The 2006 Urban Ecosystem Europe Survey was drawn up for Belgian bank Dexia by Ambiente Italia, a research institute. The survey, published on 17 October, looks at 20 environmental indicators such as air quality, pedestrian areas and public transport networks in 26 large European cities.
It says air quality is still "one of the critical elements common to all large cities" with only Helsinki, Gothenburg and Heidelberg in full compliance with EU air-quality standards.
In 77% of cities monitored, concentration of PM10, a fine dust particle, are above allowed levels for more than 35 days per year. But warm weather also seems to be a key factor: Barcelona, Milan, Nicosia and Rome record the highest values for PM10 while cities in northern Europe fare better.
The report comes a week before of a directive on air quality is voted in the Council. The text was criticised by the Commission and environmental groups for being watered down after it went through Parliament in September (EurActiv 27 Sept. 2006).
In a separate study carried out in Germany, researchers found that women living within 100 metres of highly frequented roads are 79% more likely to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.
The researchers argued that between 4,500 to 22,000 premature deaths per year could be avoided if air-quality legislation was tightened. They signed a joint declaration calling for strong EU legislation to limit concentration of particles in the air.
Air pollution is also among the main environmental challenges highlighted in a survey on the status of the environment in France published by the French Institute for the Environment (IFEN) on 17 October 2006.
It says that air pollution linked to transport remains a pressing concern, with concentration of fine dust particles and other volatile organic compounds still at high levels in urban areas. In spite of this, IFEN says that air quality has tended to improve in large cities due to the generalisation of catalytic converters on cars.