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Environmental zones as lifesavers

About 400,000 people in Europe die every year as a result of air pollution. Environmental zones are already helping to make the air cleaner. But the limits set by the World Health Organisation are still far from being met.

Last year, many European cities complied with the EU limits for nitrogen oxide and particulate matter. These are 40 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) as an annual average for nitrogen oxide and 25 µg/m3 for particulate matter in the PM2.5 category, i.e. the smallest suspended particles with a size of up to 2.5 micrometres. For PM10, i.e. somewhat larger fine dust particles, the limit value is 50 µg /m3. In Germany, this limit may be exceeded on up to 35 days a year.

Adherence to the EU limits has already saved many lives. The environmental zones and driving bans in Europe contribute significantly to this. While the WHO's recommended limit value for nitrogen oxide corresponds to that of the EU, the World Health Organisation's (WHO) limit value for PM2.5, which is considered harmful to health, is significantly lower than the limit value set by the EU. According to the WHO, PM2.5 is already harmful at a concentration of ten µg/m3 as an annual average. The situation is similar for PM10. The WHO already considers a concentration of 20 µg /m3 to be harmful. The EU limit values for particulate matter are thus more than twice as high.

Researchers from the Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) in Barcelona have examined the air quality in almost a thousand European cities in a study and calculated that more than 50,000 deaths could be prevented if the WHO limits were adhered to everywhere in Europe. If the air quality were as good as in the cleanest cities in Europe, for example Bergamo in Italy or Umea in Sweden, almost 125,000 deaths could be prevented every year.

Although low emission zones and driving bans are a thorn in the side of many people, these figures show that low emission zones and driving bans do good things. It would only be desirable that governments would less often try to enforce rules with a crowbar and instead create more alternatives and support citizens more in the mobility transition.

You can find the environmental zones and driving bans in Europe in our Green-Zones app and on green-zones.eu.