The European Environment Agency (EEA) has published a briefing on the status of concentrations of pollutants in ambient air in 2020 and 2021 by pollutant, in relation to both EU air quality standards and the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines updated in 2021. The assessment shows that exceedances of air quality standards are common across the EU, with concentrations above the latest WHO recommendations. Nevertheless, in 2020, lockdown measures adopted to minimise the spread of COVID-19 had a temporary impact on emissions of air pollution from road transport and led to improved air quality.
The briefing has several key findings:
- In 2020, concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) temporarily fell as a direct result of reductions in road transport during COVID-19 lockdowns. Reductions in NO2 annual mean concentrations of up to 25% were seen in major cities in France, Italy and Spain. During the first lockdown in April 2020, NO2 concentrations monitored at traffic stations fell by up to 70%.
- Despite these reductions and ongoing overall improvements in air quality, air pollution is still a major health concern for Europeans.
- Central-eastern Europe and Italy reported the highest concentrations of particulate matter and benzo[a]pyrene, a carcinogen, due primarily to the burning of solid fuels for domestic heating and their use in industry.
- Ozone levels were lower than in previous years, but still high in central Europe and some Mediterranean countries.
- In the EU, 96% of the urban population was exposed to levels of fine particulate matter above the latest health-based guideline set by the WHO.