Air quality is a concern for European citizens; 56% of Europeans think that air quality has worsened in the last decade, and almost nine out of ten citizens consider air-quality related to be an issue.
Member States are struggling to achieve their air quality targets, it is an increasing concern that, up to 41% of the EU urban population is exposed to PM levels that exceed the EU air quality daily limit. The full report can be found here.
Poor air quality as a result of emissions from transport is a particular problem in urban areas, where high congestion makes the low air quality problem most acute. According to the EU Commission, some 500,000 European citizens die prematurely, primarily due to exposure to high PM levels. A study by the WHO revealed that life expectancy could be increased by up to 22 months in Europe's most polluted cities if long-term PM2.5 concentrations were reduced to the WHO air quality daily limit. DG Environment has dedicated 2013 to reviewing EU policy on air quality in order to address these challenges.
According to the European Environment Agency, fine particles or 'particulate matter' (PM) is one of the most damaging pollutants for human health. Long term exposure to PM 10 can have negative health impacts, such as respiratory diseases and even premature death. According to the Commission, some 500,000 premature deaths can be traced back to the harmful health effects of air pollution
Nitrogen dioxide can irritate the lungs and lower resistance to respiratory infections such as influenza. Continued or frequent exposure to concentrations that are typically much higher than those normally found in the ambient air may cause increased incidence of acute respiratory illness in children.
As the map below demonstrates, NOx concentrations in most European urban areas have been high and in many cases exceeding the annual limits.
Paraffinic fuels have several positive properties from an air quality perspective, as they allow for reduction in NOx emissions.
In Brussels, citizens suffer from poor air quality that is partly linked to high pollutant levels. According to a study by Aphekom, the daily limit values for PM10 are systematically exceeded in some sites. According to a Government analysis of the Belgian car fleet, total annual diesel PM emissions from transport in Brussels are close to 350 tonnes.
ASFE estimated that if all diesel vehicles in Brussels (passenger cars and heavy duty) switched to paraffinic fuels, approximately 129 tonnes of PM could be saved each year. This would correspond to taking over 64,000 of the most polluting cars, belonging to the Euro 1 and 2 emissions category, off the road.
Paraffinic fuels are available now and can be used in existing diesel engines using existing diesel fuel infrastructure. They emit up to 40% less PM than conventional diesel fuels. The increased use of paraffinic fuels could lead to immediate improvements in air quality in Brussels, reducing health risks related to air pollution.