[eng] Where is Europe's freshest air?

Article published on Feb. 17, 2017
Article published on Feb. 17, 2017

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

For a few weeks now, air contamination has been reaching peak levels in Poland. And so, inevitably, if one European country has trouble breathing, it is all of the Old Continent that is coughing. What's the general situation? Get some fresh air with our interactive maps!

For a few weeks now Poland has been covered by smog, except for a few brief moments of respite. In some cities air contamination thresholds are often easily exceeded. Measures have been taken to reduce this phenomenon: free public transportation, warning emitted by the municipalities, the population is advised to stay home and avoid physical activities, especially children and elder people. However, these measures are far from enough and activists demand the revision of the whole system: heating devices must be updated, smokers (of any kind) must be punished, road traffic must be reduced...

This is not a new issue. Even though it appears in Poland a few years ago, smog has only been at the centre of debates since the last peak. According to a recent report of WHO, 33 of the 50 most contaminated cities in Europe are in Poland. Let's not forget that this issue is Europe's concern: about 467 000 people die every year from pollution

But what exactly is killing us? Most deaths are caused by fine particles, particles more than 10 times finer than a human hair. There are two types of particles: PM 10 and PM 2,5 (with a 10- and 2.5-micrometer diameter respectively). See the two maps below to find out the average fine particles concentration in European countries year by year.

PM 10

Źródło: Eurostat

Particles with a diameter of less than 10 micrometers are the most useful index to measure air contamination. They are the cause for many lung and circulatory system diseases, they can even aggravate asthma and induce cancers. Children and elder people are particularly at risk. This is why there's no such thing as a "zero risk" for these particles.  WHO established an average exposure threshold of 20 µg/m3 (microgram per square meter) per year that should not be exceeded. Countries in green on the map are not exceeding this threshold, unlike countries in red. Scandinavia is doing very well, as usual. Bulgaria and Poland, on the other hand, are at Europe's bottom of the class. Romania and Italy are also lagging behind.

PM 2.5

Źródło: Eurostat

Particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers are even more harmful on human health than the PM 10 particles. They are so fine they can infiltrate our blood via the lungs. That's why WHO's exposure threshold is much lower: 10 µg/m3. Most of Europe is exceeding this threshold. Bulgaria and Poland, once again, are the worst, followed by central Europe and Italy. On the other hand, situation is not that desperate in Ireland, Portugal and, obviously, Scandinavia.