In many European cities, poor air quality and exceeding the limit values for air pollutants are everyday problems. In particular, particulate matter (PM 10 and PM 2.5) is of greater health interest than other pollutants because it is associated with numerous respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and causes premature deaths. For this reason, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre has mapped the main sources of PM2.5 emissions for 150 cities across Europe, clarifying the role that municipalities, regions, Member States and the EU as a whole can play in reducing air pollution. The result of this work is the Air Quality Atlas for Europe (pdf). The JRC Atlas provides a detailed picture of how emissions from road and maritime transport, agriculture, industry and residential heating affect PM2.5 pollution. And it reveals how much these contributions vary from one city to another.
In cities such as Malmö (39% of the total PM2.5), Brescia (28%) and Parma (27%), Angers and Verona (26%), it emerges that the transport sector is the main contributor to higher PM2.5 levels.
In Newcastle (34%) and in the German cities of Wolfsburg (32%), Hanover (31%), Kiel (30%) and Bonn (40%), it is the agricultural sector that raises concentrations. Even though agricultural activities take place mainly outside urban centres, they can still contribute significantly to the rise in particulate matter levels, as the latter moves easily into the atmosphere carried by wind.
Industry also plays a key role in urban smog. The highest contributions were found in Linz (55%), Riga and Katowice (47%), Košice (44%) and Oviedo (44%). The impact of residential heating is more important in some Eastern European countries and in some Italian cities. The largest contributions were made by Ljubljana (45%), Turin (41%), Sofia (40%), Zagreb (38%) and Budapest (33%). With regard to shipping, Valletta (33%), Palermo (29%), Palma de Mallorca (26%), Athens (24%) and Bari (21%) are the cities where this sector has the greatest influence on particulate matter.
Although EU legislation has led to a general improvement in air quality over the years, there are still a number of problems that appear to be increasingly localised in specific regions and cities. A key issue is therefore to determine on what scale to act to reduce smog more effectively. The research, the Centre explains, can help cities develop measures targeted at their highest polluting activities. But also to help understand what action –whether at local, national or European level – would be most effective.