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EU Commission: Pollutants in air, water and soil should be reduced to zero

On Wednesday, the EU Commission adopted a European action plan to ensure that air, water and soil are free from harmful substances. She wants to implement requirements from the Green Deal, according to which the zero pollutant target should be achieved by 2050. The new initiative describes the vision of a world in which, in 30 years’ time, pollution will be so low that it will no longer pose a threat to human health and natural ecosystems.

The Brussels government institution has laid down concrete steps to achieve the goal. In this way, all relevant EU policy areas are to be involved in order to combat and prevent environmental pollution. One focus is on the use of digital solutions such as big data analyzes and intelligent sensors that could help reduce pollution. The Commission has examined their potential in case studies on intelligent mobility, precision agriculture, electronic health services and digital water management concrete suggestions made for it.

In the EU, one in eight deaths can be traced back to pollutants in the environment, the Commission explains the initiative. 90 percent of these are due to chronic diseases with cancer at the top. The Environment Agency estimates the number of premature deaths that can be traced back to airborne pollutants at 400,000 per year. The most damaging health effects of pollution tend to be in the most vulnerable populations, such as children and people with pre-existing conditions. Overexploitation of the environment is also one of the five main causes of biodiversity loss.

In order to put the EU on course for a “healthy planet”, the project envisages “milestones for reducing pollution at the source by 2030”, for example in the sectors of agriculture, industry, energy and transport. Until then, the air quality is to be improved in such a way that the number of premature deaths caused by relevant pollutants drops by 55 percent. In the area of ​​water, the stipulation is that 50 percent less plastic waste gets into the sea and 30 percent less microplastic into the environment. In the case of soil, nutrient losses and the use of chemical pesticides are to be reduced by 50 percent.

For the number of people who suffer from chronic exposure to traffic noise, the interim target is a minus of 30 percent. In addition, the total amount of waste and residual waste are to be reduced by 50 percent within ten years.

The Commission intends to check existing relevant EU legislation for any remaining loopholes. Implementation will be improved according to the plan. The air quality standards are to be adapted to the latest recommendations of the World Health Organization, the standards for the water quality of rivers and seas, for example, are to be reviewed. The pollutant load in the soil is reduced, provides for a further measure. A large part of EU waste law and rules on production and consumption are also being scrutinized in order to incorporate the principles of the clean circular economy into the regulations.

The external ecological footprint of the EU is to be reduced by restricting the export of products and waste to third countries that have harmful or toxic effects. The Commission wants to set up a “zero pollutant platform” for stakeholders and standardize and strengthen the relevant EU knowledge centers.

The fight against environmental pollution and greenhouse gas emissions usually go hand in hand, the commission explains the hook about the Green Deal. For example, the thermal insulation of buildings, the installation of more economical and cleaner heating systems, the switch to clean public transport and more pedestrian and bicycle traffic all contribute to air pollution control and to the containment of climate change.

The costs and financial benefits of individual measures are to be set out in the impact assessments for the respective legislative proposals that are still outstanding. It is already clear that it puts more strain on health care and the economy “if nothing is done”.

Commissioner Frans Timmermans, who is responsible for the Green Deal, emphasized: “In order to make the environment free of pollutants for people and the planet, we must act now.” New green technologies could help ease the burden and open up new business opportunities. “The proposal falls short,” complained against it, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), the largest association of “green” civil society organizations. Mainly existing legal obligations and ongoing reviews of EU laws are listed. The Commission missed the opportunity to fully achieve the much-needed freedom from pollutants.


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