Zero emission: attention moves from air quality to soil and water quality

Over 5 percent of Europeans die prematurely because of inadequate air quality; poor air is unhealthy. The EU Environment Agency presented new figures on air quality. In 2020, 96% of the European population was exposed to more particulate matter (PM2.5) than the World Health Organization considers healthy. NOx and Ozone also cause health problems.

The focus on reduced emissions is shifting from air quality and health to soil and water quality and biodiversity. More attention is also coming to sources of air pollution other than traffic, such as households with gas or wood stoves.

Getting better

Between 2005 and 2020, premature deaths from PM2.5 exposure fell by 45% in the EU. If this trend continues, the EU is expected to meet the Zero Pollution Action Plan goal of a 55% reduction in premature deaths by 2030.

Water and soil quality

Water and soil quality (and thus biodiversity) are moving up the agenda in addressing air pollution. Air pollution also damages terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

In the Netherlands, water and soil quality (and thus biodiversity) are essential in addressing emissions. The water quality in the Netherlands must meet specific environmental standards. These are laid down in the European Water Framework Directive (WFD). The WFD sets frameworks for quality standards that surface water in Europe must meet by 2027. By 2020, harmful levels of nitrogen deposition were observed in 75% of the EU’s total ecosystem area. This is a 12% reduction since 2005. The goal of the EU Zero Pollution Action Plan is a 25% reduction by 2030.

The requirements set by the new Euro7 standard for vehicles anticipate this by addressing the particulate matter in tire wear as well.

Focus on more than traffic alone

The primary source of particulate matter in Europe is fuel combustion in the residential, commercial, and institutional sectors. These emissions are mainly related to the combustion of solid fuels used to heat buildings. In 2020, this sector accounted for 44% of PM10 and 58% of PM2.5 emissions. Other significant sources of particulate matter are industry, road transport, and agriculture.

Agriculture was responsible for the vast majority (94%) of ammonia emissions and more than half (56%) of methane emissions. For nitrogen, the primary sources were road transport (37%), agriculture (19%), and industry (15%).

Source: EAA

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