New EU Rules to Fight Smog and Protect Public Health

Environment - March 17, 2024

The problem of smog continues to be a significant threat to public health in Europe, with an estimated 330,000 deaths per year attributable to this form of air pollution.

In response to such a health emergency, the European Union institutions have recently approved a series of measures aimed at drastically reducing the levels of air pollutants, with the aim of protecting citizens’ health and promoting a cleaner and more sustainable environment. After intense negotiations in Brussels, the governments of the Twenty-seven Member States and the European Parliament have reached a historic agreement on a new directive that sets stricter limits for fine particles (PM2.5 and PM10) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), pollutants known for their negative impact on human health. This directive, part of the broader “Zero Pollution” package presented by the European Commission in 2022, aims to drastically reduce the number of premature deaths caused by air pollution, aiming for a 55% reduction by 2030.

Among the main provisions of the new directive is a significant reduction in the annual limit values for fine particles PM2.5 and nitrogen dioxide NO2. In particular, the annual limit values will be more than halved, going from 25 to 10 micrograms per cubic meter for PM2.5 and from 40 to 20 micrograms per cubic meter for NO2 respectively. This represents an important step towards protecting public health and reducing the risks associated with prolonged exposure to these pollutants.

Furthermore, the directive provides for the implementation of a greater number of air quality sampling points in cities, in order to more accurately monitor and assess air pollution levels and take timely corrective measures. The aim is to make information on air quality more accessible to the public, providing clear indications on the symptoms associated with smog peaks and potential health risks. Another key element of the directive is the establishment of the right to compensation for citizens who suffer damage to their health due to air pollution. This means that citizens will have the right to be compensated if national governments breach EU air pollution rules, ensuring greater accountability and protection for pollution damage.

However, the political agreement does not fail to introduce some flexibilities for member countries, which could ask for an extension of the deadline to reach the new limits by 2030, up to a maximum of ten years. This possibility is subject to compliance with specific conditions and could only be granted in cases where reaching the new pollution levels requires substantial changes in the existing infrastructure, such as the replacement of obsolete home heating systems. Finally, the directive establishes that air quality standards will be reviewed by 2030 and subsequently at least every five years, ensuring constant monitoring and periodic revision of the standards based on new scientific data and the guidelines of the World Health Organization. Healthcare. The approval of this new directive represents a significant step towards creating a healthier and more sustainable environment in Europe, but it will be essential to ensure effective implementation and rigorous monitoring to ensure compliance with the new air pollution limits and protect health and the well-being of European citizens. This may require significant investments in new technologies and infrastructure, as well as the adoption of targeted policies and incentives to promote the transition to cleaner and more sustainable energy sources. Furthermore, it will be important to actively involve civil society, environmental organizations and the private sector in the process of implementing new regulations and adopting more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices. Raising public awareness and education will be key to promoting greener behaviour and contributing to greater awareness of the health risks associated with air pollution.

It will then be crucial to promote research and development of innovative solutions to reduce polluting emissions and improve air quality, including, for example, the development of more effective emission control technologies, the promotion of sustainable mobility and the adoption of more eco-compatible agricultural practices.Finally, it will be essential to constantly monitor the effectiveness of the new rules and adapt them, if necessary, based on new scientific data and available best practices, with a continuous commitment from European institutions and national governments to ensure the protection of public health and safeguarding the environment for future generations.

The fight against smog and air pollution requires a collective and coordinated commitment at all levels, from the European Union to local authorities and individual citizens. Only through an integrated and collaborative approach can we hope to create a cleaner, safer and more sustainable environment for everyone.