Spotlight on Health and Clean Air

On 19 March, HEAL and the European Respiratory Society (ERS) co-organised the Spotlight on Health and Clean Air event at the EP which shed further light on air pollution and the measures that Europe needs in order to tackle this invisible killer.

bert2The event, hosted by MEPs Satu Hassi and Claudiu Ciprian Tanasescu, brought together leading medical experts, decision makers and civil society organisations to learn about the latest science on health effects of air pollution and discuss what needs to be done for cleaner air in Europe.

Air pollution continues to be a top health concern: it is responsible for nearly half a million premature deaths each year, and severe impacts on respiratory and cardiovascular health. A recent Eurobarometer shows that citizens share the concerns about air pollution, with 87% of Europeans considering air-quality related diseases a serious problem in their country, and the majority wanting the EU to do more.

In his keynote speech, Prof. Bert Brunekreef from the University of Utrecht, and member of the European Respiratory Society (ERS), presented the 10 Principles for Clean Air, a set of policy recommendations from ERS, to help deliver cleaner air for all. The Principles summarise the scientific state of the art and aim to provide guidance for public health policy. Recommendations include the need to reduce concentrations of fine particles and ozone and to tackle roadside and non-tailpipe emissions, as well as the need to assess the impact of other sources of air pollutants like biomass burning.

The Principles also underscore the link between climate change and ill-health. In the principles, lung experts highlight especially that current limit values in Europe for particulate matter offer no protection from adverse effects on public health, as they are far above recommendations by the WHO and also well above the US air quality standards.

Participants also heard interventions from Caroline Gillisens from Alpha-1 Belgium Patient Group, who made the case on how reducing air pollution will especially help people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and from Scott Brockett (DG Environment), Migle Masaityte (Permanent Representation of Lithuania) and Roberto Bertollini (WHO chief representative to the EU).

The event underlined again the urgency of measures to reduce air pollution at the local, national and EU level. The recent history of the EU’s air pollution policy has been characterised by several delays and missed opportunities. But the 2013 EU Year of Air offers the chance to make things right.

HEAL and over 60 environmental, health and citizens’ organisations from across the EU urge the EU Institutions to agree on three priority actions and to start working towards these as soon as possible:

1. The adoption of ambitious reduction commitments in the revised NEC Directive, both for existing and ‘new’ pollutants

2. The adoption of sector legislation to cut emissions from all major sources

3. The enforcement and strengthening of ambient air quality limit values.

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