Air pollution still harming ecosystems, report finds

Despite reduction in emissions of various air pollutants in the last 20 years, air pollution is still causing harm to European ecosystems

Air pollution continues to harm sensitive ecosystems, despite a ‘marked improvement’ in emissions of various pollutants over the last two decades, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA).

The findings come in two reports published this week (June 30) by the EEA — an agency of the European Union which provides independent information on the environment.

European ecosystems continue to be harmed by air pollution, despite improvements over the last two decades

European ecosystems continue to be harmed by air pollution, despite improvements over the last two decades

The Agency’s European emission inventory report covers the period 1990-2012 and is submitted each year to the UN’s Convention on Transboundary Air Pollution.

According to this report, air pollution has improved significantly over the last two decades, with sulphur dioxide emissions — which are a major cause of acidification — in particular being a “major success story” of European legislation, with emissions falling 84% over the reporting period.

This, the report states, is largely due to  policies aimed at switching fuels, installing flue gas scrubbers in industrial plants and reducing the sulphur content of transport fuel.

Furthermore, pollutants causing eutrophication — nitrogen oxides and ammonia — have also fallen by 51% and 28% respectively, although 11 countries still exceeded Gothenburg Protocol limits for these pollutants in 2012.

However, the second EEA report — ‘Effects of air pollution on European ecosystems’ — assesses the proportion of ecosystems exposed to nitrogen dioxide and sulphur-containing pollutants above sustainable levels, which found that when pollutants exceed these levels they can harm plants and animals.

Hans Bruyninckx, EEA executive director

Hans Bruyninckx, EEA executive director

This report does also note the impact of work to tackle acid rain, which can kill fish and damage forests and affected around half of sensitive ecosystems in the 28 EU member states in 1980. It now affects around 5% of ecosystems, the report found.

But, despite some improvements, almost 60% of European sensitive ecosystems are still affected by eutrophication — an oversupply of nitrogen which can change ecosystems.

While the situation has continued to improve since the peak of eutrophication in 1990, when around 80% of ecosystems were affected, the report indicates that air pollution will “cause significant eutrophication for years to come”.

Hans Bruyninckx, EEA executive director said: “Although air pollution does not cause as much harm as it once did, we are still struggling to protect sensitive ecosystems from harmful effects such as eutrophication. This changes habitats, endangering a wide range of species from fish to flowering plants. It is particularly striking that the problem appears to be just as bad in Europe’s protected natural areas.”


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10 years ago

Yes, important points here – but can we have a mention of what the pollution is doing to our lungs too please? And is it really the case that “air pollution does not cause as much harm as it once did (to ecosystems?)” – not sure I’d agree with that …. but I suppose it depends on definition of “harm”. Also, what counts as air pollution exactly? Yes, fine particles, smoke, VOCs, etc. etc. (all nasty stuff) but what about the overly strong deodorants people use these days and the so-called “air-fresheners” that seem to be everywhere? No wonder cases of asthma are going up and that they are not all related to pollen and animals dander …. seems to be m ore chemical/particle based now? I actually had to walk out of the room at the cremation funeral service of a loved one this week – the air was so “perfumed” I could hardly breathe …. and it has stuck to my clothes too …. whatever is this stuff? I’m sure some air pollutants have indeed been reduced, which is great, but are we at risk of replacing them with other ones now? Humans belong to ecosystems too …

Thanks for listening – time for another cough! Jo

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