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Health risks of industrial activities

Air pollution is a local, pan-European and hemispheric issue. Air pollutants released in one country may be transported in the atmosphere, contributing to or resulting in poor air quality elsewhere. Particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ground-level ozone are now generally recognised as having the most significant impact on human health. Around 90 percent of urban dwellers in Europe are exposed to pollutants at concentrations higher than the levels considered safe for health. The presence of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the air has been estimated to reduce life expectancy in the EU by more than eight months. 

Children are more vulnerable to air pollution than adults. The health risks posed to children call for revised daily practices and urgent changes in industrial activities. There are various sources of air pollution of anthropogenic origin, including:

  • the burning of fossil fuels in electricity generation, transport, industry and households;
  • industrial processes and solvent use, for example in the chemical and mineral industries;
  • agriculture; and
  • waste treatment.

Future goals

European Union policies have formulated a response to the air quality problem. The EU’s long-term objective is to achieve levels of air quality that do not result in unacceptable impacts on, and risks to, human health, especially on health and the environment. The EU acts at many levels to reduce exposure to air pollution: through legislation; cooperation with sectors responsible for air pollution as well as international, national and regional authorities and non-governmental organisations; and research institutes. The EU’s policies aim to reduce exposure to air pollution by reducing emissions and setting limits and target values for air quality. In late 2013, the European Commission adopted a Clean Air Quality Package, including new measures to reduce air pollution.