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Bad air in Europe

Air pollution has a negative impact on health worldwide. It is estimated that a total of up to 4.2 million people die prematurely due to pollution in cities. In Europe, too, the limit values are exceeded by many countries.

The European Environment Agency (EEA) in Copenhagen has pointed out that there are too many cities in Europe that still exceed the limits for pollutants. The data on which the EEA relies is from 2019, before the pandemic. Preliminary data from last year does show a significant improvement. However, it is very likely that this air pollution will rise again to pre-Covid levels.


Air pollution is the biggest health threat posed by the environment. Persistent exposure to dirty ambient air leads to lung diseases and cardiovascular complaints. In Germany, the limit values of nitrogen dioxide, ground-level ozone and benzo(a)pyrene are clearly exceeded. Benzo(a)pyrene is produced by burning solid substances. Particularly in Eastern Europe, where coal and wood are still burned for heating in many places, benzo(a)pyrene pollution is very high. Other pollutants also contribute to air pollution, such as methane and soot. Methane is not only a powerful greenhouse gas, but also an important precursor of so-called ground-level ozone. Soot, in turn, is an important component of particulate matter and contributes significantly to global warming. In general, people in big cities are naturally exposed to more pollutants than in the countryside.

The recommendations of the EU and the WHO differ in their limit values. Fine dust with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less, known as PM2.5, is the most dangerous substance. The smaller it is, the faster it enters the bloodstream. Here, for example, the WHO recommends not exceeding a particulate matter level of 10 µg/m3 per year. The EU is a little looser and recommends no more than 25 µg/m3 per year. The same applies to other pollutants. But if the EU were to adopt the WHO values, the environmental zones that already exist in Europe would have to be tightened even further. And in Eastern Europe, many environmental zones would have to be created in the first place in order to get a grip on pollutant emissions.

How high is the pollution level in your city? In our Green Zones app you can always find out exactly how high the levels of particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide are. All information is updated daily.