Europe may be pushing ahead with its pollution-cutting, greenhouse gas-slashing policies, but its air is still significantly packed full of toxic compounds and dangerous particulate matter. Tens of thousands of people are dying prematurely each year from air pollution-linked medical conditions.
To date, there hasn’t been a cohesive, accessible way for people to check the status of air quality where they live – with some regional exceptions. The European Environment Agency and the European Commission have now collaborated on a new Air Quality Index (AQI) pasted across an interactive map, one which shows what the air is like in the city, town, or village you live in.
It provides users with the chance to see what the concentrations of ground-level ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide are like. The concentrations of extremely fine (PM2.5) and fairly fine (PM10) particulates – both of which can be directly linked to cardiovascular and respiratory conditions – can also be observed.
Data is available on the hour, every hour, and you can see how things have changed over two days if you’re interested. While there’s little you can do on a personal level about such pollution – except buy a car that doesn’t use diesel, perhaps – it’s darkly fascinating to see which regions are the most heavily afflicted.
Reports and datasets from 33 different European nations are used. If there’s a gap in the data, cutting-edge modeling fills in the rest.
“Failing to meet air quality standards that have been in place for decades is not an option,” Karmenu Vella, the EU Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs, and Fisheries, told Air Quality News. “I have been very clear with EU Member States that they have to ‘up their game’.”
Air pollution is indeed a public health emergency that needs to be dealt with swiftly, and the upcoming European bans on petrol and diesel cars will certainly go a long way towards this. It’s worth pointing out, though, that poorer nations around the world have far worse pollution problems than Europe.
Plenty of low-income countries and developing states have poorer environmental and public health protections. Along with the more intense use of coal, wood-burning stoves, and other such practices, air pollution is often comparatively more severe.
All major types of pollution combined are responsible for 9 million premature deaths around the world per year, the vast majority of which affect poor people. Although Europe hasn’t yet achieved safe air quality across all its borders, it’s also safe to say that this is nothing less than a skewed, planetwide disaster.