Air pollution: EU Environment Agency EEA compares more than 320 cities

Take a deep breath in Finland and Sweden, hold your breath in Poland: At the EU Environment Agency EEA, you can now see how long-term air quality is in hundreds of the largest cities in Europe. The front runners in terms of clean air among the more than 320 cities examined are Umeå in Sweden, Tampere in Finland and Funchal on the Portuguese island of Madeira and Estonia’s capital Tallinn. In contrast, the worst performers can be found predominantly in Poland and northern Italy. This emerges from a new air quality ranking that the Copenhagen-based Environment Agency published on Thursday.

For the overview, updated annually from now on, the EEA assessed the fine dust pollution in 323 cities in 26 EU countries as well as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. 127 cities are certified as having good air quality. In 123, the load is considered moderate, in the remaining 73 as bad or very bad.

This classification refers to the average air pollution with fine dust (PM2.5) in the years 2019 and 2020. Anyone who is below the recommended value of the World Health Organization (WHO) receives a “good”: The WHO recommends that the long-term exposure to 10 micrograms of fine dust (PM2.5) per cubic meter of air, which is stricter than the EU value. Anyone who breaks the annual EU limit of 25 micrograms – this applies to five cities in Poland, Croatia and Italy – gets a “very bad”.

According to the analysis, 61 percent of cities exceed the WHO benchmark, said EEA head of Air Pollution, Environment and Health, Catherine Ganzleben. According to this, only 2 percent are above the annual EU limit.

Göttingen has the cleanest air of all 52 listed German cities: The Lower Saxony university city ranks 29th, followed by Freiburg (45), Darmstadt (46), Lübeck (50) and Hanover (56). They and 25 other cities in the Federal Republic of Germany are said to have good air quality, the other 22 are classified as moderate, with Berlin at the bottom of the list in Germany in 219th place. No German city landed in the “bad” or “very bad” categories. However, several major German cities such as Cologne – as well as others in other countries – were not classified. According to the EEA, this may be due to the fact that measuring stations or certain data are missing.

Berlin did particularly badly.

(Picture: EAA)

As already emerged from an EEA report at the end of 2020, air quality in Europe has improved noticeably over the past decade due to, among other things, reductions in emissions from transport and energy supply. As a result, almost 60,000 fewer people per year died prematurely from exposure to particulate matter compared with 2009 and 2018.

A rough overview of the European cities covered.

(Picture: EEA)

Nevertheless, almost all Europeans continue to suffer from air pollution from fine dust, nitrogen dioxide and ground-level ozone, especially in cities. According to EEA estimates, more than 400,000 people died prematurely in 2018 in 41 European countries as a result of exposure to these pollutants, including tens of thousands in Germany.

Once again, the EEA pointed out that air pollution was still a serious problem and a real health risk in many European cities. Fine dust remains the number one air pollutant that has the greatest impact on premature deaths and illnesses, said expert Ganzleben. EEA Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx summed up: “While air quality has improved markedly over the past few years, air pollution remains stubbornly high in many European cities.” The overview now allows citizens to easily compare where their city ends up in terms of air pollution.

According to the new list, things are looking particularly good in Stockholm among the megacities: The Swedish capital comes in ninth place and thus does better than any other city with more than a million inhabitants. Helsinki (11) follows closely behind, while Bucharest (263), Barcelona (264), Warsaw (269) and Milan (303) are on the other side of the table.


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