Industry & health


Despite some successes over the past decades, the EU has been unable to set air quality standards that are in line with the World Health Organisation's recommendations.

In urban areas, over 90% of the population is exposed to levels of pollution which are above the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidelines for health protection published in 2005. This results in over 400,000 premature deaths in the EU every year with a health cost of between €330 billion and €940 billion.

In December 2013, the European Commission proposed its Clean Air Package, including a much needed revision of the National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive and a new directive to tackle emissions from Medium-sized Combustion Installations (MCP Directive). Unfortunately, the limited ambition within the proposals means that citizens across the EU will still be breathing polluted, unhealthy air long after 2030.

How agricultural emissions affect our health

The agricultural sector is the main source of ammonia (NH3) and methane (CH4) in the EU. Yet emissions reductions over the past thirty years for either of these pollutants have not been as impressive as reductions of pollutants from other sectors.

The infographic below explains what the sources for agricultural emissions are, how they impact on our health and why it is important to regulate them through the National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive. Our position paper 'Clean Air from our farms' explains what can and should be done to reduce emissions from agriculture.

How agricultural emissions affect our health
Position paper - Clean air from our farms

Position paper - National Emissions Ceilings Directive
Infographics: cross-border air pollution for 7 EU Member States


Over the coming months, the European Union will set new emission limits for every member state to reach by 2020, 2025 and 2030. The Air-o-Meter shows the impact of these decisions. 

For each policy scenario, you can see what the impact will be on your health, your economy and your environment. You can read the EEB's reaction on the latest vote in the European Parliament on the NEC Directive here.

video: meps, it's time for cleaner air


Our video ‘MEPs, it’s time for cleaner air’ was filmed in Brussels in June 2014. We measured the number of ultrafine particles (smaller than PM1) in the air at a number of well-known spots in the EU quarter. The results showed that the air in Brussels can be up to 180 times dirtier than the level of clean air.


GAsping for air - 12 factsheets on air pollution in the EU

These factsheets reveal how air pollution affects us, from our health to our economy, and explain what the main sources of pollution are. Crucially, they contain policy recommendations to MEPs that will help clean up our air. Click on the link above to download a zip file of all the factsheets, or click on the individual versions below.

Air & Agriculture
Air & Climate
Air & Cultural Heritage
Air & Domestic Heating
Air & the Economy
Air & Ecosystems
Air & Health
Air & Industry
Air & Non-Road Machines
Air & Road Vehicles
Air & Shipping
Air & Solvents



effects of air pollution

The health effects of air pollution are well documented. Poor air quality is a risk factor for heart and respiratory diseases, such as asthma and chronic bronchitis, as well as cancer. It is also increasingly linked with harm to children’s nervous systems and brain development, and even with diabetes.

Air pollution also damages nature and biodiversity by depositing acidifying and eutrophying substances over large areas in Europe. Sensitive ecosytems are often unable to endure high levels of pollution. Two thirds of EU ecosystems are currently exposed to higher nitrogen levels than they can cope with and 10% of them are over-exposed to acidifying air pollutants. 

Other phenomena such as climate change are closely linked with air pollution. Action to tackle climate change frequently improves air quality and vice-versa. Solutions to these problems exist and are in the hands of EU decision makers in Brussels, but also in national capitals where crucial decisions are taken.

Continued efforts to tackle air pollution and more ambitious EU policies would bring huge improvements to Europeans’ health, quality of life and to nature.

Useful links

- The European Commission's Clean Air Package, December 2013

- The 'Know Your Air for Health' website

- ‘Every breath we take – Signals 2013’, EEA publication about air quality, 2013

- WHO air quality and health fact sheet

- WHO Air Quality 2005 Guidelines

- REVIHAAP report by the WHO, January 2013

- European Commission's Environment Directorate-General’s air webpages

- ‘What can be done in your city to decrease air pollution’, 2011

- Eurobarometer on the attitudes of Europeans towards air quality, 2013

- ‘Acid News’, the magazine of the Air Pollution and Climate Secretariat (AirClim)