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Too few low emission zones in Europe

Many cities in Europe have already taken up the fight against air pollution. In some countries, however, the air is still worryingly dirty. Especially when it comes to particulate matter, cities without low-emission zones perform extremely badly. But even those with driving bans continue to struggle against pollutants.

A team of researchers studied 1,000 European cities with regard to particulate matter and nitrogen oxide pollution and the associated mortality. Their result: 51,000 premature deaths could be avoided every year by cleaner air in Europe.

Particulate matter pollution is particularly high in the Po Valley in Italy, where Milan, Italy's most important industrial and commercial centre, is located, but also in the south of Poland and in the east of the Czech Republic. In 1st and 2nd place on the list of the dirtiest cities in terms of fine particles are Brescia and Bergamo, not far from Milan. In the two Eastern European countries there are no environmental zones to regulate traffic. The air there is particularly polluted in Karviná and Ostrava (Czech Republic) and Katowice and Jastrzębie-Zdrój (Poland).

But even in countries where low emission zones have kept older vehicles out of urban areas for years, the air continues to be bad, especially with regard to nitrogen dioxide. The nitrogen oxide list is topped by Western European metropolises. Madrid is in first place, followed by Antwerp, Turin, Paris, Milan and Barcelona.

Germany only has one city in the top 10 dirtiest cities in Europe - Herne in the Ruhr region is in 9th place on the list with the highest nitrogen oxide pollution. But if you look at Germany alone, it is striking that the air in the Ruhr region in particular is extremely harmful to health. In terms of fine dust pollution, Gelsenkirchen is in first place, followed by Herne, Duisburg, Oberhausen, Essen, Recklinghausen and Bottrop. Herne tops the list for nitrogen oxide. Essen, Düsseldorf, Cologne, Duisburg, Leverkusen and Gelsenkirchen are behind. Here, industry is certainly also responsible for the bad air, but the dense population and the commuting of people between the cities by car also contribute to the pollution.

The cleanest air is in the Nordic countries, such as Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland.

The situation in Poland and the Czech Republic in particular shows that the lack of environmental zones leads to increased particulate matter pollution. At the same time, the study makes clear that in densely populated areas and those with high industrial activity, environmental zones are not yet effective enough to protect people from pollution.

So the study could be another call for tightening existing environmental zones. It could also create new driving bans where none exist to save more lives in Europe.