VIII. THE EUROPEAN CONTEXT
Air pollution in large industrial areas has been one of the serious environmental problems in Europe from roughly the middle of the last century. The wellknown episodes of “London smog" forced not only Britain, but also other Western European countries to gradually adopt national laws to reduce air pollution.
It was apparent in the 1960's that the problem can be solved only on the basis of international cooperation. It followed from a study in the framework of the program of investigation of long-range pollution transmission, which was carried out under the auspices of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 1971 to 1977, that the acidification of rivers and lakes in Scandinavia is a result of acid precipitation caused by pollutants released into the atmosphere in continental Europe. Consequently, the first internationally binding document was adopted to resolve problems connected with air pollution at a broad regional level, the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP), which was adopted in 1979 by the UN Economic Commission for Europe.
Measures introduced in the framework of CLRTAP and especially as a result of a EU Directive have improved substantially the air quality in Europe in the past decade. It was possible to reduce emissions of a great many pollutants; nonetheless, the pollution caused by suspended particulate matter and ozone still constitutes a substantial risk. A considerable part of the European population and ecosystems continues to be exposed to higher pollutant concentrations than the legislatively stipulated limit levels and values recommended by the World Health Organisation.
In spite of the mentioned improvement, air pollution is one of the highest-risk environmental factors causing premature death, increasing the occurrence of a wide range of diseases, damaging vegetation and ecosystems and leading to a loss of biological diversity in Europe. All these factors lead to substantial economic losses. A further improvement will require measures and cooperation on a global, continental, national and local level in most branches of the economy with public participation. The measures must include technological development, structural changes including optimisation of the infrastructure and territorial planning, as well as a change in behaviour. Protection of the natural capital and support for economic prosperity, human well-being and social development are part of the vision of European Union 2050, laying down the 7th EU Action Programme for the Environment (EU 2013). Emissions of the main pollutants released into the ambient air in Europe have decreased since 1990. Nonetheless, this reduction has not been sufficient in all the sectors and the emissions of some pollutants have even increased. For example, there has not been a sufficient reduction in NOx emissions from mobile sources and consequently pollutant limit levels are exceeded in a great many cities. In the past ten years, PM2.5 and benzo[a]pyrene emissions have also increased in the EU as a result of incomplete combustion of coal and biomass in households and in private and public buildings. These sources now make the greatest contribution in the EU to emissions of particulates and benzo[ a]pyrene (Fig. VIII.1).
Long-term monitoring of air quality in Europe is at a high level and, together with North America, it is a continent with the highest density of measuring stations. The national air quality monitoring networks are operated by the individual countries in accordance with the EU regulations, but practical provisions for these networks differ in these countries. In some places they are established by the central environmental agencies or meteorological institutes, while elsewhere this responsibility is delegated to the regional authorities. In addition to the national networks, long-term pan-European projects are implemented, whose main goals include detecting long-term trends in air quality in a European- wide context. These programmes are implemented under CLRTAP (EMEP and the group for evaluating the impacts of long-range transboundary air pollution), WMO GAW and in the context of European research infrastructures (ACTRIS, ICOS). From the viewpoint of damage to human health in Europe, the greatest problems are caused by concentration levels of particulates (PM), tropospheric ozone (O3), nitrous oxide (NO2) and carcinogenic benzo[a]pyrene. Polluted air causes serious health problems especially for the inhabitants of cities and municipalities. O3, ammonia (NH3) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) cause the most extensive damage to ecosystems.
- It has been estimated that, in the three-year 2012–2014 period, 16–21% of the urban population in the EU Member States were exposed to above-limit 24-hour PM10 concentrations, 8–12% to above-limit annual PM2,5 concentrations, 20–24% to above-limit annual benzo[ a]pyrene concentrations, 8–17% to O3 concentrations greater than the target value and 7–9% to above-limit annual NO2 concentrations.
- The estimate of the percentage of the population exposed to concentrations higher than the values recommended by WHO was even greater, for example, 85–91% for PM2.5, 88–91% for benzo[a]pyrene, 94–98% for O3 and as much as 35–49% for SO2.
- Estimates of the health impacts of the effect of polluted air indicate that long-term exposure to fine particulates (PM2.5) in Europe in 2013 contributed to approx. 467 thousand premature deaths, long-term exposure to high NO2 concentrations to 71 thousand and short-term exposure to high concentrations of O3 to approx. 17 thousand premature deaths (EEA 2016).
- The inhabitants of Central and Eastern Europe, including the Balkan peninsula, suffer from the greatest exposure to above-limit concentrations of suspended particulates and benzo[a]pyrene, while the areas with the most widespread pollution also include the Po Valley in northern Italy (Figs. VIII.2 and VIII.3).
- Limit NO2 concentrations are exceeded especially in areas affected by transportation (VIII.4). The occurrence of above-limit concentrations can also be anticipated in countries where these pollutants are monitored only at a limited number of sites or are not monitored at all or this data is not provided to EEA.
- The primary pollutants that are derived from local and other emission sources are also accompanied by air pollution by secondary particulates (Chap. IV.1.4) and ozone. In relation to the mechanism of its formation (Chap. IV.4.3), the ozone concentrations increase from low values in northern Europe to the highest values especially in countries around the Mediterranean Sea (Fig. VIII.5).
The pollution levels in various parts of the Czech Republic differ substantially. On the one hand, there are areas with very low pollution levels, in which the air quality is similar to that in the continuously unpopulated regions of Europe and the pollutant concentrations are well below the pollution limit levels. The data from the Czech EMEP background stations are comparable with the concentrations measured at similarly located Central European stations. On the other hand, the O/K/F-M agglomeration, together with the adjacent areas in the Republic of Poland, are among the most highly polluted regions of Europe, both from the standpoint of extent and well as from that of concentrations reached (Chap. IV). Transmission of pollutants between the Czech Republic and neighbouring countries is most intense in the Silesian area (for more details, see Chap. V.3 and Blažek et al. 2013). Obviously, polluted air flows across the State borders in other areas, but the mutual transboundary effects are much less and mostly its quantification or even an estimate of probable impact is not available. In addition to the region of Silesia, the contributions of sources to the air pollution level has been described only in the Czech-Slovak boundary areas of the Moravian-Silesian and Žilina regions (VŠB-TU Ostrava 2014). CLRTAP deals with long-range transmission of pollutants across the continent and beyond it in the EMEP programme (EMEP 2016a). The programme was established in 1977 and its main goals encompass monitoring of long-term trends in air quality on a regional scale on the basis of measurements at selected background locations. Current information is provided by a summary report that evaluates the trends in basic pollutants in the context of CLRTAP 1990 (EEA 2015; EMEP 2016b; Mass, Grennfelt 2016).
In addition to the level of air pollution in the given year, long-term trends are also evaluated. Trends in emissions and concentrations measured at EMEP rural stations for basic pollutants in the context of CLRTAP after 1990 (EMEP 2016b), as well as concentration trends measured at urban and suburban station s in 2000–2014 (EEA 2016b) are given here. Basic outputs encompass:
- Emissions of sulphur compounds in Europe decreased dramatically after 1990, reflected in a reduction in the SO2 concentration in the air by 95%.
- Emissions of nitrogen compounds (NOx and NH3) also decreased in the monitored period, but to a far lesser degree than for sulphur compounds. Nonetheless, the reduction in emissions appeared as reduced concentrations of nitrogen compounds in the air. However, a number of areas including Central Europe do not exhibit any trends. In 2000–2014, a decreasing trend of -0.46 μg.m-3 p.a. was detected at urban and suburban background stations, with a value of as much as -0.62 μg.m-3 p.a. at traffic stations.
- Only data after 2000 are available for evaluating trends for PM10 and PM2.5. In the 2002–2012 period, a decrease was recorded in the average annual concentrations at rural EMEP stations of 26% for PM10 and 34% for PM2.5. In 2000–2014, a decreasing trend of -0.64 μg.m-3 p.a. was detected at urban and suburban background stations for PM10, and -0.34 μg.m-3 p.a. for PM2.5, and as much as -0.90 μg.m-3 p.a. for PM10 and -0.45 μg.m-3 p.a. for PM2.5 per year at traffic stations.
- European emissions of ozone precursors (NOx and VOC) decreased substantially after 1990 and this trend was reflected in a sharp decrease in NO2 and VOC concentrations in the air. In the 1990's, the average annual concentration of tropospheric ozone at rural EMEP stations exhibited a statistically insignificant increasing trend, which changed to a decrease after 2000 (throughout the entire period after 1990, a statistically significant increasing trend was recorded in the number of episodes in which the ozone concentration exceeded the pollution limit level, by 41% in the 1990's and by 60% after 2000). Similar developments were also characteristic of the summer episodes of high ozone concentrations. However regional differences can be seen between the individual parts of the EMEP territory. The Central European area is characterised by a continuous decrease over the whole monitored period. After 2002, all the EMEP stations exhibited an increasing trend both in annual averages and in summer maxima, and also in the number of times the EU limit was exceeded, Of this, the trend was statistically significant at 30–50% of stations. In 2000–2014, a decreasing trend of -0.68 μg.m-3 p.a. was detected at urban and suburban background stations, while there was a slight increasing trend of -0.05 μg.m-3 p.a. at traffic stations. In both cases, the trend is evaluated for the 93.2 percentile of the daily eight-hour maxima.
- Lead emissions in the EU countries decreased after 1990 by 80%, cadmium by 60% and mercury by 35%, while the corresponding decrease for the EECCA countries (Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia) was 76%, 49% and 10%, resp. The decrease was marked, especially in the 1990's. The decreasing trend in lead and cadmium concentrations in the air and precipitation is a consequence of emissions trends in Europe, while the effect of emissions outside the EMEP domain is apparent for mercury. The increment from the hemispheric transmission is much greater here than for other pollutants.
- For persistent organic pollutants (POP), the greatest decrease occurred for HCB (90%), while the emissions of BaP decreased by only 30% and even increased slightly in recent years. A decreasing trend of -0.033 ng.m-3 p.a. was measured for BaP concentrations in 2007–2014 without differentiation of the type of station.