22 May 2022
Asthma , COPD, Allergy, Food Allergy, Other Diseases

In April, EFA participated in the second and last stakeholder meeting on the revision of the EU Air Quality Directives, organised by the European Commission’s Directorate General for Environment (DG ENV). EFA participated actively in the meeting to bring the voice of allergy, asthma and COPD patients to this crucial discussion on the health impacts of air pollution.

Air pollution is a direct threat to human health and affects particularly vulnerable groups such as children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with chronic airways disease. For years, EFA has been calling for cleaner air in Europe and proposing tools to better inform the population about air pollution limits. The discussions will feed into the Commission’s impact assessment that runs in parallel to the legislative review.

Calculating the impact of air pollution on health to define the ambition of the directives

During the meeting, the Commission presented a summary of the feedback received in the previous consultation. It is noteworthy that the feedback from health and environmental groups, but also from the majority of individual citizens, provided a strong support for an ambitious revision of EU air quality rules.

The Commission presented an analysis recognising that the health impacts of air pollution have been underestimated due to limited scnenario analysis and a lack of public awareness. EFA Policy Advisor Panagiotis Chaslaridis stressed during the meeting that morbidity should also be considered: short-term exposure to air pollution, symptom exacerbation including for allergy, asthma and COPD patients which leads to more frequent hospitalisations, visits to the emergency room and medicine intake, lost days from school or work, and loss of quality of life overall, can and should be part of the impact assessment.

Given the health impacts of air pollution, Panagiotis also encouraged for the Commission's Directorate General for Foode Safety and Health (DG SANTE) to take a more active role in the revision of the Directives and co-lead the revision process - given that DG SANTE has not been present in any of the consultative process with stakeholders.

Future air pollution levels should be aligned with latest health science

The Commission also facilitated discussions around the three main topics of the consultation: closer alignment of air quality standards with scientific knowledge; improvement of the air quality legislative framework, including information aspects; and strengthening air quality monitoring, modelling and plans.

Panagiotis reiterated EFA’s strong support for full alignment of the EU standards with the 2021 WHO Ambient Air Quality Guidelines and certainly by 2030 at the latest. He stressed that considerations on the technical feasibility are secondary when the EU is facing such a heavy health burden because of air pollution, which cuts short the lives of over 360,000 people in Europe yearly.

The public should have broader access to air pollution information, including pollen

Air pollution comes with suffering and costs, and we need to communicate clearly about the whole health burden. Panagiotis highlighted the need for better air quality information as a key element of empowered citizens, particularly of those mostly at risk. For example, accurate, real-time information on the levels of air pollution is a valuable prevention factor, as it can help people adapt their daily activities to reduce their exposure.

In this regard, Panagiotis stressed that information thresholds are crucial to inform the public. Such thresholds must be defined also for pollutants currently not within the scope, such as pollen and sand/dust. Pollen is particularly problematic for people with respiratory allergies, with pollen counts increasing in the last years and being directly affected by climate change and therefore the air pollution levels.

The European Commission is expected to adopt its proposal for revision and present the outcomes of the impact assessment in the last quarter of 2022.

Find more about EFA’s work on this revision: public consultation, targeted consultation and 1st stakeholder workshop, as well as our work on air quality in this section.