature deaths yearly.

To have an effective reduction in air pollution, EFA calls on the Commission to set concrete and legally binding interim targets, avoiding vague long-term aspirations that cause legal uncertainties. We also fully support the establishment of a process for automatic update and review of the legislation, based on emerging evidence.  

Ways of improvement: public information and indoor air pollution

Information is power, and in the case of air quality, it can be truly lifesaving. So, what can the EU do for the ? And, importantly, how can information reach the most vulnerable parts of the population in a timely fashion?

Access to EU publicly available information on air quality is fragmented at best. Therefore, EFA calls the Commission to ensure information and messaging that is targeted to sensitive groups such as chronic respiratory and allergy patients, accompanied by specific details on the health effects of air pollution. Accordingly, EFA highlights the need to support citizen science, which is non-professional research, via low-cost, scientifically proven air quality monitors that complement official measurements and provide real-time information.

Moreover, we call on the Commission to amend the existing framework to also address natural pollutants such as pollen, as a forward-looking future development area strongly mentioned in the WHO Air Quality Guidelines. EFA advocates for a real-time monitoring system for pollen that generates health-related information. Equally, air quality forecast can also be improved with regards to sand/dust storms, wildfires and volcanic emissions, which affect specifically chronic respiratory patients.

There are plenty of other ways to build a more comprehensive EU air quality framework. For EFA, it is imperative to expand the existing standards to include indoor pollution as well as other chemical pollutants, such as black carbon, ultrafine particles and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Moreover, EFA calls for a thorough investigation of the synergistic effects of pollen in the presence of other dangerous pollutants such as lead and asbestos.

Strengthening monitoring, modelling and national plans

Finally, we believe that that air quality modelling should take into account health impacts, costs to society, societal impacts and the effects of air pollution on sensitive population groups. Relevant to this, rules on monitoring should strengthen in terms of spatial deployment of the sampling points, and should integrate more criteria on human exposure.

In the coming months EFA will work hard and at all levels (including via our participation in the Zero Pollution Stakeholder Platform) to ensure that the EU achieves safe air quality levels for all.

You can find in our website the full EFA response to the 1st consultation and the 2nd consultation.

You can read the WHO Air Quality Guidelines here.